Reading for Year 7-11 Assembly 6/3/2024 - Roads

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet,
until it joins some larger way
where many parts and errands meet
and wither then? I cannot say.”

If you have read either the Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings you might recognise those lines. In a way, they characterise the books. 4 books, a total of probably 1500 pages of either mythological nonsense or literary masterpiece depending on your age, your imagination, and your perspective. And also a book about a journey.

There’s something strongly symbolic about human migration, about travel and the human condition. Humans, it would seem, were never intended to stay in one place for any length of time either physically or intellectually. We are all on a journey, on a road – it makes little difference where you are or how old you might be, the road is always there to draw you in and take you on – but where?

I am always struck, around this time of the year by the contrasting views of Year 11 & Year 12 students who I interview looking forward to the next stages of their journey at Bishop’s. Some are very, very clear about what they want to achieve and usually have been so for some time. For them, the journey through school has been relatively easy to navigate; yes the hills are still steep and there maybe the occasional potholes, but there is no doubt about the direction of travel.
Other boys and girls are different. The journey for them is more uncertain, because either they’re not quite sure in where they are going or, like with some of those roads, they never quite know what is around the next corner – triumph or disaster may await…

Of course, that’s a feature of human consciousness, and not just a metaphor to examine the mental state of adolescent boys and girls. Some of the best literature written in the 20th century is about travelling, either physically from place to place or mentally from one level to another. A whole group of American novelists in the 1960’s became the ‘beat generation’, their lifestyles determined by the need to travel, to look for new meanings to existence as they changed, and their journeys changed them. Further back in literary history the same desire to grow and travel was the driver behind generations of European aristocrats taking the grand tour before they settled down to family and career. In medieval times Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled along the North Downs from London to Canterbury, storytelling as they went. Still further back, in biblical times there are the most famous road trips of all this I would guess, the journeys of St Paul the Apostle. In the 1st Century AD Paul took the roads around and across the entire Eastern Mediterranean, visiting the capitals of the ancient world, Jerusalem, Antioch Ephesus, Athens, and Rome. As he travelled, he responded to his surrounding and the letters he wrote give a fantastic account of adventure, in missions against the odds.

I doubt that Paul knew where the road would end – but what is undoubtedly true is that he made the most of every opportunity that came his way, and he learned and grew both in experience and wisdom as he travelled. I guess that is what is relevant here, what do you want your road to lead to? Can you do the same even though your journeys may be on a less epic scale?

It’s certainly also true in The Lord of The Rings that the characters don’t know where their journey will end. The road is seen as a great river, its springs were at every doorstep and every path a fresh tributary. It’s a dangerous business going out of your door. You step on to the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Think carefully about where your road is taking you as we head towards the end of The Spring Term. There are important milestones ahead for all of you but you have some control of both the route and the pace of travel. You are more than a mere passenger – each of you is more of an adventurer on your own road this spring.