The Lewis Society and the genuine enjoyment of rational disagreement | Holly Ordway | CWR
The collected essays in C.S. Lewis and His Circle demonstrate the importance of lively debate and robust discussion of serious questions
Should the opportunity ever arise to do a bit of time-traveling – say, if a police call-box materialized in front of me – I’d be inclined to ask for just a short hop back, to Oxford in the 1940s, where (aided by a ring of invisibility) I could sit in on an Inklings meeting in C.S. Lewis’s Magdalen College rooms, or a Tuesday-morning gathering at the Eagle & Child pub.
Alas, no such travel is possible, but something just as good – or, dare I say, even better? – is possible: participation in a group that starts with the Inklings and their legacy and carries it onward. While the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society is not the oldest Lewis Society – that honor goes to the New York C.S. Lewis Society, founded in 1969 – it is still more than thirty years old, and has the distinction of meeting continuously in Oxford, the city where the Inklings met and where Lewis and Tolkien pursued distinguished academic and creative careers.
The excellent new volume C.S. Lewis and His Circle – appropriately subtitled Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society – is a collection of addresses given at the Society at various points since its founding in 1982.
It behooves me, then, to say a few words about the Oxford Lewis Society – whose gatherings I’ve had the pleasure of attending on many occasions over the past few years.
The Society meets, during term-time, on Tuesday evenings in the Frederic Hood Room of Pusey House, on a street called St Giles. At 8:00 pm attendees make their way upstairs and settle themselves to hear the week’s talk – sometimes by a visiting scholar, sometimes by one of the Society members. Following the talk is a Q&A, and here the quality of the group shines brightly, because the audience is comprised of well-educated, highly engaged, and super-articulate people who ask great questions and make valuable contributions to the discussion. Though that might seem a bit intimidating, in fact the atmosphere of the Society is relaxed and inviting. At about 9:30 the assembled company puts the chairs away and those who are so inclined re-locate to the Lamb & Flag pub for more conversation. (The Eagle & Child is usually too full.) Anyone can come to the meetings – from new reader to senior scholar, from any background or academic discipline, Christian or non-Christian. And the talks themselves are highly varied – some very specialized, others broad. Michael Ward writes in his insightful Afterword on the history of the Society that “Perhaps chief among the reasons for the longevity and liveliness of the Oxford Lewis Society is that, despite its name, it is not a single-issue group. ‘Lewis’ really serves as an umbrella term that covers an array of authors and a range of concerns.”
Opening C.S. Lewis and His Circle, then, is like being invited to step into the Frederic Hood Room of Pusey House.