It’s the 1930s or maybe 40s in Oxford, England. Welcome to The Eagle and Child pub, an old establishment, also known as ‘The Bird’. Somewhere inside the pub is a private lounge–The Rabbit Room, they call it. And in that lounge, every Monday or Tuesday, meets an informal band of writers and Oxford academics, literary enthusiasts, all. The ‘Inklings’, they call themselves, lovers of narrative fiction and fantasy…bookworms of the highest sort. And counting themselves among this group are two men: the inimitable J.R.R. Tolkien and the great C.S. Lewis, both lovers of myth and legend, fathers of modern fantasy.
Take any lover those literary genres and ask them if they could have been a fly on any wall in a single place in the 20th century, and they might choose a wall at The Eagle and Child pub. There, discussion, dialogue, and criticism helped keep sharp the minds that conceived Middle Earth and Narnia–two worlds more responsible than any for taking the realms of fantasy to the masses…or more appropriately, the masses into realms of fantasy.
It was at The Eagle and Child in 1950 that copies of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were first shared with members of the Inklings by its author, C.S. Lewis, who, decades later, has a legacy and relevance that continues to span generations, races, world views, and even literary genres.
It is commonly known that, thanks to Lewis’ encouragement, Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth went from being the stuff of private hobby to the stuff of current mainstream obsession (and it will enjoy even more widespread renown thanks to an upcoming movie trilogy you might have heard about…).
But of his own right, Lewis was every bit as influential as his dear friend ‘Tollers’. Most famously, he created the fantasy world of Narnia, depicted in a series of seven children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, which has sold over 100 million copies to date. Lewis also penned the sci-fi classic Space Trilogy composed of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, borne out of an agreement with Tolkien to tackle time travel and space, between them. Only Lewis finished his assignment–Tolkien probably got lost in Middle Earth!
Fictional, ingeniously dark, yet occasionally funny, The Screwtape Letters, is worth a mention, too. It is a series of letters, supposedly written–first person perspective–by a high-ranking demon named Screwtape, to a lower-ranking minion, his nephew, Wormwood, assigned to keep a human being in the clutches of darkness and evil, but only ever so subtly–ninja style. The Screwtape Letters wades into the tricky topics of human nature, religion and sin; yet in this book, Lewis shows his mastery of literature by tackling such serious matters subversively with a craftiness befitting one of Screwtape’s finest covert demon hit men. He writes, in the voice of Screwtape: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” Deep stuff.
Lewis masterpieces read on like a Billboard hit list: religious fantasy work, The Great Divorce, which tackles matters of eternal destiny; A Grief Observed, reflections on losing his young wife to cancer; Mere Christianity, which will certainly be his enduring contribution to religious literature–and there are so many more titles to explore.
This November 29, 2012, we celebrate what would have been C.S. Lewis’ 114th birthday. Remember and pay tribute to this literary genius by delving into one of his great works. He covers a lot of genres–fantasy, science fiction, religion, philosophy–take your pick. The good news is that we’ve got a lot of C.S. Lewis titles on stock at any Fully Booked store for you to enjoy.
So grab a group of friends, leaf through a few Lewis titles, and compare notes as though you are The Inklings, sitting at table at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, enjoying lunch and maybe puffing on pipes, sometime in the 1930s or maybe 40s. Perhaps something great will become of it.