Friday, 19 June 2015

What was an Inklings meeting like? - Depictions of The Inklings

1. An Inklings meeting was the (usually) Thursday evening/ night meeting in CS ('Jack') Lewis's rooms; to read work in progress, criticize it, and have conversations arising from this. These true Inklings meetings probably finished in October 1949.

The Inklings was not the Tuesday (later Monday) lunchtime gatherings at various pubs in Oxford, again focused on Jack Lewis, which happened especially at the 'Bird and Baby' (Eagle and Child), later the Lamb and Flag. These were attended by The Inklings, but also a wideish range of others - and they were just for general, mostly light, conversation. These informal, convivial, conversational meetings continued until Jack Lewis's death in 1963.   

2. There is no direct transcript of an Inklings evening, featuring the actual people who attended. The nearest to this are a few, paragraph length, summary entries in Warnie Lewis's diary - a selection from which is published in Brothers and Friends: the diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis.

3. The best known word-by-word depiction of an Inklings meeting is a chapter in Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings (1978); which he creatively reconstructed by sampling and synthesizing from multiple writings of the Inklings, together with hints from Warnie's diary.

4. JRR Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers (an unfinished and posthumously published novel to be found in Christopher Tolkien's edited The History of Middle Earth, Volume 9, Sauron's Defeat) comprises a highly Inklings-style meeting of a club based explicitly upon The Inklings and written to be read at The Inklings; but with different, fictionalized and composite participants.

This probably captures the spirit of an Inklings meeting more closely than any other source.

5. CS Lewis also left a short depiction of an Inkling's-esque club which can be found in an unfinished fragment of a story named The Dark Tower, and which was posthumously edited and published by Walter Hooper in 1977.

6. Owen Barfield was an infrequent, but very keen, Inklings participant - and arguably The Inklings evolutionarily-arose-from the Barfield- Jack Lewis conversations and written debates of the 1920s. Barfield published a novel entitled Worlds Apart (1963) which describes a weekend long conversation of a very Inklings-like character - including characters based on Barfield and Jack Lewis.

For further suggestions - see Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep (2008).


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Michael Moorcock's "Epic Pooh" essay on Tolkien and the Inklings

Some 25 years ago I came across Michael Moorcock's essay focused on Tolkien in a collection of essays entitled Wizardry and Wild Romance (1987, Gollancz); and I have just been re-reading it.

It strikes me as an uncriticizably-bad essay - in the sense that it is an almost perfect example of that inversion of Good which is the hallmark of New Leftism in its post-sixties and politically correct form.

So, from Moorcock's perspective; virtue is wickedness, courage is cowardice, deep scholarship is criticized as populist, everything beautiful is named ugly, truth is put down as evasion - and all the opposites.

This is also the situation in Moorcock's fiction - it is a world of moral subversion, inversion and destruction; in which entropy is embraced and chaos is king (except that 'kings' are baddies).

I have, indeed, read a lot of Moorcock's books - at least twenty, probably more; at the time of my life when I embraced his nihilism. But, although I was always expecting to find evidence that Moorcock was (as so many journalists said) an important, perhaps great, writer; and although I kept trying book after book; I never could perceive it.

He seemed superficial and inept - in the sense that the books felt slapdash, pointless; and I could seldom understand what was actually going-on (this, I assume, was due to narrative inability, poor storytelling technique).

And I never re-read any of them - which is, for me, decisive; except for a comic James Bond parody called The Russian Intelligence, which made me laugh out loud.


But the Epic Pooh essay is well worth re-reading; not (I hasten to add) for its critical analysis nor its ludicrous pretense at objectivity of standards; and certainly not for its sprawling, hasty, lazy non-structure - but as a case study of the phenomenon of middle class disaffection.

Because Moorcock's main term of abuse is 'middle class' - yet of course he is himself middle class (far more so than I am). However, Moorcock is a characteristic part of the upper middle class; which is the bohemian artist, drop-out, liberated, sexual revolutionary, drink and drugs type middle class.

These drop-out upper middle class  types imagine themselves tougher, realer and more honest than the  lower middle class and the respectable skilled and semi-skilled working class (i.e. the kind from whom my own ancestors and relatives were drawn) - these are despised as smug/ pathetic/ infantile/ square/ repressed/ hypocritical (etc etc).

The bohemian middle class have a snobbish disdain amounting to disgust, directed against the old English hard-working and (mostly) clean-living 'bourgeoisie'; and always they side with tramps, prostitutes, muggers, thieves and beggars; their values are aristocratic: amoral and hedonistic; their gods are style and cool.


All through Epic Pooh, Moorcock is continually, swaggeringly advertising his own toughness in contrast with what he depicts as the the escapist timidity of Tolkien and co.

But Moorcock's idea of toughness is 'smoking behind the bike sheds' teenage rebel stuff; like getting expelled from his experimental private school, drinking to excess, taking drugs, advocating bizarre and promiscuous sex, going on 'demos', and participating in the rock music scene.

Against such indomitable modern heroism; what have the likes of Tolkien and CS Lewis to offer other than serving in the front line trenches during the first world war?


The irony is that Moorcock's brand of middle class moral rebelliousness is now the official ethics of mainstream bureaucracy and civil service; his transgressive sexual practices and orientations are now taught and advocated in primary schools; his once-edgy feminist privileging is now enforced by everybody including the Royal Mail, the Royal Mint, the Royal Society and the Royal Family; the 'revolutionaries' of the sixties are now the recipients of knighthoods and peerages.

Meanwhile, Tolkien is still excluded by the literary establishment, still maintains his devoted readership; Tolkien's values of Christianity and traditional morality cannot legally be expressed either in public or in private.


In his recent interviews, Moorcock apparently still romanticizes himself as a bold and dashing Robin Hood liberationist of 'the people'; indomitably fighting the overwhelming forces of repressive tradition, pervasive patriarchy, and hegemonic Christianity.

Pose is all. And all there is, is pose.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Owen Barfield and the Truth of Imagination - Philosopher of the Inklings

Owen Barfield deserves his description as 'the fourth Inkling' - along with CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams - because, although he attended few meetings, his influence is undeniable (especially on Lewis, but also on Tolkien) and his core philosophical concern was exactly that shared by the other three Inklings.

Indeed, Barfield stated this primary concern more explicitly and over a longer period than any other Inkling (because he started publishing so young and lived an active life up to the age of ninety-nine).

This theme is the Truth of Imagination. Barfield's life-long concern was to understand how the Imagination is a source of Truth, a source of knowledge, a way of accessing reality.


This was also Tolkien's concern, most evident in the concept of Subcreation described in his essay On Fairy Stories - and in his many reflections on myth and history.

It was Lewis's concern in his Platonism - where the Imagination was seen as a mortal and earth-bound way of understanding the primary eternal forms of Heaven - this crops up all through Lewis's ouvre - for instance at the end of The Last Battle and his book on the Medieval world view - The Discarded Image.

And Charles Williams many considerations of Romantic or Positive Theology (via  positiva)  - his multi-form efforts to show that the poetic imagination could be a path towards salvation and theosis; and his best and most explicitly Platonic novel The Place Of The Lion - in which the imagination opens-up a (dangerous, indeed deadly) channel for the eternal forms to invade this world. Furthermore, in his actual life, and to a high degree, Williams lived by the truth and reality of imagination.


Of course, this concern with the Truth of Imagination was mostly a matter of the confluence of spontaneous personal interests rather than of direct personal 'influence' of one Inking upon another - especially in the case of Charles Williams whose ideas were fully expressed before he even heard of the Inklings (in 1936), and before he actually attended meetings regularly (from 1939-45).

By contrast with Williams, Barfield had done most of his thinking and formulating back in the 1920s, before The Inklings, around the time of his Great War with Lewis (a sustained epistolatory debate from 1925 to Lewis's conversion circa 1930); and when the friendship was forming between Lewis and Tolkien. Barfield's early BLitt thesis, and his first two books (Poetic Diction and History In English Words) also (by his own account) influenced and changed Tolkien at this time - both as a professional philologist and in his imaginative writing.

Once we are sufficiently clear about the nature of The Inklings primary concern, the importance of Owen Barfield becomes obvious.


Monday, 1 June 2015

The contrasting dream-worlds of Lewis and Tolkien


CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien both used their dreams, and the relationship between dream-life and the awake state, as an important source in their fictional writing.

But the nature of that dream life seems to have been very different - Lewis's mostly negative and Tolkien's including the very positive.


By Lewis's account, he was prone to nightmares throughout his life, and these nightmares are distressingly well remembered.

One of Lewis's strangest works is the posthumously-published fragment from the Space Trilogy sequence, The Dark Tower, which depicts a truly nightmarish world that is so peculiar in its details as to suggest it came directly from a nightmare. To my mind, the particular quality of Lewis's nightmarish writings is a sense of living in an inescapable, eternal world of suffering from which God is excluded - a world which lacks even the concept of God.

In sum, it seems that the usual content of Lewis's dream material was negative, and its contribution to his writing was predominantly in terms of an awareness of horror, misery and sin.


Tolkien, by contrast, reports dream content that is both more varied and includes a lot of positive, euphoric, beautiful experience as well as the eerie, oppressive, nightmarish...

In particular, I would emphasize from the above references, the likelihood that Tolkien's experiences of Faery, of Elfland, were substantially derived from dreams - indeed from 'lucid' dreams in which we retained a degree of awareness of the dreaming state, and was able to exert control over the content and development of the dream while still experiencing it as emotionally-real.

This is also related to a major negative theme in Tolkien's work, which is the profound, inconsolable sense of loss experienced by the traveller to Faery on his return to the 'normal' mortal world - this is the experience of Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, the protagonist in the poem The Sea Bell, the protagonist of Smith of Wootton Major and of 'Arry' Lowdham's Father in The Notion Club Papers (to name but a sample).

Since Tolkien (apparently) vividly and memorably experienced Faery in some of his dreams; then I would interpret this these as being a fictional version of Tolkien's own sorrow of waking from magical, mythical dreams, into the disenchanted, materialistic world of (much of) his everyday life.