Friday, 29 August 2014

My recent Inklings pilgrimage

Beside the remnants of 'Tolkien's Tree' (Pinus nigra) in the Oxford Botanic Gardens.
(The gash in the stone wall to the right of my head and slightly up, was made by a large branch falling from this tree, unexpectedly - leading to the need to cut-down the tree for public safety reasons.)

On Addison's Walk, Magdalen College - where CS Lewis had the late night conversation on myth with Tolkien and Dyson which led to his conversion

Beside Charles Williams's grave - St Cross churchyard

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What was the real, core, functional personnel of The Inklings during the Charles Williams years of 1939-45?


I am developing the thesis that Charles Williams was the dominant personality of The Inklings during the war years when he lived in Oxford,

Following on, I have tried to establish who the other regular members were during this period.


Surveying the available evidence summarized in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings, and Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep and checking in Warnie Lewis's diaries, and various letters and biographies of CS Lewis - it is clear that for the period of 1939-45 there were only four regular Inklings:

1. CS Lewis

2. Warnie Lewis

3. JRR Tolkien

4. Charles Williams.

There were several other people who were 'visitors' during this time, or else very infrequent; others began the period but drifted away (e.g. Coghill) or moved away (e.g. Fox), or whose membership was delayed by war service (Havard), - but only these four were regular attenders throughout the whole six years.


So, the Inklings seems to break down into into at least three distinct periods:

1. The early phase, probably from the late 1920s to 1939 - when the Inklings were dominated by Tolkien and Lewis but had a fairly large group (about seven) of fairly regular attenders.

2. The Charles Williams Years - 1939-45 - when the regular group became small, and probably therefore more intense and focused in their proceedings than at any other time, (quite aside from the fact that any group containing CW could not help but be highly intense and focused on him!), and with concerns I have surmised here:

3. And the later years from Williams death in 1945 to about 1949, when Tolkien and Lewis again dominated, and the group recruited new members, and some members became more regular (eg Dyson moved to Oxford in 1945).

So again the average Inklings meetings became larger (about seven - this is also implied by Warnie's post-war diary comments about 'small' Inklings meetings when there were four present - as if the usual was more); until Tolkien withdrew and the evening meetings ceased - after which the group continued as its established convivial drinking club meeting, with a much larger and looser membership, on Tuesday lunchtimes at the 'Bird and Baby' pub then the Lamb and Flag.


Monday, 25 August 2014

The nature of Charles Williams influence on The Inklings - the mythologizing of everyday life

Continuing from:

If we assume that Charles Williams did indeed lead, preside-over and dominate the Inklings meetings during the period 1939-45 while he resided in Oxford; then what was the nature of his influence?

I think it likely that Charles Williams did what he always did, in all situations and with all people - that is he mythologized everyday life.

CW took the people and purposes of life and revealed the underlying mythical patterns behind them - the spiritual and poetic reality behind superficially prosaic appearances.

He did this as the Oxford University Press in Amen House, London - where he gave the staff classical names (The Publisher became Caesar, for example). He wrote Masques which allegorized the matter of publishing, he addressed people by their mythical names, he re-explained what they did in terms of very elevated roles.

His novels were exactly about this.

Whereas Lewis and Tolkien were (pre-CW) mostly writing about a linear link-up between the realities of mythic History and prosaic modern life - Williams was all about (unnatural, unreal) modern life being invaded by the supernatural which is reality.

This, I presume, was Williams work, week upon week, in the meetings with the Inklings.

I am not aware of any direct evidence to support this idea of Williams influence on the Inklings - but indirect evidence is the two post-Williams novels That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis, and The Notion Club Papers by JRR Tolkien.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Evidence that Charles Williams 'presided' at Inklings meetings 1939-45

Continuing from:

It is generally assumed that CS Lewis presided over Inklings meetings throughout the span of that group's existence - indeed Humphrey Carpenter's group biography of the Inklings argued that the group was nothing but a group of Lewis's friends. And the meetings were held in Lewis's rooms.

However, I believe a strong case can be made that for the period 1939-45 when Charles Williams was living in Oxford, and was the most regular attender at Inklings evenings (according to Warnie Lewis) - Lewis stepped back into the role of merely hosting the Inklings, and CW dominated and presided over the meetings.

When I talk about presiding, I am of course referring to an informal gathering - yet, in all regular groups of friends there is a dominant figure - one who is the main authority, final court of appeal, who controls the discourse. And I think this is the role that Williams took over from Jack Lewis.

1. The main reason to believe this is that Williams was a dominant man: someone who (in his own distinctive way) dominated every human situation in which he found himself - with the possible exception of formal meetings with the Publisher of Oxford University Press Sir Humphrey Milford. He reportedly evoked voluntary deference from such large and powerful characters as Jack Lewis, TS Eliot and WH Auden.

2. Williams was the oldest of the regular Inklings.

3. Williams was by far the most published Inkling - the senior author.

4. Williams was the best connected of the Inklings, had friends and colleagues among major and famous literary figures of the era.

5. Williams was a figure in London - in this sense a wordly man, compared with the 'ivory towered' dons.

6. Williams was, in effect, a professional theologian - whose books were read, pondered, discussed, by real theologians - he had for a while been invited to contribute essays, books, plays on theological matters.

7. Williams was a successful poet, regarded as one of the most important of that era. Tolkien and Lewis had both intended to be poets (first and foremost) in their early adulthood - neither had succeeded; but Williams had.

So, I think that there are many reasons to suppose that - even despite the lack of direct evidence of what actually happened in the group - it was Williams who probably presided-over and dominated the Inklings meetings, and in this sense 'led' the group; from moving to Oxford until his death.


Warnie Lewis on Charles Williams and the Inklings - implications for understanding the Inklings as based on and around Charles Williams

From Warren Hamilton Lewis's diary for Tuesday 15 May 1945 (In "Brothers and Friends", edited by CS Kilby and ML Mead, 1982):

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work... when the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for J [=Jack = CS Lewis] -

"Mr Charles Williams died in the Acland [hospital] this morning".

One often reads of people being 'stunned' by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it. I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement...

I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink: choosing unfortunately the King's Arms, where during the winter Charles and I more than once drank a pint after leaving Tollers [Tolkien] at the Mitre, with much glee at 'clearing ones throats of varnish with good honest beer', as Charles used to say.

There will be no more pints with Charles: no more 'Bird and Baby': the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again. 

I knew him better than any of the others, by virtue of his being the most constant attendant...

And so vanishes one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness. 



1. Despite that I don't think Charles Williams mentions Warnie Lewis in any of his writings; nor do his biographers mention Warnie - it is clear that they were good friends. (This also emphasizes that C.W's own recorded written accounts of himself and his own doings are extremely partial, hence biased.)

2. As of 1945, Warnie knew Williams better than the others - which means better than Tolkien, or Havard, or Barfield. His evaluation of Charles as "one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet" should be given considerable weight, because Warnie was among the kindest and most empathic of men.

3. Warnie regarded Williams as absolutely central to The Inklings and indeed the most constant attender at the meetings (presumably aside from Jack and Warnie Lewis themselves). Therefore, an evaluation of whatever The Inklings was 'about' must be focused on what C.W brought to the group. 

My current feeling is that Charles Williams was both the trigger of The Inklings, and functioned in its heyday as as the senior figure and arbiter of the Inklings - when considered in its function as a serious intellectual group:

(Note: this present view of CW as leader supersedes my previous idea of Williams as a 'grey eminence' - or power behind the throne.)

This entails that it is NOT CS Lewis, nor JRR Tolkien, who was the primary person or spiritual leader among the Inklings - but instead Charles Williams.

There is very little direct evidence for this claim, but I hope to explore it in future postings.

Therefore, although they continued to meet for a few years after his death, once Williams was gone, so was the core reason for the Inklings Thursday evening meetings at Lewis's rooms - and the group dwindled to become essentially a convivial and casual gathering for drink and conversation at the Bird and Baby (Eagle and Child pub).

Continued at:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Was JRR Tolkien a lunatic?


Tolkien certainly seemed to think so!

...if the evidence of his fictional alter egos is anything to go by.

Or rather, Tolkien was humble enough to recognize that this was how he would appear to others.


And he defused the accusation by the pre-emptive strike of having some of the main characters with whom he identified described as one or another form of lunatic; but so-described by those whose opinions and world views were narrow, cynical, and often corrupt.


e.g. The autobiographically-hinting poem titled Looney (published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934; later re-named The Sea Bell, published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and fictively nicknamed Frodo's Dreme).

Bilbo's nickname of 'Mad Baggins' (mentioned at the end of The Hobbit).

Frodo described as 'cracking' (and Bilbo as 'cracked') by Sandyman in Lord of the Rings.

Specifically, this lunatic, mad, cracked status was accorded to characters who exhibited a strong interest in (or claimed to have visited) visit elves or the land of faery. 


Tolkien - the 'most unfortunate' man (According to Warren Lewis, 1936)

Diaries of Warren H (Warnie) Lewis: 21 January 1936

News today that Tolkien, playing squash and stretching for a high ball, said sharply t his partner "Don't do that again: it hurts" - thinking that the partner had playfully kicked him in the leg. 

He was then taken off to a doctor and it was found that he had broken a ligament in his leg and will be in bed for the next ten weeks. 

J [standing for Jack - i.e. Warnie's brother, C.S. Lewis] went to see him after tea, but found Madame there, so could not have much conversation with him. 

Of all the men I have ever met, poor Tolkien is the most unfortunate.

From Brothers and Friends: The diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. Edited by Clyde S Kilby and Majorie Lamp Mead. Harper and Row: San Fransico, 1982.



1. "broken a ligament in his leg" - this refers to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

2. "Madame" seems to refer to Tolkien's wife, Edith. Warnie makes several other references to Edith in his journals, and apparently regarded her negatively as someone who tried to keep Tolkien to herself and away from his friends and colleagues. I also get the impression, indirectly but strongly, that Warnie also regarded Edith as a demanding and 'neurotic' personality in her own right.For instance, on 24 March 1934, he juxtaposes a discussion of Mrs Moore with Edith in such a way as to imply a similarity of character; and Warnie certainly found Mrs Moore a very difficult person to live-with (even before her neurotic and demanding aspects were exacerbated by some kind of dementia).

Tolkien's squash partner has been identified:

McIntosh, Angus (1914–2005). Angus McIntosh read English at Oriel College, Oxford, taking first-class honours in 1934, and stayed on to earn his diploma in Comparative Philology at Merton in 1936. He became a friend of Tolkien, and together they played regular games of squash; one of these, at the end of January 1936, ended abruptly when Tolkien tore his Achilles Tendon. In later years, it is said, McIntosh sometimes claimed that he was entitled to a share of Tolkien’s royalties for The Hobbit andThe Lord of the Rings, given that his friend only began to write those works while laid up with his squash injury. This was surely tongue-in-check, though some have taken the story at face value: The Hobbit was substantially in existence already by 1936, while The Lord of the Ringswould not be conceived until late in 1937.
From 1936 to 1938, McIntosh was a Commonwealth Fellow at Harvard University, then took up a lectureship in English at University College Swansea. During the Second World War, he served in the Tank Corps but transferred to Intelligence and worked in cryptography at Bletchley Park. After briefly returning to Swansea, he became a Lecturer in English at Christ Church, Oxford (1946–47) and an Oxford University Lecturer in Medieval English (1946–48). He and Tolkien jointly conducted a seminar on Middle English during Hilary Term 1948. Later that year, McIntosh moved to Edinburgh University as the first Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics. Later he became a principal founder of the Edinburgh schools of epistemics (informatics) and Scottish studies. He retired from his chair in 1979.
Among many works in which McIntosh was involved were the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, the Middle English Dialect Project, A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, the Scottish National Dictionary, the Linguistic Atlas of Late MediƦval English, and the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. He was also active with the Scottish Text Society and the Early English Text Society.
Tolkien and McIntosh continued to see each other from time to time, in Oxford and Edinburgh. In 1962, McIntosh contributed an essay, ‘The Textual Transmission of the Alliterative Morte Arthure’, to the festschrift*English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday.


Comment: Why does Warnie, a most sensitive and kind man, refer to Tolkien as 'most unfortunate'? From his other journal references, I think it refers partly to Tolkien's marriage and domestic situation - as understood and evaluated from Warnie's perspective (who loved nothing better than a life of calmness and quietness, preferably with his brother); and partly to Tolkien seeming to have have a lot of misfortunes and unpleasant duties in his life.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lord of the Rings - significance of the first and last words

Although JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is classified as a fiction, it not meant to be read as such - and this is clear from its first and last words.


The first words - from the Prologue: Concerning Hobbits  - are:

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history.  Further information will also be found in the selection from the Red Book of Westmarch that has already been published, under the title of The Hobbit.  That story was derived from the earlier chapters of the Red Book, composed by Bilbo himself, the first Hobbit to become famous in the world at large, and called by him There and Back Again, since they told of his journey into the East and his return:  an adventure which later involved all the Hobbits in the great events of that Age that are here related. 


The last words, from Appendix F: The languages and peoples of the Third Age, are:

It must be observed, however, that when the Oldbucks (Zaragamba) changed their name to Brandybuck (Brandagamba), the first element meant 'borderland, and Marchbuck would have been nearer. Only a very bod hobbit would have ventured to call the Master of Buckland Braldagamba in his hearing.  


What are we to make of this?

1. LotR is principally about hobbits - hobbits begin it, and hobbits end it.

2. LotR is presented as a factual history - it opens with background information concerning the the textual origin of LotR. It closes with a description of the historical languages from which the Lord of the Rings has been translated. 

3. LotR is a profoundly philological work. 

The first paragraph is concerned with textual sources. The last paragraph is a philological joke -the previous paragraph explains that the translation of the word Brandywine in Brandywine River refers to an habitual hobbit jest that changed its original name of 'Branda-nin' meaning border water, to 'Bralda-him' meaning 'heady ale' - so that to call the Master of Buckland 'Braldagamba' would be to suggest that he was drunk. 


In sum, we may conclude from just its opening and closing paragraphs that The Lord of the Rings is a philologically-inspired feigned-history focused on hobbits - which is, of course is exactly what Tolkien said it was!