Friday, November 25, 2011

Remembering Van

If you lived in Lynchburg anytime prior to 1996, and were a reader of our local newspaper, you were probably familiar with the name of Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken, or "Van" to those who knew him as a friend, was for many years a professor of English and History at Lynchburg College and a frequent contributor of letters to the editor published in the Lynchburg daily newspapers. He was also the author of the spiritual autobiography A Severe Mercy, published in 1977 and still in print today. I had the privilege to meet Vanauken around the year 1994, and visited with him on a couple of occasions prior to his death in 1996. He was not well in those years, and I regret that I did not have the opportunity to know him better. I will always remember him as a kind and generous man, and he was, to me at that time, a link to the world of C. S. Lewis and the Inklings, and helped inspire me on the path I have followed since that time.

To remember Van on the 15th anniversary of his death, the New Oxford Review in October published reflections written by another friend, Chene Heady, which you can read here (for a fee if you are not a subscriber)

I was very pleased to see the recognition for Inklings Bookshop and the White Hart Cafe in the concluding paragraph of that article:

Seeking a sign that Vanauken’s legacy will prove permanent and endure, I often visit the Inklings Bookshop & White Hart Café in downtown Lynchburg. This nineteenth-century storefront — with hardwood floors, an English-style wooden bar, and random interior Greek columns — holds a wide selection of books whose content echoes Vanauken’s intellectual life. Whole bookcases are devoted to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, to authors associated with the Inklings, to the classics, and to what the shelf tag carefully designates as “The War Between the States.” The Rev. Edward Hopkins, a Reformed Episcopal priest and a friend during Vanauken’s final years, founded the shop in 1995. Vanauken was “very supportive” of the project and helped the fledgling store along by signing many copies of his final book for them. Over fifteen years later, the Inklings Bookshop & White Hart Café has also, perhaps improbably, become the fashionable hangout for artsy types from all five Lynchburg-area colleges. Here you can sit under a framed photo of Tolkien and Lewis’s favorite Oxford pub, the Eagle and Child, while eating an authentic Southern breakfast. Here you can attend folk and alternative rock concerts on the weekends and the C.S. Lewis Reading Group on Mondays. Here evangelical devotees of the Inklings mingle with migrant hippies; activists from the tiny Lynchburg Democratic Party argue energetically with High Church classics scholars; and, as so often happens in college towns, young couples fall idealistically in love. Here I see all phases of Vanauken’s life re-enacted in a new generation, and I get the sense that his work will always endure, for we will always be his contemporaries.