Credit: Anna Pearson

The Tolkien and Lewis societies

– Anna Pearson –

Michaelmas Term, 2016


As a wide-eyed freshman hearing about the SCIO programme, I knew only one thing about Oxford: it was the university of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. That knowledge immediately attracted me, and two years later, it framed my expectations during the application process. Other thoughts also surfaced, primarily focused on the literary heritage of Oxford. As one of my friends commented, what better place for an English literature major to study abroad than the University of Oxford?

During my time at SCIO, I was not disappointed in the fulfillment of my expectations. The environment was inspiring, challenging, and invigorating. My tutors asked questions I had never before considered and expected a caliber of work I had not previously attained. My understanding of my discipline exploded over hours of reading in the medieval library of the Radcliffe Camera. It was indeed an incredible place for a student of literature.

Yet the environment of SCIO offered far more than I had anticipated. One of the exciting aspects of Oxford are the innumerable clubs, societies, and choirs open to all students. Several of my friends joined the Wadham College Choir, and as their guest I was privileged to attend entrancing evensongs, supplemented with a hot supper afterwards in the college hall. On other nights, I attended a taster session for ballroom dancing – very unfamiliar ground – and ballet classes, which were much more up my alley.

The two societies that I dedicated to the most time to, however, were the Tolkien Society and the Lewis Society, unsurprising choices given my original interest in Oxford. The Tolkien Society is a delightfully nerdy group of people who settle down occasionally for serious lectures, but also engage in quiz battles with other societies, dramatic readings, and game nights. Excellent food is a hallmark of the Tolkien Society – members can always expect cake and drinks. The most memorable activity was a bonfire on the river. Candles lit our way along the path as we approached the river bank, and upon arrival we discovered roasted apples and good company bantering on every subject imaginable.

The joke at Oxford is that no one can be a member of both the Tolkien and the Lewis Societies, and while I may have broken that stereotype, I must admit that the groups are dramatically different. The Lewis Society is known for its weekly lectures given by prestigious researchers in Inklings scholarship. At the very first meeting, I was awed to hear and meet Walter Hooper, Lewis’s personal secretary. The Society also hosted other, more casual events, most notably a one-man play of Lewis’s life and a Christmas party, both held in the famous author’s house. I vividly remember sipping tea and munching biscuits in the living room of Narnia’s creator.

These activities made my time at Oxford much more than an academic experience, although it undoubtedly was that. I left the university with an appreciation of its culture and a determination to return to the UK for graduate school. I am now studying for an MLitt. in Romantic and Victorian Literature at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Many US friends ask why I’m doing a masters overseas, and my answer is always the same: at Oxford I fell in love with an academic culture where people cherish their rich literary heritage, but never neglect moments of pleasure in between the hours of reading.


Anna, MT16