As a child, my parents read to me constantly. Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Little Women, The Wind in the Willows—our shelves and story times brimmed with sensational classics. Of all the timeless books in my library, no story captured my attention and imagination the way The Chronicles of Narnia did. To my child’s heart, it was everything lovely, adventurous, and good. I greatly lamented the fact that I had no wardrobe in the bedroom I shared with my sister. I would go sit on the floor beneath the hanging clothes and hope that maybe, just maybe, Narnia could be reached through a walk-in closet, too.
I can remember listing author C.S. Lewis as my hero on school assignments as early as second grade. I was crestfallen when I realized he had passed away twenty-three years before I was even born. I was sure that, given the opportunity, we would have been friends. I still think so whenever I pick up those well-worn volumes once every year or so. As I sit in my cozy chair with the first of the seven books and a cup of Earl Grey, I think of his disarming maxim, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” and I silently agree.
Lewis’s magical books are one of the major reasons why I became a writer, so I was perfectly thrilled when a work trip took me to his hometown of Oxford, England, earlier this year. I have dreamed of walking through the same picturesque buildings and courtyards of the university where he taught, but I was most intently set on visiting The Eagle and Child. Lovingly dubbed “The Bird and the Baby” by locals, it’s the pub where Lewis used to meet with friends and fellow authors J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others to read and discuss their unfinished works over a pint. They called themselves “The Inklings.”
One evening, after a long day of photo shoots, my travel companions (editor Ande and photographer Stephen) and I ventured out onto the cobblestone streets and into the hallowed eatery. We found the last three seats in the quaint row building. Settled on my perch atop a bar stool, I savored my bottle of ginger beer (just like the ones Polly Plummer used to enjoy in her “smuggler’s cave” in The Magician’s Nephew) and a plate piled high with fish and chips. (Even though it was my third trip to the UK, it was my very first serving of the British pub staple.) My own thoughts were louder to me than the lively hubbub of the trivia game being played by the other patrons. My hero once sat and ate here. He wrote and read some of my beloved words here. I felt something that was not unlike the feeling I get when I stand in front of an especially favorite painting in a museum. It’s the thought that Picasso or Degas or van Gogh stood and looked at that very painting from that very vantage point. I thought of Lewis’s own words regarding the origin of his Narnian books: “It all started with a picture … ”—a picture in his mind of a faun carrying packages by a lamppost in a snowy wood.
As I tucked the empty ginger-beer bottle in my purse at the end of our meal—a souvenir of my memorable evening—a Lewis quote painted on one of the rafters above the bustling crowd of university students and locals caught my eye: “My happiest hours are spent with three or four friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs.” And I thought, What a happy hour I have spent this evening in this small pub with my friend, Mr. Lewis.
-K. Faith Morgan, Contributing Editor, Victoria magazine
Photography credit: Brian Jeffrey Beggarly
Which favorite book has been most influential in your life?