When C. S. Lewis left home and started his undergraduate studies at Oxford, he gained a reputation as a mysterious figure, “a strange fellow who seemed to live an almost secret life and took no part in the social life of the college” (L. Baker 65). Despite this shadowy reputation, a student named R. M. S. Pasley sought him out. Pasley introduced Lewis to Leo Baker; they were soon joined by Owen Barfield, Cecil Harwood, and W. O. Field. A shared passion for poetry forged the connection, and from the beginning, they read each other’s original work. Baker emphasizes, “Our initial link was, without question, poetry” (67).
During their first term at Oxford, they “planned some afternoon walks together and the exchange of our poems for mutual comment” (L. Baker 66). These evolved into large-scale walking tours – two or more would commit a week or so to walking across the English countryside with pauses at inns and pubs. They adopted the name “The Cretaceous Perambulators.” […]
One of the most unusual collaborations to grow out of these mutual experiences is a booklet titled A Cretaceous Perambulator, published in 1983 in a limited edition by the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society. This little book had its start in April 1936. When Barfield, Harwood, and Lewis scheduled a walking tour. It turned out that Lewis was unable to join them, so, as a joke, Barfield and Harwood conspired to have lewis make it up to them by taking a mock exam. They modeled their test after the School Certificate exam taken by British students at age 16, and they sternly informed Lewis that he would not be permitted to walk with them ever again unless he passed the test and gained readmittance in the “College of Cretaceous Perambulators.” […]
The test itself consists of three parts. Sixty minutes are allowed for Part I, which consists of ten short essay questions. These include, “Why are you the best map reader?” “distinguish carefully between a walking-tour and a walking-race,” and “Give the (long) semantic history of the word ‘Guiting.’” […]
Lewis’s answers to these questions are as light-hearted as the imaginative test deserves, full of schoolboy lapses in taste, imagery, sophistication, and grammar. At one point he deliberately taunts Barfield by indulging in the most blatant form of chronological snobbery. Lewis writes, “It is true that [Aristotle] was not such a good philosopher as Lord Bacon but ought we to laugh at him for that, no We ought to remember that he lived a lot earlier when people were much less civilized.”
Lewis invokes Aristotle again in answering the question, “Why are you the best map reader?” Lewis explains:
Aristotles [sic] astonishing learning enabled him to discover that there were four Causes – formal, efficient, material and final
i The formal reason why I am the best map reader is because I have the best map reading faculty
ii The efficient is because I read it best
iii The material is my brains.
iv The final is that we can find the way
Diana Pavlac Gyler, The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (2008)