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This is Part 2 of an interview with Dr Michael Ward regarding the installation of the C.S. Lewis Memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey,
November 22nd, 2013.
Click here for Part 1 of this interview set.
LES: It’s been 50 years since Lewis died and in that period his reputation has been developing in various ways. How would you describe what his legacy is and is becoming?
MW: It’s too big and too varied to speak about in just a short answer. You only need to look at the huge numbers of books and articles that are published about Lewis every year to see the size of it. Some people dislike Lewis intensely. Some people simply disagree with him. But the vast majority of those who engage with him seriously, find him stimulating, helpful, even inspiring in a number of different ways, as a scholar, as a thinker, and as a writer.
I think that, as time goes by, people are coming to realize that Lewis, whether you happen to agree with him or not, is a very substantial figure who needs to be reckoned with. His combination of intellect, imagination, and faith is rare. It’s influential. At the very least, it’s interesting. I think it’s not insignificant that the publishing houses of Lewis’s two universities, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, have in recent years begun to publish scholarly works that address and analyse his impact. OUP has to date published three titles on Lewis, and CUP has published The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis, which I had a hand in. As time goes by and Lewis’s readership shows no sign of waning – on the contrary, it only seems to be growing and deepening, – he is coming to the attention of many people who wouldn’t automatically regard him as worth consideration. But an enduring audience, fifty years after death, is unusual and can’t be ignored for ever. And I think the fact that Lewis’s great friend, Tolkien, is also showing no signs of disappearing from the cultural landscape reacts favourably on Lewis’s own standing.
The two men together are now established, I think, as unavoidably major figures from the middle of the last century. If you want to understand the intellectual and imaginative history of the English-speaking world over the last sixty or seventy years, you have to take these two into account. They’re becoming increasingly rooted as a pair of giants, like Wordsworth and Coleridge, for example, from the previous century.
LES: What do you hope will be the broader outcome of this event and the memorial?
MW: The unveiling of the memorial is bound to receive a lot of media attention round the world, and I’m sure that that will result in people being introduced to or reminded of Lewis’s works.
More generally, I hope the whole two-day memorial event will focus people’s minds on carrying Lewis’s legacy forward into the future and help engender ideas about how that might best be achieved. It’s important in every generation for there to be talented artists, diligent scholars, and faithful apologists who are able to work both through argument and through story. By thinking about what Lewis achieved in these respects, people will be encouraged, I hope, to find ways of emulating and updating his example in the modern day.
LES: I would imagine that you will feel a sense of satisfaction in seeing this accomplished. With this particular milestone in the Lewis community and the wide spectrum of Lewis admirers, what are you most pleased about and proud of?
MW: There are two things that most please me about this event. The first is that it’s going to be international and will feature almost every conceivable constituency in what you might call “the Lewis world”: people who knew him, people who worked with him, theologians and philosophers and poets who admire him, scholars who have studied and written about him, professors who have tutored and lectured on his works, priests and pastors and ministers who have handed on his wisdom, children who love Narnia, regular readers who just like his stories or his style, and so on and so forth. And I’m particularly pleased that it will involve people who knew him and worked with him, because their number, alas, is getting smaller every year. This is really the last chance for a gathering of this kind on such a scale.
And the other thing that especially pleases me is that this event is being organized by British people and in an Anglican context. Lewis himself was British and Anglican, and at last he is being commemorated by his countrymen in that setting, but with the whole world, as it were, welcome and involved at the same time. So many previous Lewis-related events have been principally American and Evangelical, and although those events have often been excellent and I’ve been proud to be associated with many of them myself, this event is different. It feels like a sort of home-coming or a long overdue recognition. It’s going to be, I trust, a very happy occasion for everyone who attends, wherever they come from and whatever their particular connection with Lewis.
LES: What will be involved in the two days?
MW: During the afternoon and evening of Thursday 21st November, there will be four events:
i) a lecture by Professor Alister McGrath, looking at how Lewis presented the Christian faith through rational argument
ii) a lecture by Dr Malcolm Guite, looking at how Lewis presented Christianity through story and poetry
iii) a service of Choral Evensong
iv) a panel discussion that I will chair, featuring William Lane Craig, Judith Wolfe, Jeanette Sears, Michael Ramsden, and Peter S. Williams
Then on Friday 22nd November, there will be a Thanksgiving Service, at which the Lewis memorial will be formally unveiled. The service will feature hymns, prayers, and readings both from Scripture and from Lewis’s own works. There will also be a specially commissioned choral anthem, a setting of Lewis’s poem, “Love’s As Warm As Tears”, by a top British composer whose name will be announced soon. The celebratory sermon will be given by a very distinguished guest preacher, and again his name will be announced soon.
LES: Where will the conference events take place?
MW: Some of the events will take place in the Abbey itself and some in St Margaret’s Church which is right next door and is part of the overall Abbey foundation. Further details will be made available nearer the time to those who have registered to attend.
Registration will open on the Abbey Institute’s website at some point in July. In the meantime, if people want to come they should email firstname.lastname@example.org with the number of tickets wanted for which events, and this will ensure they get seats; they will be contacted in due course with a confirmation. We probably won’t need to turn people away, because both St Margaret’s and the Abbey are large venues, but if you want to sure of a seat, the sooner you apply, the better. Registration is free, but you will need your ticket to gain admittance.
LES: Do you have recommendations for lodging and eating?
MW: Westminster Abbey is, of course, right in the heart of London, so there are numerous ‘eateries’ close by: Trafalgar Square, for instance is a good place to find restaurants and cafés. As regards lodging, I won’t give any recommendations because people have very different needs and expectations and I can’t possibly check out every lodging-house in London to see whether it’s recommendable! But of course, there are hundreds of hotels and hostels and bed-and-breakfasts in central London and in neighbouring suburbs, and the underground rail network means that you can stay overnight in a place of your choosing many miles away and still reach the Abbey within, say, half an hour.
LES: Will there be any official gatherings before or after the conference?
MW: The Abbey will kindly be hosting a dinner for the lecturers and the panelists on the Thursday night and there’ll be a tea for a small number of invited guests in the Jerusalem Chamber after the Thanksgiving Service. But that’s all. The main things, of course, are the public events at which everyone is welcome.
LES: Do you have recommendations for Lewis sites to see if attendees want to extend their visit?
MW: The main places would be:
a) The Kilns, where Lewis lived from 1930-1963
b) Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry, where Lewis worshiped and is buried
c) The Eagle & Child pub in Oxford, where Lewis, Tolkien, and their friends (the Inklings) met
d) Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was Fellow and Tutor from 1925-1954
e) Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he was Professor from 1955-1963
f) The Oxford Lewis Society, which meets every Tuesday during term-time. You don’t have to be a member of the University of Oxford to attend meetings. Here’s the list of events for the current term: https://sites.google.com/site/lewisinoxford/ The autumn schedule of events will go online nearer the time.
LES: Are there any final details you would to add?
MW: One very exciting piece of news, which I alluded to in an earlier answer, is that the Director of Music at the Abbey, Professor James O’Donnell, has suggested that a special piece of music, a choral anthem, be commissioned for the Thanksgiving Service on 22nd November. He has approached a very well-known British composer to write the piece, and that person has agreed in principle, but I can’t give any more details at this stage. An anonymous donor has kindly come forward to fund the commission and the Lewis text that will be set to music is his poem, “Love’s As Warm As Tears”.
LES: How can readers and Lewis admirers participate and help support this effort?
MW: If you pray, please pray that this whole project will be edifying and successful. If you want to attend the events, please feel free to come to London in person on 21st and 22nd November. And if you don’t pray or can’t come, then please at least make a donation or encourage others to do so, and please spread the word in general through social media. We still need to raise nearly £15,000!
The main website is: www.lewisinpoetscorner.com
Many thanks to Dr Ward for his efforts to bring the Lewis Memorial to fruition and for his very generous sharing in this interview!
Click here for Part 1 of this interview set.
Click here for an excellent podcast interview with Michael Ward done by William O’ Flaherty on his Podcast program All About Jack. Very well done!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the disciple making. Reflecting that calling, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating Good | True | Beautiful, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts, with a special emphasis on writers. Lancia is a board member and patron of the Anselm Society, and Regional Representative of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. Lancia loves strong coffee with cinnamon, writing, website design, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips with Peter, and nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.