A visit to C.S. Lewis’s old home

MARY REICHARD, HOST Today is Thursday, September 26th. So glad you’ve joined us today for The World and Everything in It! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Mary, let’s take a minute here to talk about Nashville.

REICHARD: Oh, yeah! We’ll be there on November 21st for The World and Everything in It LIVE! That’s where a bunch of us here at WORLD Radio go on stage and let you hear how we put this podcast together. 

We’ll get to meet you, shake hands, take pictures. It’ll be fun!

BASHAM: Not only that, but I just found out there’ll be a raffle! It’ll be full of prizes that’ll make any podcast enthusiast very, very, very happy.

REICHARD: And not only that, whoever brings the most number of people to the event wins a grand prize!

BASHAM: Not heard that before either! Excited to find out what it is! So if you’re in Nashville a week before Thanksgiving, come on out! It’s free, but you do need to register to claim your seat. Just go to “worldandeverything.org,” look for the “engage” tab, click that, then click “live events.” All you need to register is right  there.

REICHARD: Alright. Well, next up on The World and Everything In It: home

In particular, the home of C.S. Lewis. He’s considered one of the greatest Christian writers and thinkers of the 20th century. Some of his most enduring works include novels like The Chronicles of Narnia and theological books like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain.

BASHAM: Most of Lewis’s writing took place in his later years when he lived outside of Oxford, England in a home called The Kilns. On a recent visit to the United Kingdom, WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg stopped by to find out how this humble home inspired some of C.S. Lewis’s greatest writing. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG REPORTER: The Kilns is a lot smaller than you might imagine. A pebble path leads to a two story house with stucco and brick walls and white window panes. It’s surrounded by leafy trees, bushes and flowers with ivy crawling all over the walls.

AUDIO: [Sound from tour]

Inside, Colin Duriez gives tours. He’s also written a biography of C.S. Lewis. 

DURIEZ: So do take a seat. Now Lewis called this room the the common room.  

The common room is a living room. It’s been recreated to match old descriptions. There are bookshelves, velvet green chairs, and a fireplace with old pictures on the mantel. 

Here Lewis gathered with literary friends like J.R.R. Tolkien and students from Oxford. 

DURIEZ: In Lewis’s life, the common room was very important. When people were visiting the Kilns, they would be brought into this room. 

Lewis read his books to these literary friends as he wrote them. Books he wrote here.

AUDIO: [Sound of creaking stairs]

Lewis’s study is up an old wooden staircase, and around a corner. There’s a rug, a fireplace and a small wooden desk that looks out a window. Colin Duriez says C.S. Lewis wrote many of his greatest works at this unremarkable desk.  

DURIEZ: It was probably here that he finished off the Narnia stories, Surprised by Joy, his autobiography of the first half of his life…The books, like Reflections on the Psalms, or his novel Till We Have Faces… 

Lewis moved into The Kilns when he was 32 and lived here until he died. Duriez says before The Kilns, Lewis’s life was unsettled. 

He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His mother died when he was just 9. After that, his father sent him and his brother Warren off to boarding schools.

By the time Lewis turned 18, World War I was raging. He joined the military and met another young soldier named Paddy Moore. Lewis made a promise to Moore that would shape the rest of his life. 

DURIEZ: And that promise was if either of them were killed, the other would take care of the others family. 

Paddy Moore died in the war. After Lewis came home, he went to Oxford where he studied and later taught at Oxford University. He moved in with Paddy Moore’s mother to care for her. 

Colin Duriez says the pair were always moving around to different rental properties. That got tiring. By 1930, Lewis was ready to stay in one place. 

DURIEZ: Lewis very much wanted to live an ordinary life, have a home after the first half of his life, which was so destroyed in a way.

The brothers decided to buy The Kilns. C.S. Lewis, Mrs. Moore, and eventually Warren Lewis all moved into the house.

DURIEZ: I would like to pass this photograph around, and you’ll notice from that photograph how rural the surroundings are. 

Duriez says the Kilns used to sit on a wide open eight acres and came by its name quite naturally. It was built right next to a clay quarry and an old brick kiln. 

Some of Lewis’s experiences at The Kilns directly fed the plots in his books. During World War II, Lewis, Warren and Mrs. Moore took care of children escaping the bombings in London. Sound familiar? 

This BBC film clip may help jog your memory. 

SUSAN: We’re lucky, Edmond. We’re going deep into the country. 

DURIEZ: And there you have the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where the four children come from London to this house in the countryside. 

NARNIA: Is it just me or is it cold in here?

And yes, there are wardrobes in the house, but none of them are THE wardrobe.

Some of the people Lewis knew at The Kilns also appear in his books. For instance, the house’s groundskeeper Fred Pax inspired an eternally pessimistic character in The Silver Chair

MARSHWIGGLE: I’m Puddleglum. I was just trying to catch a few eels to make an eel stew. Though I suppose I won’t get any and you won’t like it if I do. 

DURIEZ: He did a brilliant job of capturing Fred Pax’s temperament and everything. If there was a heavy rain first thing in the morning, he’d say, oh, probably have a thunder and lightning storm later on in the day. And the lightning will probably strike the house and the house will probably burn down. 

During World War II, Lewis’s popularity grew as he gave a series of theological talks on the BBC. 

LEWIS: And before going onto my main subject tonight, I’d like to deal with a difficulty some people find about the whole idea of prayer. 

In between traveling, teaching and writing, Lewis took breaks to go on long walks around the property. 

One of his favorite spots was a duck pond that’s still near the house. He loved to swim in it and go on walks through the woods. 

DURIEZ: Walking also was a big, big factor in factoring, helping him with his writing.

Colin Duriez says Lewis also enjoyed the hands on realness of routines like doing the dishes.  

DURIEZ: Or if a Mrs Moore’s making marmalade when he’s in the middle of writing something, he’d drop everything and go and help when needed.

The Kilns was also where Lewis lived through some of his most painful times. Mrs. Moore died in 1951. In 1956, Lewis married American Joy Davidman. She would die of cancer just four years later. 

DURIEZ: And they were very happy together. And Lewis wrote a book called A Grief Observed, which is very, very powerful about the process of grief.

Duriez says The Kilns isn’t just significant because C.S. Lewis wrote here, it’s significant because through all of life’s many changes, this place gave Lewis a home. 

DURIEZ: The whole idea of home, it became very important to him. What home meant and connected with heaven itself. I think it was, it was healing experience for him to, to be in a household. And I think that he, he needed to have that experience.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Risinghurst, England.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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