Sunday 26 May 2013

What was the social dynamic of The Inklings?


Letter from C.S Lewis to Dom Bede Griffiths of Dec 21 1940

[Charles] Williams, [Hugo] Dyson of Reading, and my brother (Anglicans), and Tolkien and my doctor, Havard (your [Roman Catholic] church) are the 'Inklings'...


If we take this as the core Inklings grouping, it an be observed that there are three writers who would read out their work (Jack Lewis, Tolkien and Williams); and three (mostly) non-writers, who were listeners and commenters (Warnie Lewis, Dyson and Havard).

(In fact, Warnie Lewis later became a published author - and began writing his French histories in the second half of the Inklings period, from 1942.)


The non-writing listeners and commenters were probably important: a key to the success of the group.

I have (briefly, I didn't like them) been in a couple of writers groups in my early adulthood - and the problem was that everybody wanted to read their work and nobody really wanted to listen - didn't much enjoy listening. One effect of this was that comments from unwilling, unappreciative listeners were not much use to the writers.


Warnie and Havard were good listeners, and so was Jack - it being a much remarked-upon trait of his that he liked being read-to. Dyson did not like the Lord of the Rings, but I surmise he must have liked listening to most of the other things being read-out, or else someone so easily bored (as it seems) would not have commuted from Reading University nor continued attending when he got a fellowship in Oxford.

I suspect that the writers greatly prized the opportunity to read to the non-writers, and to hear their responses, as being a more representative audience than other writers; perhaps especially Warnie fulfilled that role of a 'plain reader' for Tolkien and Lewis, being a straightforward and typically military chap, who was nonetheless highly intelligent and well read.


The social dynamic was that the pattern of the evening was set by the writers and readers, but the success of that conversation which sustained the group was dependent on the response of the listeners, each of whom brought something distinctive to the ensuing discussions.



Samson J. said...

Interesting. Not being much of a writer myself, I'd love to fill the "listener" role - but then how would I find myself in a writer's group in the first place?

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - The Inklings wasn't exactly a writer's group - but more like a conversation group among Christians and friends, in which the conversation was stimulated by writing done by the group and read aloud, and grew from comments on the writing being presented.

Most writers groups are not of this form. But maybe some should be?