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The Inklings, Part 2 – Who Are They

The key to The Inklings was the double linchpins of their love of words and their love of Christ. But one other thing can’t be ignored. These men of letters lived in Oxford, a place that fostered academic pursuits. In other words, it was no accident that so many men interested in similar subjects were in the same location at the same time. Of course, in light of God’s sovereignty, we know it was no accident at all.
| Jan 16, 2012 | No comments | Series:

Mentoring group - Mount Hermon Christian Writers' Conference

Writers groups, literary societies, book clubs — they’ve been around for a long time. Saturday I met with my writing group — five of us living in the SoCal area and interested in speculative fiction, each of us Christian. We meet about once a month for a variety of purposes. Sometimes we brainstorm with a member starting a new project. Sometimes we confab about blog buzz or commiserate with an author about the latest rejection notice or the newest list of edits. Sometimes we celebrate successes and pass along experiences. And there is always some measure of critique work — those who brought something read it aloud and the rest give feedback.

So are we an incarnation of The Inklings?

As wonderful as my writing group is and as grateful as I am for the friendship and help these writers give me, the truth is we aren’t anything like The Inklings, except for the ways in which we are. 😉

First, The Inklings began as an informal writing group. They developed in part from an Oxford club founded by Edward Tangyre Lean, an undergraduate who established the group primarily for critique of unpublished works. To gain credibility, perhaps, he decided to include some faculty and invited both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien to join. His club, which he named the Inklings, lasted for several terms, but when he graduated in 1933, the group folded.

The name Inklings, now available, was transferred to a group meeting in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. In fact various members of the now famous group had been meeting informally years prior to the adoption of the name.

There appear to be several critical dates in the establishment of The Inklings. In December 1929 Tolkien first gave Lewis something from his own creation to critique. Nearly two years later, in September 1931 Lewis embraced faith in Christ — an important part of the foundation of The Inklings, because only two things were required for consideration of members: that they write and that they were Christians. The third key date was 1932 when C. S. Lewis’s brother Warren retired from military service and moved to Oxford. From that point he joined the meetings.

Typically the critique sessions were held every Thursday night in Lewis’s rooms. Those attending would arrive some time after dinner, and the evening was given to reading a work and giving praise for it and/or suggestions to make it better.

The group soon began to grow.

Scholars now identify nineteen men as part of The Inklings, though most Thursday meetings only saw six or seven members gather. The four who attended most faithfully were the two Lewis brothers, Tolkien, and Robert E. Havard. Others on the list are Owen Barfield, J. A. W. Bennett, David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, James Dundas-Grant, H. V. D. Dyson, Adam Fox, Colin Hardie, Gervase Mathew, R. B. McCallum, C. E. Stevens, Christopher Tolkien (J. R. R.’s son), John Wain, Charles Williams, and C. L. Wrenn.

Was mystery writer Dorothy Sayers a part of The Inklings? Apparently not, though she was friends with a number of The Inklings — C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams in particular. She was also a member of a separate group, the Socratic Club which included a number of The Inklings but which served a very different purpose: to provide a forum for Christians and atheists to discuss their divergent beliefs.

The Thursday critique sessions were not the only meetings of The Inklings. An even more informal gathering took place every Tuesday morning at the pub The Eagle and Child, also referred to as the Bird and Baby. Unlike the evening meetings, these get-togethers were open to the public and less serious. They were given to talk among friends, discussion of theology, and of course conversation about literature.

The key to The Inklings was the double linchpins of their love of words and their love of Christ. But one other thing can’t be ignored. These men of letters lived in Oxford, a place that fostered academic pursuits. In other words, it was no accident that so many men interested in similar subjects were in the same location at the same time. Of course, in light of God’s sovereignty, we know it was no accident at all.

Because of the like-mindedness of these various men, it is no surprise to learn that The Inklings interacted with one another apart from their two weekly meetings.

Diana Pavlac Glyer author of The Company They Keep

They saw one another in many other venues: for lunch, dinner, or beer; on walking tours through the English countryside; for feasts and special events, such as occasional ham suppers and the special weekend celebration to toast the end of the war [World War II]. Although the Thursday group was fairly stable and predictable, a network of friendships preceded these Thursday meetings and continued long after the regular meetings ended. (The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer, p. 18).

In other words, The Inklings became a community more than a group or even a club. While the regular sessions lasted some seventeen years, a number of the friendships developed within that setting were apparently life long.

Can any group today ever replicate what The Inklings became? What are your thoughts? What advantages do you think they had? What advantages do we have today that they missed out on?

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Maria Tatham
Guest

Becky, 

Can’t say that I feel they missed out on anything like an advantage that we might have today; but neither did we miss out on advantages they had. It wasn’t all peaches and cream for these men. (Hmm, I guess one HUGE advantage would be the inclusion of women in such groups now.)  We can romanticize these things, don’t you think? It’s not possible to replicate what they had, but we can enjoy our God-given goodies of today: writerly/Christian relationships that are excellent, just different perhaps.

This gave us lots of good materials on this amazing writer’s/friends’ group. Thank you!  

Maria

Kaci Hill
Member

Can any group today ever replicate what The Inklings became? What are your thoughts? What advantages do you think they had? What advantages do we have today that they missed out on?

 
I’ve admittedly not had much success with formal “writing/critique groups,” though I can name writers who had success there.  Writing groups are, to quote a writer friend of mine, a bit like searching out Bible studies: Either you’re going to click, or you’re not.  I think likely a key component, like-mindedness aside,  is that this wasn’t just a random group who saw each other for a couple hours once a week or month and didn’t have much else to do with each other after that. 

For me, personally, what’s been a key factor has been:

1. People who are familiar with either my writing specifically or with the general style/genre I’m after

2. People who are willing to be honest and allow the road to run both ways (if they’re writers)

The little band of brothers of writer friends I’ve got has proven crucial, but I’m not sure you could really even call us an organized group. But I think the biggest factor, formal group or ragtag bunch, is the mutual support and camaraderie.  Writing can be psychological and spiritual warfare at times, and, well, sometimes just that one person who keeps pushing can mean all the difference in the world.
 
 

Galadriel
Guest

The only critique groups I have had access to are class workshops for poetry and forum comments for fiction.  I’m half-dreading my fiction workshops in class, since it’s not my prefered genre, but the comments I have recieved on my work so far are encouraging.

Maria Tatham
Guest

That’s great, Galadriel, that you’re getting encouragement. It is so important. It’s a kind of love, and we can’t do without this.

Hope it goes very well with your fiction workshop, even if fiction isn’t your preferred genre. This kind of thing can stretch us, and then we will bring a freshness back to the work we prefer.
 

Galadriel
Guest

No, fiction is my favorite genre, but for class we have to write mainstream fiction.

Sherwood Smith
Guest
Sherwood Smith

Heh! There was an Inklings II in the Mythopoeic Society during the late sixties, early seventies. (Only our youth excused such hubris.)

Maria Tatham
Guest

Sherwood, perhaps it wasn’t hubris, but just looked like that in retrospect. Perhaps it was admiration and love for these fine authors.