A recent visit to Oxford, England exposed the literary side of a country largely known for their Dickensian history in London. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was created in the midst of these stone cottages and impressive academic buildings, as well as Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, which took place along the banks of the River Thames. We walked past innumerable buildings dating well past anything found in the United States. From 11th century church towers to landmarks honoring victims of religious tyranny, the history of this place was both inspiring and overwhelming at once.
It seemed most visitors only wanted to pick up souvenirs in the form of the Oxford pullovers that overflowed from the tourist shops lining the High and Broad streets. Surely some were also there to take part in one of many walking tours that Blackwell bookstore organizes each day (as we were, one particular day). For me though, one of the greatest attractions was found in an empty, back corner of a seemingly ordinary pub.
The Eagle and Child pub played part in the makings of what can arguably be termed some of the greatest works of literature in modern history. The dark room in which I spent my time, with its tiny fireplace and easy access to the bar, has a small sign on the door frame acknowledging it as the Rabbit room. Stepping further in, one will discover it was actually the meeting location of a literary club known as the Inklings. Here CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and other famous authors would gather to discuss their latest works, whether that be a comic they had created in between that day’s lectures, a piece of poetry not quite finished, or what would later become an epic novel.
What surprised me was the emptiness of the pub. Yes, there were relics on the walls telling of the groups affiliation to the room where I sat sipping my drink. But there was no one there reading those plaques, looking at the photos decorating the walls, or staring in wonder at the framed personal letter written by Mr. Tolkien himself to the proprietor of the bar at the time. While the tourists out on the street shopped for themselves and family members and had their tea at big name chain restaurants, I sat in the quiet space with the hope that the creativity dreamed up in this place would somehow soak into my bones, as well. Perhaps now the Shire has been planted in my heart, only to sprout up later in the form of some other idyllic home that we will all long to visit.