The Rabbit Room.Posted: January 15, 2014
In my mind, I keep returning to the vestibule of Trinity College Chapel in Cambridge.
The walls are white marble, and around the perimeter are white marble statues of famous alumni, including Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. While I was waiting to get in to the Christmas concert, I stepped up to each of the statues and tried to summon the sense of awe that the sculptors must have wanted me to feel.
But I didn’t. I just felt really angry. In my mind I just told them over and over, “This has to stop. This has to stop. This has to stop. How many others had to subjugate their genius so that yours could thrive? When will you help us?”
Two days later, in Oxford, I’d barely put down my luggage before I looked up The Eagle and Child. It’s where J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and the Inklings, a writing group dedicated to fantasy, met to read passages of their works-in-progress. I don’t often talk about Tolkien or Lewis (or “John and Jack”) because they’re so fundamental to my imagination that it’s hard to express what they mean to me. I grew up reading (and rereading) them; I had elaborate rituals around the reading of them; The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia became my holy scripture. I don’t mean that facetiously; I mean it quite plainly.
Of course, they are also white men.
The Eagle and Child is still a popular pub. It’s childish, but I’d dreamed all my life of visiting it, and I really, really, really wanted to sit in the “Rabbit Room,” the exact corner where the Inklings used to meet. I’d researched it.
When I got there, the Rabbit Room was packed with beefy loud lads in tartan sweaters. Okay. So I took another seat in another corner, perfectly lovely, perfectly atmospheric, but not The Right One. I wrote for awhile. I kept glancing back at the Rabbit Room to see if there were any vacancies. I fantasized about pushing right through the crowd and claiming a spot at the table and flipping open my diary and starting to write as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But I was scared. And I was angry that I was scared. But a lifetime of snide misogynistic comments will do that.
I went up to the bar and ordered another glass of mulled wine, and watched the lads, and said to John and Jack in my head, “I wish they would all just go away.”
At that moment, as one, as if they were a herd of bison making a group decision, they all put down their beers and turned and filed out.
I couldn’t believe it.
I put my mulled wine on a table in the Rabbit Room that still had a dozen empty beer glasses on it. And then I dragged over my coat and bag and diary and pen. I pushed the beer glasses to the other end. I claimed the space. I took pictures. I looked at all the memorabilia. I read the plaques, like this one.
And then I wrote for a long time. Mostly addressed to Jack and John.
What I wrote will remain secret for now, of course. But suffice to say that I’ve always wanted to create my own world, my own Narnia or Middle Earth, and that I’ve always been afraid that it was somehow beyond my capability, that I could never hope to make their equal. But here I was in the Rabbit Room, in this space they occupied as human beings, a human like myself, just flesh, reading aloud the stuff they wrote alone in their studies. They’re no different from me.
As Jack might say, the Rabbit Room is bigger on the inside than on the outside.