MONDAY, MARCH 23
OKLAHOMA CITY — The timeless appeal of C.S. Lewis’ fictional and philosophical studies appear to be on an upswing when books like “The Chronicles of Narnia” become blockbuster movies. However, an organized group at Oklahoma City University has been discussing the famous philosopher’s works years before the trend re-emerged, and it plans to continue that momentum at an annual conference March 26-28 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
What started as a small conference more than a decade ago has since blossomed into a nationwide C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society (CSLIS) with an annual meeting and plans for individual local chapters.
“I thought this was all going to end with a one-day conference several years ago,” said society founder and OCU English professor Salwa Khoddam, expressing her surprise that the group continues to meet with its members in regular contact. “Look at us now — we’re all over the nation. I look at this as something that we only needed to sow the seed. It took off from there almost by itself.”
The CSLIS was officially founded in 2004 at Oklahoma City University, but it has been holding annual conferences on various campuses since 1998.
The society originally met at OCU, then expanded its boundaries by taking its annual conference into universities around the state and eventually jumping into other states — Texas, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and now Michigan. And no matter where the society takes its meeting, there seem to be plenty of C.S. Lewis fans.
“It shows how Lewis has inspired a lot of people. It’s not hard to find fans, as you can tell by his book sales and overall popularity,” Khoddam added.
The original Inklings was a group of people who met informally in Oxford, England, in the mid-1900s to discuss literature, philosophy, religion and scholarly works. The group met weekly in a public house near the Oxford campus to share ideas and written works, often before the written pieces were published. Besides Lewis, regular attendees included J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” fellow Oxford professors and other deep thinkers and writers from that area.
Khoddam hopes to recreate the general feel of such meetings with a local chapter, to be organized with Lee Webb, the Theology and Information Literacy librarian of the OCU Dulaney-Brown Library, perhaps as early as this summer, and she encourages fans in other cities to do likewise.
“Meetings like these stimulate the mind, yet the topics are usually easy to follow thanks to the simplifying efforts of Lewis. He talks about pride, living honestly, taking hate out of your mind and gives his reasons for doing so, but he keeps the ideas clear by not getting into too much detail. The Inklings encouraged the study of these subjects by turning them into narratives, which makes them easier to absorb and easier to remember,” she said.
In the meantime, the society is organizing its annual conference. This year’s event will feature Peter Schakel and Devin Brown, both of whom are well-known for their books about the works of Lewis. OCU student Jason Blakeburn, a student in Khoddam’s Lewis and Tolkien class, will be among those presenting papers, and there are also film showings and moderated discussions to fill up the two-day schedule.
For information about the conference or how to join CSLIS, visit the OCU English Department Web site at www.okcu.edu/english/.