March 2, 2004
Project 1B - C.S. Lewis’s Visit to UT
Near sleep, I suddenly remember to set my alarm clock. As I glance at the clock, a red, demonic 9:27 stares back at me. “O, no!” I am late for world literature with Bump. This is a nightmare that many Plan Ii students have, but I never thought it would actually happen to me. Jumping out of bed, I sprint to the bathroom and brush my teeth, then proceed to the closet. Changing in an instant, I run out the door with my journal in hand. Half-asleep, barreling down the stairs, I notice that no one else seems to be awake in my dorm. Silence swallows me whole as I run outside, but my thoughts of losing a point for tardiness are loud enough to make up for the muteness around me. I get to the corner of Guadalupe and 21st just in time to see the red hand turn still and stop me from crossing. Yet, there is not a single car on the road, so I cross.
Then, finally, I notice a person walking toward me. He seems to be about mid-thirties. He walks as though he does not know where he is. Maybe he is a lone, homeless man who lost his dog. Maybe he is an older graduate student who just finished pulling an all-nighter in the UGL. I do not know, but I am intrigued. He yells at me as he comes nearer, “Where am I?” I quickly start walking in the other direction, because at this point I am sure he is one of the loonies who roam the streets waiting to prey upon freshman girls as they walk solo. Yet, despite this initial reaction, something tells me there is more to this guy. I answer his question with some reluctance. “You are on Guadalupe, Sir,” I reply. “Gwateloop? Where is High Street?” he asks. At this point, I was on the verge of blowing him off for the sake of World Literature, but after realizing I was already a minute late and had lost a point for tardiness, I figured I might as well humor this crazy character on the Drag. He then asked me where the Tower was. “So he is a student here,” I thought. I pointed him in the direction of it and thought he would be satisfied with that, but when he looked at it, he quickly said, “something is terribly amiss.” Apparently that was not the tower he was talking about. Though I was dying to get to class, something told me to stay and talk to this man. I asked him his name and he said, “Clive S. Lewis, but most people call me Jack.” All right, so this guy was insane, but at least he picked a good guy to pretend to be. He asked if I could help him get his bearings. I acquiesced and walked with him to the Tower thinking this would surely strike up some recollection of place.
While walking, he began to talk, and I might say that he pulled off C.S. Lewis quite well; he had the accent down perfectly. Maybe this guy was a theatre professor doing an experiment, and I was the guinea pig of the day. “Jack” told me that he woke up that morning, and while walking to his classroom, he saw a mysterious medieval structure that he had never noticed before. Being the medievalist he was, he walked closer and closer until a strong force pulled him inside the darkness. He fell into an ambiguous state of consciousness. Then, upon regaining full alertness, he opened his eyes and that is when we ran into each other. I do not know where my sanity fled to at this point in the day, maybe it was because I did not eat breakfast that morning, but for some reason, I suddenly believed him. I began to explain to him that he was at the University of Texas in Austin and not at Oxford. Upon arrival at the tower, he had a glimpse of familiarity in his eyes. “We too have a wonderful tower at Magdalen College; however it is quite different.” He claimed that the tower at Oxford put ours to shame. I had to agree, at least as far as its Gothic features went. Although, being the Longhorn fan I am, I tried to explain that the night before it was illuminated with orange lights because we had won a football game; at this he snickered. Apparently Lewis was a “non-athletic young boy whose aesthetic sensibilities seem[ed] out of place and out of step with his peers” (Edwards 3). I explained to him that here at UT, we rejoiced in victory of sports teams and praised the athletes as though they were gods.
After all the commotion of waking up late and then meeting C.S. Lewis, I had to take a seat, so we sat down in the south mall. I confessed to Jack that upon first coming to UT, I did not at all like the architecture of most buildings. Eventually, however, I grew to love it more and more as I learned about the details of each building and created memories there. He shared with me that “although he grew to love the English countryside…his first impressions of England were very unfavorable” (Barratt 5). I suppose it is more than structural beauty that makes a place appealing, for I think no one will deny the beauty of Oxford and its surrounding areas. For me, I began to appreciate the physical beauty of the UT campus more as I formed relationships with the natural parts of it.
I stood and led Jack to Waller Creek, the peaceful area where I first felt comfortable on campus. I explained to him that I first went there with my World Literature class, the one I was skipping. We had just visited the Texas Memorial Museum, and so many things were coming together for me. I was beginning to understand just how little our lives take up in the span of time. While telling him about how calming it was to enter into its separate world of shade and water, he interrupted me and told me of a place similar for him in Oxford. “Addison’s Walk is one of the most serene places I have ever laid my eyes on,” he told me. He described the soft grass that was so green it was almost an entirely new color. Soon, it was as though I was there. He painted a scene of the fritillaries in the field surrounded by the walk and the bright leaves on the trees in the fall. The leaves were more abundant than anything I had seen before. He explained to me that he spent much time on Addison’s Walk enjoying nature and all that it had to offer to him. The more he discussed places at Oxford, the more I wanted to visit them and know them like he did. Being the genius he was, he came up with a brilliant plan for us to travel there. So, we did. Seeing as how there is an absence of fountains at Oxford, Jack looked at Littlefield with amazement. He thought it was so peculiar that he was sure it would suffice as a time traveling machine. Maybe Jack willed it somehow, but whatever he did, or did not do, it worked. Right after hitting the water in the fountain, we found ourselves transported to the mysterious medieval feature in the middle of St. John’s Quadrangle that he entered earlier that day.
It was amazing. I stood there, with C.S. Lewis in the middle of Magdalen College at Oxford. My eyes felt too small; they could not absorb everything around me quickly enough. I felt inadequate and outside of reality. Yet, Jack told me that he sees “the imagination (not the mind) as the primary organ for reception of truth—hence the power of myth, since it speaks straight to the imagination” (Barratt 15). I felt as though I was caught somewhere in between the imaginary and reality, yet everything seemed so real that I ignored all the signs telling me that it was a dream. My initial reaction to this new place was that I felt incredibly out of place. Not only were all the buildings unfamiliar to me, but everyone around me was wearing clothes from the 1930’s. My sand-washed jeans and UT sweatshirt segregated me cruelly. The buildings frightened me with their stern structure. The rough stones attacked me from all directions. However, I was not going to let this hinder my first experience at Oxford.
Jack began to lead the way, saying that we were going to Addison’s Walk. Along the way, we walked through the cloister quadrangle, past the New Building, where most undergraduates live, and across the River Cherwell to the Walk. Walking through campus, I was familiar with what the buildings were because I had studied them in my world literature class, but I had no connection with them beyond knowledge. Once again, I realized that there is more to a sense of place than knowledge. Emotions and experience are more important than facts in this kind of thing. However, when we reached Addison;s Walk, things changed almost instantaneously. It was amazing. Similar to my first experience at Waller Creek, I immediately felt a since of calm there, especially as we rested at the far end of the path. Sitting on bright green blades of grass, I felt at home here. Addison’s Walk had become my bigger, more beautiful Waller Creek. I had found my sense of place in Oxford.
I felt even more connected to it when Jack told me that it was on this very path that he converted to Christianity just a couple years ago. It was a result of a long, natural progression; however, the last straw was a conversation he had with Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkein. Because of my own faith, I know that where one is when he or she comes to know Christ is a very important place in his or her heart. I came to believe in Christ when I was eight years old while sitting atop my top bunk at Camp Ozark in Arkansas. I had just finished having a long conversation with my counselor, Martha. There is nothing about that night that I do not remember. I remember feeling slightly cold, despite the warm weather outside. My sheets smelled because I had not washed them since I had been there. Without a doubt, this has been the biggest thing in my life. Because it was such a major decision, it formed a very powerful sense of place for me there. I have not been back to Ozark since I was thirteen, but I will always hold it as one of the most special places in my life because of my acceptance of Christ there. Because of this understanding, C.S. Lewis’ recount of his conversion on this path brought me much closer to it. Now, that we were well rested and I had found a home in Oxford, we moved on to explore other facets of the college. This time, while walking through the campus, I felt a stronger sense of place. Knowing that I had formed a relationship with the eternal by the River Cherwell, how could I be daunted by an ephemeral building?
Yet, as I stood gazing up at the Magdalen Tower, I felt as an ant staring up a pine tree. It was massive and stoic in its form. Jack quickly told me that “it is the highest elevation in Oxford” (Magdalen Tower). As its castle-like spires stared down at me, it was inviting me to come see its view. I asked Jack if he thought I dare to climb the tower, and he replied, “Everything in the imaginary world is possible.” So I began climbing up the giant being. I lost track of time in the climb, but once I was at the top, time became irrelevant. The first object my eyes focused on was a scary gargoyle. I almost fell over, yet, thankfully, I caught myself. Then, I realized the true beauty of the campus. I loved the contrast of the grotesques to the natural. Though the view was different from the view on top of the tower at UT, the contrasts were the same. Atop the tower at UT, one can see the rolling hills and abundant tress around the campus as well as the myriad of rough stone. I climbed back down the tower and tread the ground with a new confidence. Gradually as the day moved on, the sun began to set, and Jack and I made our way back to the mysterious medieval structure. However, this time, only I went in.
Stepping out of Littlefield Fountain, I was soaked, and rather cold, but it did not matter. I had just spent the day at Oxford with C.S. Lewis. I ran to the news station on MLK, yet, no one was there. How odd. There must be some sort of sleep-epidemic going around this place. Of course, thinking about it, I realized that most people would not believe it anyway. I knew, though, as C.S. Lewis did, that “myth might after all be true” (Barratt 14). I knew I had experienced something out of this world. Maybe it was a new dimension I had discovered. I was not sure. As I walked back to my dorm, I realized now all universities, no matter how far away in time and distance, have similarities for me; and if I can just find a connection with experience, nothing can stop me from feeling at home at even the furthest college.
Word count: 2,245