Fathom Mag

From Memoir to Movie

An interview with Carolyn Weber.

Published on:
February 28, 2024
Read time:
7 min.
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Fathom editor Rachel Joy Welcher sat down with Carolyn Weber to talk about the film adaptation of her book Surprised by Oxford, how she's grown since writing her memoir, and to ask her a couple of questions from readers. 

Rachel Joy Welcher: Your fabulous book, Surprised by Oxford, has recently been turned into a film, and I have so many questions! What is it like to watch an actress portray you? What part of watching your life turned into a movie surprised you? 

You can find the film adaptation of Surprised by Oxford on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services.

Carolyn Weber: It all still feels very surreal! But I am grateful for the chance to invite questions about faith, and for a lovely cast of actors and a screenplay beautifully done by Ryan Whitaker. The very talented Rose Reid plays “me” (which also feels very surreal to say!). She is a delight and a fellow bibliophile and believer, so I felt an immediate connection with her. The film is an adaptation, of course, but I guess I was surprised by how well it actually brought Oxford to life, and how moving it was to see folks portrayed whom I have since lost (like my father, who later became a Christian himself). My husband almost never cries, but he was weeping by the end of the film at our first viewing!

RJW: Wow…it’s one thing to write about your life, but quite another to watch actors portraying it! Beautiful that your husband was so touched, especially because he is such an important part of your story. I often think about your testimony and how Christ drew you to himself, and am reminded of the lines from that old poem by Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven:

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
     I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
     I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
     Of my own mind, and in the mist of tears
     I hid from Him, and under running laughter.”

You wrote something very similar in your book: 

“That is the bizarre thing about the good news: who knows how you will really hear it one day, but once you have heard it, I mean really heard it, you can never unhear it. Once you have read it, or spoken it, or thought it, even if it irritates you, even if you hate hearing it or cannot find it feasible, or try to dismiss it, you cannot unread it, or unspeak it, or unthink it.”

How do you approach sharing your faith with others in your day-to-day life? What does it look like to be the bearer of good news? 

CW: Oh my goodness, a friend (wryly and gleefully) shared with me this exact poem by Thompson when I was exploring the faith! It spoke to me so strongly then. Incredibly poignantly this poem shows the dogged mercy (if you pardon the pun) of God. Probably the most powerful way Christians shared their faith with me was by their example, and how this embodied the love of Christ, and how they emanated something I wanted, in both the lacking and desiring sense of the term. I genuinely love people and hope that they feel Christ’s love through that love, no matter how imperfectly channeled by me. I think being the bearer of good news means trying to get out of the way of it, however, as much as possible—hopefully not allowing my own gobbly gook of pride and vanity and anxiety and whatever else muck up what is good and beautiful and true—and to simply put it before them as the pearl beyond value that it is. Thank God (literally) it doesn’t depend on us, to save people. I think it does depend on us, however, to help them feel safe. And that Christians need to listen, really listen, to others, as Jesus listens to people and meets them where they are at.

RJW: I had a feeling you would know that poem! I love what you say here about how being a bearer of the good news involves “trying to get out of the way.” Obviously, who we are—fearfully and wonderfully made—is part of our witness and that aroma of life to those who are being saved, but our likes and dislikes, our allegiances and clubs and causes, aren’t the thing. The gospel is. And so we need to make sure that we are getting out of the way enough to point others to the thing that matters most: Jesus Christ, the cross, and the empty tomb. In other words: Amen to everything you said. 

Shifting gears a bit: I’d like to ask you about how you’ve changed. As a fellow author, I often think about ways that I have changed theologically or grown spiritually or emotionally since writing specific books. Surprised by Oxford has been out for over a decade now. In what ways have you changed since writing the book? If you wrote another book (may it be so!) what would you want to write about now and why? 

CW: That is such an interesting question to ask an author, perhaps I often think about how books have “changed,” so to speak, when we return to them at different stages in our lives, too. For instance, something I read years ago will speak to me differently now than it did then. And so I guess when I consider how I’ve changed since I wrote SBO, I am grateful to have grown more into the truths I hoped to express in the book more than I ever anticipated myself. I know now with complete certainty that we have absolutely nothing without Jesus. I can see much more clearly now, too, how Jesus praises nothing but faith in the Bible—not achievements, nor productivity, not even intellect. I understand better what it means to be heirs as well as adopted children of God. 

I know now with complete certainty that we have absolutely nothing without Jesus.

There has been so much joy and so much sorrow since then, as there is for all of us across a decade of our lives—I have lost many of those close to me of whom I wrote in that book, and I have witnessed the coming to Christ of many of whom I wrote in that book. Since then, I had another child we thought we couldn’t have, went through a very serious illness, our family endured significant trauma, we underwent big moves for ministry, and this book became a film, of all things, and we made glorious, beautiful friends through the process, and here I can say, no matter what, that God is faithful. And that writing is a lot like faith—feeling our way toward the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I wrote that book in blood, so to speak, out of a deep love for my unbelieving family and friends, yes, but first and foremost I wrote it between me and God. When I was desperately exhausted with little ones running about, and dear friends helped me hide so I could get it done. And now our children are older together, and those friends are dearer than ever in Christ, and I have learned even more so since then that truly by grace go we, and especially me.

As for writing something else—I have some ideas, I hope once I can find some space amidst the teaching and kids again—so we shall see! I do love students, literature, and faith, so I hope to examine some ideas that have percolated over the years that intertwine such threads.

RJW: In a cultural moment where abandoning former beliefs is celebrated (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse) to hear you say that the years have actually enriched the Christian faith you committed your life to is really encouraging. There are obviously beliefs we have to unpack and disentangle from influences outside Scripture and the Holy Ghost, but there are also truths that endure and just become more and more beautiful, like the songs I was taught growing up:

Jesus loves me/this I know/for the Bible tells me so.


Trust and obey/for there’s no other way/to be happy in Jesus/but to trust and obey. 

I should let Fathom readers know that, via Twitter, you and I have become quite the kindred spirits, and we can’t wait to meet in person. Twitter (“X”) can be a strange place, but it can also be wonderful. Speaking of…I have a few questions from some of your Twitter fans. I will end this lovely chat with their questions: 

Jenny Fisher Savage (@Hillsideviews) wants to know:
What resources would help us learn both the skill and attitude to be wise readers?

And Jason Greer (@Jasongreer) says:
I briefly met (Carolyn Weber) at a Tolkien conference in Greenville a few years ago. How is Tolkien studied by scholars today at Oxford?

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CW: That’s a great question from Jenny—I often contemplate that myself! And I am always looking for more resources there, too. I find I glean wisdom from bits and pieces, reading all over the place, but I do think the topic should be revisited more comprehensively in a single place. Some good touchstone texts that remain timeless and immediately come to mind, however, The Discerning Reader edited by Leland Ryken (his work is always discerning!), How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler, On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior and of course, C. S. Lewis’ Experiment on Criticism. I strongly recommend pursuing spiritual direction, as reading in that tradition helps us really think about the process of reading for wisdom and reading wisely. 

And I do remember that Tolkien conference—great fun! Such a lovely group of folks who made me feel very welcome in the States indeed. Holly Ordway and Jeremy Johnston have both recently produced wonderful biographical studies illuminating Tolkien’s faith and work. For Tolkien resources at Oxford, I highly recommend Julia Golding’s podcast and Centre for Fantasy out of Oxford. She has resources there and is a complete delight! 

I am heartened to hear, too, that the infamous pub, The Eagle and Child, where the Inklings used to meet will be saved and re-opened (we had trekked out there during Covid only to find it closed down permanently, so it seemed!). This is grand news! I know there are other Tolkien/Lewis-influenced Christian centers for thought, etc. afoot so I hope to share more about those developments soon. Aslan is definitely on the move with the ever-growing popularity of the Inklings and their relevance to us today. 

RJW: Aslan is on the move, indeed! It has been so lovely to chat with you Carolyn. Thank you for taking the time to engage, and I hope this isn’t the last of our chats. God bless you and your precious family, your work, and your witness.

Carolyn Weber
A Commonwealth Scholar, Dr. Carolyn Weber holds her B.A. Hon. from Huron College at Western University, Canada and her M.Phil. and D.Phil. from Oxford University, England. Dr. Weber is an award-winning author, popular professor and international speaker. Carolyn Weber’s first memoir, Surprised by Oxford (Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins) has been made into a feature film directed by Ryan Whitaker. Her latest book Sex and the City of God: A Memoir of Love and Longing examines another way of being in relationship to this world (InterVarsity Press).

Cover image by Charlie Harris.

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