One of the most celebrated pubs for writers is the Eagle and Child in Oxford. This public house on St Giles’, known informally as the ‘Bird and Baby’, was the place where the Inklings met during the mid-twentieth century. The ‘Inklings’ were a group of writers living in Oxford who would meet on a weekly basis to read and discuss each other’s work. The group included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (both of whom taught at Oxford University) as well as Charles Williams and Hugo Dyson. Their meetings took place in a private lounge at the back of the pub known as the ‘Rabbit Room’. A plaque on the wall commemorates the place where The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were discussed over a pint (and the 1993 biopic about Lewis, Shadowlands, includes a scene set in the pub).
Tolkien converted Lewis – a staunch atheist throughout his teens and twenties – although Lewis embraced the Protestant faith while Tolkien was a strong Roman Catholic. Tolkien hated The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: he considered it too preachy with its Christian allegorical overtones. Lewis took the name Narnia from a classical map depicting Narni in Italy – which, in Latin, was rendered as ‘Narnia’.
Tolkien reputedly came up with the word ‘hobbit’ while he was busy marking students’ exam scripts. Coming to a blank sheet of paper, he impulsively wrote, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ This became the first line of his first published book set in Middle Earth, The Hobbit.
Strictly speaking, Middle-Earth isn’t the world in which Tolkien’s books take place, merely part of it. The world is called Arda, and Middle-Earth is merely one of the continents (like Europe) that make up that world.
Lewis died on 22 November 1963, the same day as fellow writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. Neither death received much news coverage, as it was also the day on which John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
C. S. Lewis’s first name was Clive, but he was known by his friends and family as ‘Jack’. His middle name was Staples. His love of writing began at a young age: as children, he and his brother Warren (‘Warnie’) created the fictional world of Boxen, which featured talking animals including King Bunny – quite fitting for an author who would, as an adult, meet to discuss his writing in a place known as the Rabbit Room.