It came to pass that on October 30th of 2010, I went to England with my family, saw as many sights as possible, and returned home on November 9th. The trip was something I was really looking forward to, and it was a fantastic experience. I wish I could show and tell you all about it, but there are too many stories to tell; some of it is better when shown but we have something in the neighborhood of 1200 photos so that won’t really work either.
Long story short, I didn’t know what all to expect and I didn’t know what to see, because there is so much to see and experience. The one place I knew I wanted to visit above all else was the pub of Tolkien and Lewis, The Eagle and Child (which they called “The Bird and Baby”). While I already knew that England was incredibly rich in history, I got to experience that history and that beauty for myself; some of which was positively overwhelming. I saw cathedrals, rode a double-decker bus past many places such as Parliament and Westminster Abbey (the clock tower that houses Big Ben is there too). I saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. And I saw countless other places like Stonehenge, Canterbury, Bath, and Blenheim Palace (the home of Winston Churchill). I even got front seats to a London show and saw some of the most fantastic acting in the world.
Again, I wish I could tell you more and show you pictures of these places but there is just too much. My purpose today is to tell you about my experience at the pub and that’s what I’m going to do.
So it was towards the end of our journey we came at last to the town of Oxford where the famous writer of The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien, taught at Exeter Collage as a professor of Anglo-Saxon.
To clear up a common misconception here in the US, there is no Oxford College. Oxford University is a collection of 37 different colleges throughout England (Exeter being one of them). There is the town of Oxford which has colleges in it, but there is no college by the name of Oxford. The word “University” here comes from “Universe” which, to put it rather basically, means “all in one”. The same thing goes for Cambridge.
So at long last we finally came to The Eagle and Child. It’s not set up like a museum or anything, it’s just a pub like any other where people come to eat, drink, kick back, and what have you. But they do have a plaque and some pictures over the spot where the fabled “Inklings” use to sit–the Rabbit Room.
The pub possesses the look, charm, and feel of an old English pub, with all its nooks, crannies, and corners you can sit in. We, however, sat in the far back which was an extension to the original and it lacked the afore mentioned qualities, but frankly I was just grateful found a place to sit–it was really crowded (it was around Sunday, 2 pm–which, by the way, would be 7 pm if you live on the East Coast of the US and 10 pm if you live on the West). We actually had to wait for seats.
But at long last, I was there. The place where all these authors gathered together, discussed their writings, had a pint, and dialogued in Icelandic to make a point (Yes that was their idea of a good time).
I sat, nourished myself (pub grub is really good, by the way), and reflected on Tolkien; as the man himself would explain, in every tale there is a point where the wandering hero finds a place to pause during his long journey, rest, and reflect on all that has happened up to that point.
JRR Tolkien survived the trials of his life, from eventually losing his parents at a young age, to marrying the girl of his dreams, to surviving World War I, and becoming a professor of theology, philology, and Anglo-Saxon. And, of course, writing his masterpiece of literature, The Lord of the Rings, which became the second most read book in the world next to the Bible (at least it was at the time; whether or not it still is, I don’t know). He was born at the end of the age of the horse and buggy, and by the end of his life Man had invented a weapon that could potentially destroy the world.
Many artists who’ve had hard lives growing up turned to drugs, alcohol, or other things–not Tolkien; he held to his faith and his morals. He was faithful to his wife, he loved his family, and he led a very simple life. If there is any one way he dealt with troubles, it was reading, studying, and writing fairy tales, language, and mythology. Tolkien wrote a vast epic with Christianity at its heart (a fact important to acknowledge, regardless of your own personal beliefs). That was his way of coping, to write a sprawling mythology concerning a dying world that had much to say with respect to war, as well as other things like fall and redemption.
Unlike CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which is very allegorical in its Christian themes, Tolkien’s approach was much more subtle in that the said themes were interwoven into the work. Tolkien felt that at the heart of what he called the “Fairy tale” is the Truth–it is not quite obvious, but it is there, interwoven into the story, and many fall short of discovering it–and it guides the course of the story and the characters in it.
Tolkien wrote in his essay, On Fairy Stories, about the Fairy tail and its relation to Christianity:
“But this story reigns supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is Lord of angels, and of men–and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”
So it was, I sat and reflected on all this and more. We sat in the pub. And Dad gave a toast to Professor Tolkien.
But before I close this completely, I will say this: for those of you who don’t know, in LotRO, if you go to Michel Delving in the Shire, there is a pub by the name of The Bird and Baby, and inside there are hobbits named after the Inklings.