“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Imagine a tiny room with dark paneling, the smell of pipe smoke slowly filtering the air. The tiny, warm fire labors to keep out the damp chill of a winter day in Oxford, England, circa 1939. Sitting in a back room of The Eagle and Child, more affectionately known as “The Bird and Baby,” are a small group of professors. From their midsts would emerge some of the most beloved of English literature.
On an equally chilly spring afternoon in 1999, I arrived through the doors of the same pub. The place had a definite air of history about it, with it’s tiny rooms and dark stained booths. I, like many others before me, had come to this small pub on a main street in Oxford, England, just hoping to soak up the atmosphere that had inspired debate and storytelling all those years ago.
This tiny pub once played host to The Inklings, an informal literary group of Oxford professors, including among them J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They would meet here just before lunch on Tuesdays to discuss the importance of the narrative in fiction, amongst other topics. Imagine what it must have been like to hear Tolkien read Lord of the Rings aloud for the first time as the fire crackled in the background and the light of the flames flashed off the curved walls. Cool indeed.
Today the pub still has the feel of being local, not touristy, although we weren’t the only tourists present. Somehow everyone blended together without disrupting the atmosphere. There weren’t any cheesy t-shirts for sale, just the gentle hum of dozens of conversations – good friends and good times blended….probably not much different than sixty years ago…
Timeless yellowing walls face out at the world,
A sign overhead with an eagle’s wings unfurled.
In his sharpened talons he lifts a child,
A symbol of the mental freedom of the meek and mild.
It was to this place that they were drawn,
To spin their tales of worlds with little wrong.
Aging souls with the childlike vision to still see,
Viewing life in this way made their minds free.
Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to name just a few,
Created worlds as innocent as the morning dew.
Within this defined dark-paneled space,
Their imaginations soared with childlike grace.
Tapestries of trouble in Narnia and Bilbo’s quest,
Were spun in the pub’s smoky air at each writer’s behest.
Visions of the timeless battle of good versus evil,
Flickered in the flame of each story’s upheaval.
Although their time has come and gone,
Inklings of dreams left behind live on and on.