Oxford import discusses C.S. Lewis

John Brown University had the opportunity last week to learn about the influence of Greek myths on C.S. Lewis’ works from a member of the Oxford Studies Program.

Jonathan Kirkpatrick is the director of studies in Classics as well as a lecturer in Classics and the history of art.

“I enjoy Classics because they aim to explain something in our own society,” said Kirkpatrick.

Because of his background, Kirkpatrick approaches C.S. Lewis and his works in a very different way from most scholars.

“Lewis was trained in Classics and you can see that influence in his literature,” said Kirkpatrick.

While at the University, Kirkpatrick spoke in particular about how Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, influenced Lewis’ portrayal of Prince Caspian in “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.

Kirkpatrick was first introduced to his primary area of study while he was in grade school in Surrey, England. In England, many students begin to learn Greek and Latin as part of their primary schooling.

Schooling also becomes very focused much more quickly. Kirkpatrick decided to continue to explore the ancient languages and their stories, eventually adding Jewish studies with a specific focus on Palestine around the time of Christ.

Kirkpatrick has been involved in the Oxford Study Program for nearly a decade, first as a junior dean, which is similar to a resident director, before becoming a lecturer.

“It’s pretty much a joy,” said Kirkpatrick. He said the most difficult part of being a lecturer with the program is getting to know students so well during a very special, very short time.

“People tend to come and go very quickly, though it was harder as a resident director,” said Kirkpatrick.

Senior Amy Angell was tutored by Kirkpatrick in history of art when she went to Oxford in the fall semester of 2012.

“I was kind of intimidated at first,” said Angell of Kirkpatrick. “Not because he’s not friendly but because I would leave tutoring sessions feeling I needed to read more.”

The two of them would meet twice a week in a small café downstairs from the art museum at Oxford to discuss Angell’s previous assignment. Then they would walk upstairs and look at the many different pieces she wrote about.

At Oxford, tutors are the primary instructors for a student, and lectures are supplemental to what is discussed and assigned. Angell said this process works differently for long-term students.
”It’s kind of backwards from here,” said Angell.

Kirkpatrick said the program is very academically focused, but students often find it very freeing to have so much independence as they are, “left to their own devices for a week.”

Angell agreed; she would sometimes spend seven hours in the library researching and working on her papers. She said it was challenging, but she loved it.

“It wasn’t busy work, it was all stuff that mattered to me,” said Angell.

Students have to be able to motivate themselves and work without being directed.

“It’s much easier to know what you are supposed to do and jump through hoops,” said Kirkpatrick.