If you play LotRO, you have probably paid a visit to Michel Delving, the “capital” of the Shire, at some point, even if you do not play a hobbit. Maybe you needed to turn in mathoms for reputation, or perhaps you’re a member of the Cooking Guild. On the other hand, if you completed the Shire Brew-master deed, successfully finished Inn League initiation, or did the “Recovering the Lost Leaf” quest chain (available from Ronald Dwale near Dwaling), you would have gone inside the Bird and Baby Inn.
This place is definitely worth a close look. Many players are unaware that the building and its inhabitants are part of the developers’ homage to real-life places and people closely associated with J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and writings.
Unlike the Ivy Bush, the Green Dragon, the Floating Log, and the Golden Perch, all of which are specifically mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, the Bird and Baby is a not a literary creation of Tolkien. In fact, the name “Bird and Baby” is a nickname for a real-life pub called the Eagle and Child in Oxford, the city where Tolkien lived and taught.
You can see the similarity between the signs outside the Eagle and Child and the in-game Bird and Baby:
The Eagle and Child was one of the regular meeting places for the Inklings, an informal literary club that Tolkien was part of for decades. Every Tuesday morning, this small group of friends gathered for breakfast in the Eagle and Child and read their recent compositions to each other. The Inklings were the first people to hear draft chapters of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and its members had a significant influence on Tolkien’s writing. (I can’t resist mentioning here that in 2007 I spent a week in Oxford attending a conference, and I was able to eat a couple of meals at the Eagle and Child. Dining in the same room frequented by Tolkien and Company, sitting under their photographs, was really a thrill.)
If you go to the back rooms of the Bird and Baby, you will notice three seemingly random named hobbits congregated there: Owen Farfield, Carlo Williams, and Jack Lewisdown. (If you do the “Missing the Meeting” quest that is part of the “Recovering the Lost Leaf” chain, you actually have to talk to these guys.)
These three NPCs actually represent the best known members of the real-life Inklings! In the remainder of this entry I’ll give a brief introduction to Owen Farfield’s real-life counterpart, Owen Barfield. I’ll save Williams and Lewisdown for later posts.
Owen Barfield (1898-1997) was a founding member of the Inklings, and although he was not a professional academic—he worked at different times as an editor, freelance writer, and solicitor—his views on literature and philosophy had a significant impact on other Inklings, including Tolkien, and non-Inkling writers such as T.S. Eliot.
In the Bird and Baby, Owen Farfield is portrayed leafing through a book with a stack of other books beside him on the table. This makes sense in view of Barfield’s years working on the editorial staffs of various British newspapers and journals.
Barfield’s senior thesis at Oxford University was published in book form under the title Poetic Diction after his graduation. In this work Barfield developed a theory about myths that had a big impact on Tolkien. Basically, he argued that the original developers of language did not distinguish between “literal” and “metaphorical” meanings of words. For example, the Latin word spiritus can be translated into modern English as “spirit” or “breath” or “wind.” Those three words have very different meanings to us, but to ancient Romans they all meant the same thing. Wind was really the breath of a god, and a person’s spirit was really the breath of life. Barfield argued that this use of words could be termed “mythological.”
So what? Well, Barfield said that stories worked the same way originally, and that there was no distinction between the workings of nature and acts of the gods in the minds of ancient storytellers. So the myths of ancient cultures are actually telling us something true about reality when they describe the gods causing natural disasters and interacting with human beings!
Tolkien later said that Barfield’s explanation of myths completely changed the way he viewed the subject, and that his own lectures and writing underwent a transformation as a result. When you read about the Valar and how they act in the Silmarillion, you are seeing the influence of Owen Barfield!
If you are interested in learning more about the Inklings or Barfield, pick up a copy of Humphrey Carter’s The Inklings (1978) or Simon Blaxland de Lange’s biography of Barfield titled Owen Barfield: Romanticism Comes of Age (2006).
One more fun fact: C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for Barfield’s adopted daughter, Lucy!
We are happy to welcome Punggo to the CSTM family! He contacted us looking for a home to publish his lore and Tolkien-related items outside LOTRO. We were super excited to include some more lore to our blog and I hope you will enjoy his posts as much as we do! Welcome Punggo!