Local attorney Randy Pope has a favorite piece of advice, given to him by his father: When you ask something of somebody, all they can say is no, and they might even say yes.
So after Pope – a huge fan of The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis – had a chance to meet Lewis scholar Michael Ward during a trip to Oxford, England, he and his wife took that advice in hand to ask a favor of Ward. So it came to be that Ward, a senior research fellow at Blackfriars Hall at the University of Oxford and the author of Planet Narnia, will be in Hattiesburg on Oct. 15 and 16 for two speaking engagements.
“All we did was ask, and it just happened to be that he was available at this time,” said Pope, who serves as president of the C.S. Lewis Society of South Mississippi. “He comes to the United States probably twice a year; we knew he was going to be in the country (New York) around that time. So we’re excited to have somebody of that stature.”
The first speaking engagement will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in the Ogletree Alumni House on the Southern Miss campus, during the monthly meeting of the C.S. Lewis Society of South Mississippi. Refreshments and fellowship will start at about 7 p.m.
At that engagement, Ward will discuss his book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, which shows that the Narnia stories were designed to express the characteristics of the seven medieval planets.
“Planet Narnia is not light reading, so there’s an easier version of that called The Narnia Code, and we’ll have both of those for sale,” said Pope, who also serves as attorney for the City of Hattiesburg. “If people want to buy them, he’ll autograph them.
“So he’ll be speaking on what is the unifying theme on The Chronicles of Narnia.”
The second engagement, titled “C.S. Lewis: Scholar and Christian Apologist,” will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 16 in the auditorium of the International Center on the Southern Miss campus.
“I think a lot of people think all (Lewis) did was write The Chronicles of Narnia, but he wrote in his field, which is medieval and Renaissance literature,” Pope said. “So kind of what we want (Ward) to do is to sort of answer the question, ‘How is it possible for somebody to be such an accomplished scholar in literature – or any field – and be a Christian at the same time?’
“A lot of people don’t think it’s possible, but C.S. Lewis – and J.R.R. Tolkien, for that matter – was a Christian as well. So they sort of demonstrated that can be done – you don’t have to leave your mind behind, so to speak, when you become a Christian.”
Both speaking events are free and open to the public.
Ward also serves as Professor of Apologetics at the Houston Baptist University School of Christian Thought. He is the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis and presented the BBC television documentary The Narnia Code, which was directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Norman Stone.
On November 22, 2013 – the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death – Ward unveiled a permanent monument to the author in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey. Michael studied English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and has a PhD from St Andrews. Between 1996 and 1999, he was Warden of The Kilns, Lewis's Oxford home.
“We’re really excited about having someone of that caliber here in Hattiesburg,” Pope said.