Nobody can sell you a ticket to Narnia. There won’t ever be any new Narnia stories. This leaves the die-hard fan (me, for example) always looking around for something to satisfy their appetite. The popularity of Narnia, coupled with the great affection many Christians have for Lewis due to his apologetics, means that information about Lewis, his books, and how they came to be, are of great interest to a lot of people. For some, reading books on the subject isn’t enough. They want to ‘get closer’ to Lewis in some way, often by visiting a place of particular siginificance.
This idea of ‘secular pilgrimage’ is evident wherever you look: visitors to Graceland; tours of filming locations for shows such as Game of Thrones; guided tours of ‘J. K. Rowling’s Edinburgh’; celebrity memorabilia for sale on eBay. We want to feel that we can visit, or experience, or own, something ‘real’, something ‘genuine’, which relates to our passions. We want to stand somewhere and say, it happened here. To walk where others walked. To see what they saw. I don’t entirely understand the psychology of this idea, but am certainly subject to it.
So this year I decided to go on my own Lewis pilgrimage.
The choice of location was simple. Oxford. Lewis lived and worked in other places, but Oxford was the place where he spent most of his adult life, where he wrote his most significant work, where Narnia was born. I’d never been to Oxford before, which always makes a place appealing. Although my family like travel, and enjoy a wander round an old building as much as the next person, I decided to make my journey alone. This meant I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about dragging anyone round places which were of immense importance to me (due to their links with Lewis) but not to them. (I’m not even sure anyone else in my household has progressed past The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so standing quietly outside Lewis’ old college rooms would not be particularly thrilling for them.) This suited my family perfectly – they were happy for me to do something I was so excited about, which involved no effort or expense whatsoever on their part. Plus, there was the possibility of souvenirs. Other people’s reactions were a little stranger.
It turns out that if you are not single, people become quite confused when you tell them you are going on a holiday alone. When you then explain (because people do ask, and it feels strange to be secretive about it) that you’re visiting a city where the author of your favourite children’s books lived, to, you know, sort of see stuff there, they generally smile politely and try not to convey their puzzlement. Conversations with work colleagues about my plans showed me how little they know the ‘real’ me. They weren’t sure what to make of my pilgrimage at all, whereas my family were entirely unsurprised, although a little amused at my excitement.
I booked myself a short stay in Oxford – two nights – and began to research how to spend my days there. I didn’t want to waste any time or opportunities. I’m a little ashamed to admit that this led to the creation of a very detailed spreadsheet. Not only that, a spreadsheet with two alternative itineraries listed, as in Britain the weather – i.e. torrential rain – must always be a consideration. (As is probably apparent, I like organised fun rather than crazy spontaneity. Maybe it’s better for everyone that I travel alone.)
Throughout my stay I kept a diary, and took a bewildering amount of photographs, in order to be able to add this information to this site upon my return, which I will be doing in subsequent posts.