Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The home, more properly known as the Kilns, belonged the CS Lewis. Lewis was a mighty figure of Christian thought throughout the fifties and early sixties. His books, such as Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity, are still being printed; and his legendary children's series, The Chronicles of Naria, has been transferred to the silver screen and was a blockbuster hit. His literary work and his academic prowess have made him legendary in the Christian community.
Recently I had the chance to visit his old stomping grounds. It was a chance to learn about the man behind the legend. And I loved what I learned.
The Kilns was were Lewis called home. He lived with his brother Warnie, and two women: Jane and Maureen Moore. The women were the mother and sister, respectively, of a war buddy of Lewis. Lewis and his friend made an agreement during World War I that should one of them not return from battle, the other would take care of both families. Lewis made good on his promise.
The house was a bachelor's pad of sorts. Lewis and Warnie used old World War II army issued blankets as window curtains. He and his brother smoked inside and were even known to put their cigarettes out on the carpet. Warnie fell in and out with a drinking problem, the house preoccupation was finding Maureen a suitable husband, and Jane was known as a hard boss for the hired hands, like the cook and gardener. While each brought there distinctives, the four lived together happily and managed to make it all work.
Lewis drew from the home for much of his literary work The Chronicles of Naria. There was an old wardrobe in the house, like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. As World War II unfolded, the four entertained children during the bombing of London. His gardener Fred Paxfird inspired the character Puddleglum in The Silver Chair. Finally, a crawl space attic allowed one to travel form one room to another, sort of like what one encounters in the Magician's Nephew. Attached to the side of the home was a 9 acre lot, which included a pond and a bench, where Lewis often went to be inspired.
Lewis left us on November 22, 1963. His death was buried deep in the news reports due to the untimely death of another leading figure of that era: John F. Kennedy. As the story goes, several friends didn't even know of his death till several days later. His brother Warnie, so torn at the loss of Lewis, didn't make his funeral.
Warnie chose to engraved on Lewis' headstone a Shakespeare quote which meant a lot to the Lewis' family. Years earlier, in the room where their mother had died while the brothers were a young age, was a Shakespearean calender. Their father saved the quote from that day and it seemed to serve as a rallying cry for the family during difficult times.The quote put on his gravestone comes from that day's calender quote. It is the final line in King Lear and it reads, "Men must endure their going hence." I don't want to question Warnie's decision, I personally like the line. But I think the epitaph on Emily Dickson's grave might be more appropriate. In West Cemetery in Amherst, Massachusetts her grave simply reads, "Called back."