Once upon a time in the summer of 2006…We were given a weekend off from our month-long program in London, so our house of American university students scattered to different corners of Europe. Most went in groups to other countries, but I stayed in Mother England with my feet firmly planted. In the early afternoon, after mostly everyone had departed, with a messenger bag packed for a day trip, I set off alone. I rode the tube to Paddington Station, ate some Yo Sushi, and boarded a train bound for Oxford.
The Eagle and Child Pub
has been a thing of myth for me ever since middle school, when one of my teachers showed us pictures of his family’s England trip. We were reading The Hobbit around that time, and I’d plowed through The Chronicles of Narnia, so my ears pricked at the slightest mention of Tolkien, Lewis, or Lord of the Rings. Imagine my utter fangirlish joy and jealousy when my teacher told us about visiting a pub in Oxford where Tolkien and Lewis and a group of other authors called the Inklings would go to discuss their writing projects! I’d already been bitten by the writing bug, so knowing such a place existed was almost too amazing to be true!
Fast forward nearly a decade later. I had been lucky enough to visit England twice already in my life, and with both times combined I visited many a writers’ resting place. There seems to be a famous British author buried in almost every church or prominent graveyard! But all those were seen on tours, guarded by teachers and surrounded by (usually) apathetic students.
This time I was alone, on my way to see this famed place of legend. I had heard my school mates’ weekend plans, and felt the pull of other amazing locations, but I knew I had to take this chance while I was across the pond or I might never go. France would have to wait til another time. It was Oxford’s turn.
Oxford also happens to be the home of Lewis Carroll, the famed writer of the Alice in Wonderland books, so my trip to the city was truly a well-rounded author pilgrimage! But the highlight was, of course, when I took a step into The Eagle and Child Pub (or The Bird and the Baby, the local slang term my middle school teacher told us long ago).
The Rabbit Room is the very room where Tolkien, Lewis and friends would meet to drink and smoke a pipe and talk about their writing projects.
It was a very plain room, and you wouldn’t have known it was special if you hadn’t come there specifically, or if you didn’t notice all the plaques and pictures of the men themselves on the wall. Time seemed to stand still, though I probably only visited the pub for an hour or so. There were barely any other patrons while I was there. Truly, I could be there mostly alone in this precious room (except for another wandering tourist) and could drink in everything. I tried to imagine what it might have been like to attend one of the meetings. I remember imagining that I would ask for lots of writing advice. How special that would have been, to hear a suggestion right from Professor Tolkien’s mouth! I remember thinking, “Okay, boys, inspire me! I’m here! I came to see you! Give me a really genius idea to put the icing on the cake.” No, nothing hit me like a mystical idea bolt from the blue. Still, just being there inspired me to work harder. What an encouragement to just be there where giants walked. It got me thinking I have some pretty big shoes to fill!
I ordered a fish and chips dinner, and raised some black currant cider in a toast to their genius.
I may not have gotten any life-changing story ideas that day, but I didn’t need a perfect sign to know I was in an almost hallowed place, a personal writing mecca, and that wouldn’t change. Just knowing that I took time to have a meal in the room where one of my favorite authors had sat and gotten writing advice from his learned peers, that alone was worth the trip. It was one of the most wonderful landmarks I have hit on my writing journey, and it truly always will be my first and dearest pilgrimage.