Malvern: The Mystical Heart of Mercia
The Malvern Hills are famous for their beauty, magnificent views and their association with the music of Sir Edward Elgar but the town of Malvern itself has a magical feel to it that has also inspired some our greatest figures.
JRR Tolkien was a frequent visitor to Malvern, as was his great friend and fellow fantasy author CS Lewis, and they would meet with their friend George Sayer who was head of English at Malvern College. The three academics were regulars in The Unicorn pub where they would bounce ideas off each other and plan where their next walk across the hills would take them. As they wandered the peaks Tolkien would stop every few yards to stare at a tree in silence or to explain to the other two how the fog draped hillsides made him feel, much to the chagrin of Lewis who preferred to hike at a good pace to see what was over the next horizon.
It was the mist on the hills and the snow on their peaks in winter that gave Tolkien his direct inspiration for the White Mountains in his Middle Earth mythos, a fact confirmed by the great man himself. The study of his many letters and notes has shaped our later understanding of his many inspirations but the Malverns are the only location he directly linked to a place in his work. Clutters Cave, the Red Earl's Ditch, the ancient fort of British Camp, all these places along the Malverns range went into shaping this part of Middle Earth where the great peaks end at the white stone city of Minas Tirith.
When Tolkien first began to send the manuscript for The Lord of the Rings to publishers he became dejected by the first few rejections, thinking that his epic work of fantasy was just a big folly, but when he recorded himself reading some passages and reciting some of the Elvish songs the playback in Sayer's Malvern home one evening renewed his enthusiasm. The very next morning the three men walked again across the peaks and, seeing the misty landscape stretching before him, Tolkien knew he was right and must have faith.
CS Lewis, while more inspired by the mountains of his homeland of Northern Ireland as far as landscape was concerned, was enchanted by the gaslit magic of Malvern town. The old buildings, alleys and parks lit by the magical glow of the old lamps stayed with him to such an extent that he made one of the lamps the very first thing Edmund saw when he first entered Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Today that atmosphere is still very much present, and in recognition of Tolkien's presence in the town the door to a “Hobbit Hole” has been painted in a little park at the centre of the town. The Unicorn has barely changed since the days of Tolkien and Lewis, while the hills...they will always be there, blanketed in the Malvern mist during winter and in lush with gold and green in summer.
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Malvern, lit by its nostalgic lamps
The Unicorn today
Hobbit door in Belle Vue island park
A misty path along the hills
Old Malvern priory gate, one of the lovely old buildings around Malvern
The mist covered hills, picture taken a few months ago
Windowside table inside The Unicorn
The end of the White Mountains at Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings
The lamp in Narnia as portrayed in the film