Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The essence of The Inklings: idea for an Inklings Reader


How could someone 'get' the essence of The Inklings, and what they were 'about'?

Well, not from reading Humphrey Carpenter's group biography, where the group are seen merely as C.S Lewis's friends. And not quite from Diane Pavlac Glyer's The Company they Keep - which sees them as a writers' group.

To understand the Inklings in their primary importance, as the last influential group of English Christian traditionalists or reactionaries, requires a different - and idiosyncratic - programme of reading; one which focuses on a set of texts that are mostly non-canonical.

1. Charles Williams The Place of the Lion. I see this is the primary text which - from 1936 when they first read it - inspired both Lewis and Tolkien to their greatest achievement; specifically in terms of reconnecting modern man with mythic history. I do not think anything else by CW had significant influence, thus Williams' influence on Lewis and Tolkien was essentially complete before he began attending the Inklings in person from 1939. 

2. JRR Tolkien The Lost Road/ Notion Club Papers. These two unfinished novels, begun in 1936 and finished-with in 1946, represent Tolkien's most direct representation and expression of what The Inklings was about.

3. CS Lewis The Dark Tower and That Hideous Strength. The short fragment of an unfinished novel and the climax of Lewis's science fiction trilogy form the culmination and fullest expression of The Inklings ethos.


As secondary literature, there is not much - but of particular relevance are John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War for its description of Tolkien's early pre-Inkling group - the TCBS; and my own rambling compilation published on this blog: the Companion to the NCPs




Deniz Bevan said...

Very good idea. I love those books. Rereading The Lost Road at the moment.

Dale James Nelson said...

If you're thinking literally of a book that could be called The Inklings Reader, would a reprinting of those texts in their entirety be possible? But that is a quibble. Certainly the books you mention, with the possible exception of The Dark Tower, would need to be included or mined thoroughly for such a book.

What then about nonfiction works? I'm thinking of passages from the letters of Tolkien and Lewis. (I don't know Williams's letters well.) Also, certainly, of selected essays by Lewis. For the purpose of the Reader, the relatively little-known collection Present Concerns would be a good book to raid. What about some passages from The Discarded Image?

The Reader should have a select bibliography including material by writers carrying on the thought of the Inklings; and also pointing out books and other resources liable to be helpful with some of their themes, such as Gregory Boyd's God at War and parts of E. F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - I think you've talked yourself into a job...

The point of all this - as you obviously see - is that this is a very particular 'take' on the Inklings - indeed the 'take' of this blog. And, as such, different from the usual way of conisdering this group - what it was, what it was trying to do, and what it actually did.

From this perspective, The Inklings in fact reduces to Tolkien and Lewis and the other members simply serve to amuse, encourage and refine the work of these two.

And the work of the Inklings, by this account, spanned only from 1936-49

- from 1936 when L and T read Place of the Lion and 'tossed up' a coin leading to Lewis writing the Space Trilogy and Tolkien writing his unfinished Time novels

-- and ended (as I have argued) in 1949 when Tolkien and Lewis fell-out after T had seen the first draft of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and (as I believe) Tolkien regarded Lewis as having betrayed their implicit pact.

Dale James Nelson said...

I'd say also that the Select Bibliography should have a section recommending recreational reading -- a "genre" for which Tolkien and Lewis had an appreciation that they -were- willing to admit! In this part of the Reader I would recommend Lars Walker's thriller Wolf Time. (Other novels by him, such as Blood and Judgment [title and plot elements from Shakespeare], are also enjoyable.)

Dale James Nelson said...

The Reader should also provide some suggestions for nonverbal works that partake in some worthwhile way with the inner world of Lewis and Tolkien in the period that you identify, Dr. Charlton.

One can find clues in a valuable book that is often overlooked -- Peter Schakel's Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis.

I really think that many of us would benefit from living with art and music that Lewis and Tolkien particularly cared about. Remember that an important part of Jane Studdock's recovery from her self-absorption and of her growing freedom from false beliefs comes not only from reading George MacDonald and Jane Austen (wasn't it? I'm too lazy to check), but, e.g. listening to recordings of Bach chorales. I would like to recommend the recordings of Maasaki Suzuki (Bach Collegium Japan), but that's not to depreciate Gardiner, Herreweghe, Koopman, et al. -- and though I'm straying from the Inklings here, I'll recommend again Gaines's book on Bach, Evening in the Palace of Reason.

Tolkien's favorite composer, according to someone who knew him, was Sibelius. For people who don't know Sibelius's music very well, may I recommend the 5th and 6th symphonies as ones to start with?

stephen c said...

this is an excellent idea ... I would add some excerpts from George McDonald -thanks to e-books, which provide 14 thousand pages of his works for the price of two loafs of bread- i have been able to read the beginning of several of his
'realistic novels" and they begin amazingly well - as if a random Inkling had been born a generation earlier and were challenged to write in Victorian style what Tolkien, Williams, and Lewis would in the future love to read - also Sibelius, who wrote like an angel, is a wonderful suggestion for a music score for most "Inkling" works of imagination

Bruce Charlton said...

What seems to be emerging from Dale's comments and now stephen c is a set of suggestions for an immersive environment that might assist in inducing the essential Inkling perspective.

I think this desire is actually fairly widespread, since there have now been published several 'fanfiction' novels which are (more or less) trying to do the same thing -


I would enjoy reading an Inklings-focused fiction about the impact of PotL on Lewis and Tolkien and their own attempts to write similar novels, then perhaps moving into a CW type situation where Fantasy elements break through into normal life and (say) transform L & T such that they become capable of writing their great works.

Dale James Nelson said...

The Reader should include identifications of books that mattered much to Tolkien and Lewis.


What was the book that, according to Tolkien, meant most to him when he was a youth?

If you didn't know, you might be surprised; it was a book of wild flower identification:


Deniz Bevan said...

I like this anthology idea a lot. A sort of Inklings Companion - I'd buy a massive hardcover of that :-)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Deniz - you, me and Dale plus a few others... but I suspect it would not make the publisher much money!

Dale James Nelson said...

Word would get around, Dr. Charlton. I'm not saying an Inklings Reader would sell hundreds of thousands of copies, particularly if it appeared simply to be a repackaging of a few books all the CSL and JRRT fans already own. A Reader with well-chosen selections on vital topics plus plenty of interesting sidebars, Further Reading lists, etc. could be well-received. Dare I suggest -- something like a Politically Incorrect Guide (PIG) to the Inklings?