A confession—I’m a big fan of The Lord of the Rings. So, during my Christmas vacation, I was very excited to take a break from Christmas preparations and slip off to the movie theater to watch the final Hobbit film. I love The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies so much because they are both amazing stories. It’s not every day I get to see a huge battle between knights, elves, dwarves, and goblins. When the first Lord of the Rings film released in 2001, I was already a big fan. I grew up loving the three books from which the film was based. When I was young, I would read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and dream of fighting dragons and monsters in Middle Earth. Just as they have for me, the books and the films have given immense joy to millions of people around the world. Yet, if it were not for a small pub located in England, the world may have never known about hobbits or rings or had the pleasure of going on the great adventures of Middle Earth.
Oxford University, the oldest university in the Western World, was first established in 1096 and quickly grew to become a community of great learning. By the 1600s, it was the premiere university in the entire world. The rectors of University College at Oxford University wanted to give the students and faculty a place to gather, dine, and talk about their work and their learning after the classes ended. So, in 1650, the University College of Oxford University established a small pub on outskirts of Oxford, England. The pub, which they named “The Eagle and Child,” serves locals and tourists in Oxford to this very day. Yet, it’s not the history of the pub, which makes it important. If “The Eagle and Child” pub had never been established, no one would have ever heard of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.
At a fateful meeting in 1926, two young professors of literature at Oxford met for the first time. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis discussed their interest in medieval literature over glasses of brandy and immediately recognized a kindred spirit in the other. Lewis had recently begun holding dinner meetings in his university office where his guests discussed literature and their own writings. The group called themselves “The Inklings” (Tolkien and Lewis both have works dedicated to this group). C. S. Lewis invited Tolkien, who would later become the author of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to the Inklings meetings.
Soon, the meetings grew and Lewis’ small office could no longer accommodate the group. Lewis proposed moving the meetings to the nearby “Eagle and Child” pub. The meetings would be held each Tuesday during lunchtime in the back room of the pub—a room referred to as “The Rabbit Room.” Lewis, who later wrote the enormously popular Chronicles of Narnia series, was already a well-established author and public lecturer. Tolkien, on the other hand, lacked confidence in his writing. With Lewis’ encouragement, Tolkien began sharing his small project, which the group referred to as “that hobbit book.”
Photo by Steven Isaacson
When Tolkien shared his work, the group marveled at the creative and amazing story that Tolkien was crafting. With the groups support and assistance, Tolkien got the courage to seek out a publisher for his book which became The Hobbit. Allen & Erwin publishing house released the book in 1937. It immediately became enormously popular and a great financial success for J. R. R. Tolkien. At the same time, C. S. Lewis published a science fiction book, Out of the Silent Planet, which also was a huge success.
Their simultaneous, mutual success brought Tolkien and Lewis closer, and they began to rely upon each other even more. They both began working on their next novels. Their weekly Thursday lunch meetings at “The Eagle and Child” continued and the advice, guidance, and friendship that they shared helped Tolkien complete and publish his Lord of the Rings and Lewis to finish his Chronicles of Narnia. Both of these books are timeless classics. The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia are three of the best-selling novels ever written with a combined 350 million copies sold.
As a fan of both Tolkien and Lewis, I visited “The Eagle and Child” on a brief visit to Oxford, England in 2009. The pub casts an imposing presence on its narrow street. Its exterior appears antique as if it were a converted cathedral. I entered the pub with visions of Tolkien and Lewis in my mind and found myself navigating a long, winding hallway with dark wooded panels along the walls. The hallway led directly to the back of the pub—the famous Rabbit Room where Tolkien and Lewis created Middle Earth and Narnia. The walls of the room paid homage to the pubs two famous patrons. Several black and white pictures of Lewis and Tolkien stood out on the light yellow walls, and a small, golden plaque on the far wall commemorated the room as the birthplace of Narnia and Middle Earth.
I took a table directly underneath a picture of Tolkien and Lewis shaking hands. I had brought copies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit with me as I was currently in a seminar focused on the two books at nearby Regent’s Park College. A biography about J. R. R. Tolkien I had recently read mentioned that he enjoyed the fish and chips from “The Eagle and Child’s” menu. Of course, that’s what I had to order. While I ate my fish and chips, I enjoyed the creative fruits of two of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. When I finished my meal, I looked around one last time before I left to consider how one small pub could be the birthplace of two of the greatest creations in all of literature. I was thankful that the pub had welcomed me that day, just as it had welcomed Tolkien and Lewis. “The Eagle and Child” played a small part in the creation of joy for so many. Its presence had made the world a better place. With my books in tow, I stepped out into the busy Oxford street.