“I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit.” Tolkien was quoted under the title Mapping the Multiverse in the “Magical Books” exhibit of the Bodleian Library. And there was the map of Middle Earth that he had started with. Beside it was a map of Narnia, drawn by C.S. Lewis himself. I gazed at the map in wonder. The lands of Narnia are as familiar to me as some of the lands here on Earth. I knew this place. And I marveled in the magic in the magic of a few maps.
About a week before I left, my daddy took me out to lunch. As we ate pizza, he told me all sorts of facts that he knew I would enjoy but wouldn’t read in any guidebooks. Then we went home and pulled out a map. Well, we sat beside each other and pulled up Google maps on my computer. Even though I have no sense of direction, the details delighted me. The street names, the famous places, little lines in blue and red running all across a white screen—suddenly, I began to get excited. That was the moment I realized the full wonder awaiting me. He showed me streets he’s been, places I should go. We must have sat there for an hour. And I could not wait to walk down those streets that were, at the moment, just a words on a map.
Walk down those streets, I most certainly did. I have studied more maps in these last few weeks than I have in my lifetime. Whether gazing at a map of London drawn in 1666, before and after the great fire or glancing at a map of the London Underground, rushing from place to place on the Tube, I have become familiar with maps. From Scotland to Oxford, I have learned to appreciate maps. Without them, we would wander and wonder. And we would miss great things. Following a simple curve on a simple brochure, when the brochure holds a map, makes a world of difference. It makes the world different. Maps have almost magically transported me to places that were, before, only magic to me.
And not just maps in the traditional sense. In Oxford, we saw wonders. One that caught my eye between the annotated manuscripts was the picture that inspired C.S. Lewis to think about “Northernness” When C.S. Lewis gazed on the picture as a teenager, he was inspired to think about things so much greater than himself. He realized greatness was open for him to explore. This inspiration was like a map, pointing him in a direction. He found greatness, with his pen and a map, decades later. I am still a teenager (for a little while longer anyway) and for so much of my life, I have been inspired by C.S. Lewis. He has been the picture that (combined with other images of course) made me realize greatness exists far beyond, but also potentially far within myself. He was, in many ways a map.
Going to the Eagle and Child was also a map for me. It was a place of inspiration, a delight come true. I felt a sense of belonging. I was ready to draw out a map, create a universe, and explore it. The Inklings came to this place, the Eagle and Child to laugh with and discuss with their friends. Their works, and our lives, are richer for the time they spent in community. I doubt they drew out those maps to Middle Earth and Narnia while they sat at that table I was privileged to (decades later) share. But I bet they lived out the story there. They made the story fit their maps. And at the moment, I was doing exactly what C.S. Lewis and Tolkien did all those years ago. I was living a story. I was treading the unknown. I was traveling further up, and further in. I came to the United Kingdom, and I made the story fit the maps.