Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Eagle and Child

Often, on a quiet night, I'll pluck a letter from the McBone mailbag and read. Some questions spring up quite frequently, like What the hell is the matter with you? and Can you tell me your social security number? Just the other day I fished one out that made me smile, it read as follows:

Dear McBone,

You are the voice of a nation. McBone gives words to the forgotten man, woman and child. You're not afraid to stand up to a country that has forsaken its poor, tired, huddled masses. When, I wonder, did your writing career begin?

A tremendous question requires an equally tremendous answer, and I'll try to do this one justice. My writing career (for which I have yet to earn a penny, incidentally) started one wintry night in 2002, not long after having read a little-known fantasy trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. (OK, that's not technically true, since I was an English major once upon a time who was constantly expected to produce short analytical works of surpassing brilliance). I suppose upon reading the book and seeing the movies there was kindled somewhere in my breast a tiny, hobbit-sized notion that told me: hey, that might me fun to try--that is, create a world from scratch and write about the people who inhabit it. I've learned a lot since typing the first few lines of what would eventually swell to the 600 page manuscript I have today, but I still owe a gigantic debt of gratitude to one John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, or JRR, as friends and family used to call him.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Last week's voyage to London included a day trip to the town of Oxford, home to the fabled institution of higher learning by the same name. And in this town of Oxford, convenient to student and professor alike, is a charming little pub that has been a purveyor of fine ales since the 1600s. What's so special about a 400-year-old pub, you ask? aside from being a 400-year-old pub? THIS 400-year-old pub happened to be the favourite watering hole of the novelist in question.

JRR Tolkien, along with another writer toiling in obscurity named CS Lewis, used to meet with several Oxford colleagues mornings at The Eagle and Child to drink beer (yes, in the morning) and discuss, among other things, writing. They called themselves the Inklings, and together they shook the earth to its very foundations.

For me, the trip to England was largely about making this pilgrimage. I suppose the feeling I had, sitting in that ancient wooden booth as an afternoon light, worthy of Galadriel herself, poured in on me and my own elf-princess, must be akin to what some people feel when they go to church (no, not boredom). What's the word I'm looking for here? Spiritual? Holy? Whatever you call it, I was moved, though not so much that I couldn't enjoy my pint of delicious dark brown ale.

I don't know if my book will ever find its way to the public sphere. Hell, right now I'd settle for finishing the goddam thing. Still, the experience I've had creating it, all the emotion tied to the the ups and downs of the writing process, has been irreplaceable. And for that, I thank the Oxford Don who inspired me.


Why the hell we didn't visit Tolkien's grave while in Oxford, I'll never know.


StevenLink said...

Sounds like a great time. How was the beer? I filled up on Colorado beer last weekend -- good stuff, but probably can't compare to fresh-from-the-tap English ale.

Kid Shay said...

Which reminds me, we need to let Sherpa's in Boulder know that the four of us used to eat there back before we were famous.

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

The beer was amazing and, yes, room temp! Colorado has some fine, fine beers indeed.

Sherpas! I was trying to remember the name of that place the other day. Great soups.