Monday, August 11, 2014

Oxford University of Inspiration

England is a place that oozes history.  Our tour guide on our walking tour of Oxford was pointing out a building we were near and said, "It's not that old.  Only about five hundred years or so."  
When his tour group filled with Americans reacted, pointing out that the building he was pointing at was over twice as old as our country, he smiled and agreed that the English have a different standard of age.  "When something gets to around a thousand, then you're talking old."  
And with that seepage of history, there is a lot of things one can find inspiring.  That was one of the reasons I joined the tour group of WorldCon convention goers tooling around England and Wales, to be inspired.  
Oxford, for example, is a place that inspired other writers  Lewis Carroll, for example, used to watch one of the deans run through the tiny door pictured below, every day, running late to lessons.  "I'm late," he'd heard the dean say to himself as he ducked through the door.  "I'm late, I'm late."  

It's not hard to figure out what character that dean turned into when he wrote about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  

Or C.S. Lewis.  The photo below is a door seen from the exit of the church he attended while studying in Oxford.  If you look close at the carving in the center, you'll see that the face is that of a lion.  

And on the lintel, is a carving of a faun.

Look to your right from the same spot, and you see this...

Just like the lamppost that marked the entrance to the wardrobe in Narnia.  So, for these writers, there was inspiration to be found in Oxford.  It wouldn't be too farfetched to imagine me finding a bit of inspiration of my own.  
Unfortunately no thunderbolts or epiphanies struck while I was there.  Not even at the Eagle & Child, the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien would meet with his writing group, The Inklings, which included the aforementioned C.S. Lewis, and where he first read from the manuscript that would become The Hobbit to them.  I bought a pint and went to the back room where they would meet, which is now something of a shrine to Lewis and Tolkien, with portraits of the authors on the wall, and drawings of scenes from their books and maps of Middle Earth and Narnia on the walls.  No one else in the back room paid much attention to the stuff on the walls.  I sat there, trying to soak it all in.  Trying to feel something of the magic that surely filled the place when they were reading their words to each other.  Maybe to hear the rustle of a page turning, or even a tiny echo of some criticism one of them gave the other.  

It was a neat thing to do.  But I didn't get any flash of something I just had to write.  
While in Oxford I went to the Ashmolean Museum.  It is considered to be one of the finest history museums in the world.  It currently has a special exhibit on the discovery of King Tut's tomb.  I went to see the exhibit, hoping to see in person some of those iconic artifacts that are associated with the ancient pharaoh, like his gold sarcophagus mask.  I was disappointed to discover that the most famous pieces from the tomb, such as that golden mask, are properties of the Egyptian government and are held in that country.  With the current turmoils there is no telling when they might be let out.  While the exhibit is interesting and educational, it did make me feel like something was missing.  
And that is when I think I gained a bit of insight.  
The Chronicles of Narnia weren't just about a lion, a faun and a lamppost.  These three items figure prominently in the first book, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but there is a whole lot more than just those things.  C.S. Lewis  went to that church for years, and exited from that doorway dozens upon dozens of times.  They didn't impress him to any degree the first, twentieth or even the hundredth time he saw them, I'd wager.  
But then something happened.  Or rather, something ELSE happened.  Some other thought, something else he had noticed one day, maybe the fact the wardrobe in the flat he was living in needed the back panel repaired, rubbed up against that door he'd seen numerous times, or the lamppost down the way, and that something else idea struck the sight of them like flint against steel and...  THEN, something was there.  The germ of the seed of the idea of the story was there.  
I've read numerous books on writing and a common piece of advice is to not wait for inspiration.  That one should treat writing like a job or any other craft.  Every day you should write something, putting in your time, finishing what you started and submitting what you finished.  I believe this to be sound advice.  
But those inspirational moments are not the voice of angels singing to you all at once out of no where.  They are, I think I see this now, the missing piece of a puzzle that writers, or musicians or sculptors or painters, etc., have been keeping in their heads, made of all the other pieces of things they've seen or done or felt or remembered.  
Inspiration is finding that last missing piece of that puzzle and seeing what you've been carrying around in your head all that time.  
Yeah.  And now, I feel inspired to get me another pint before the local pub closes.


Post a Comment

<< Home