Famous Brits Who Couldn’t Drive (Very Well):

What did J.R.R. Tolkien and John Lennon have in common? I mean, besides international fame, British birth certificates, and well-developed right brains?

For both, automotive travel presented prohibitive challenges.

In Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carter, we find out that Mrs. Tolkien had good reason to boycott Sunday drives in the family car, “Jo”:

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey CarpenterThere was the unforgettable occasion in 1932 when Tolkien bought his first car, a Morris Cowley that was nicknamed ‘Jo’ after the first two letters of its registration. After learning to drive he took the entire family by car to visit his brother Hilary at his Evesham fruit farm.

At various times during the journey ‘Jo’ sustained two punctures and knocked down part of a dry-stone wall near Chipping Norton, with the result that [Tolkien’s wife] Edith refused to travel in the car again until some months later — not entirely without justification, for Tolkien’s driving was daring rather than skillful.

When accelerating headlong across a busy main road in Oxford in order to get into a side-street, he would ignore all other vehicles and cry ‘Charge ’em and they scatter!’ — and scatter they did.

Meanwhile, in The Lives of John Lennon, by Albert Goldman, an accounting of John Lennon’s final road trip behind the wheel — accompanied by Yoko and their respective children from previous marriages, Julian and Kyoko:

The Lives of John Lennon, by Albert Goldman[It was explained] to John [Lennon] that the road was only one lane with a lay-by every sixty yards. If a car appeared from the opposite direction, John should make for the nearest lay-by or allow the oncoming driver to pull off first. John took off with Julian riding beside him in the front seat and Yoko sitting with Kyoko in the back seat.

…[L]ooking up the road, he saw a car approaching. Neither vehicle was moving rapidly. Visibility was perfect. Suddenly John panicked. He hurtled off the road and slammed into a ditch. They all were thrown forward violently, striking their heads against the dashboard, the windshield, or the side walls of the car.

What happened next enraged Yoko every time she thought about it, for years to come. John forced his way out of the front door and, dragging Julian after him, got free of the car. When he realized that he wasn’t badly hurt, he seized the boy and began dancing about like a mad troll. ‘We’re alive! We’re alive!’ he caroled gleefully.

Yoko, stunned, bleeding from facial wounds, suffering pain and hearing the howls of her child next to her, was furious that John had not thought for her. What she failed to realize was how relieved John must have felt at this moment. He had to know he need never drive again.

C.S. Lewis preferred walking.