Tuesday 4 June 2013

Why have the Inklings become so popular? Four possible reasons


1. As a by-product of the continual increase in popularity of JRR Tolkien and C.S Lewis.

Probably some truth in this - because the increased attention payed to the Inklings has had virtually no spin-off benefits on the other members: e.g. Charles Williams and Owen Barfield remain the preserve of enthusiasts and cults, Warnie Lewis's books are only obtainable from secondhand stores, and the same applies to Coghill - and so on...

2. An idyllic Oxford fantasy of a group of friends in beautiful surroundings (well, not Lewis's spartan and filthy rooms, but their setting at least!) - making an ideal focus for pilgrimages either by foot or virtually - through the medium of film and photographs.

3. The Inklings as a group of anti-modern, fantasy-oriented, counter-cultural authors seeking to establish a mythic view of life. True again, so far as it goes.

4. The Inklings as the last group of first rate traditional Christian English intellectuals. This is to perceive the Inklings as they did not perceive themselves but were perceived by others, specifically by those who disagreed with them: as a socio-political grouping.

In the wake of the  obvious failure of the linked phenomena of secularism and Leftism - our understanding of the characterization of John Wain's memoir has been transformed:

"The group had a corporate mind" that was both powerful and clearly defined. They were "politically conservative, not to say reactionary; in religion, Anglo- or Roman-Catholic; in art, frankly hostile to an manifestation of the 'modern' spirit", "a circle of instigators, almost incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life."

John Wain's critical evaluation of the Inklings as being 'now' (i.e. in the early 1960s) ideologically obsolete; has been transformed by the passage of fifty years into a recognition of the group's vital significance. 



Roger Billings said...

Your post makes me realize the similarity of the Pre-Raphaelites to the Inklings, although the two groups are very different on the surface. Yet both sought to escape the prevailing artistic paradigm by going back to the Middle Ages. In the case of the Inklings, they went back further and were more intellectually rigorous in that they started out as an Old Norse (!)reading group. I suppose it was this unselfconscious effort to pursue wholeheartedly what they loved in complete disregard of what was fashionable that adds significantly to their appeal.

Samson J. said...

because the increased attention payed to the Inklings has had virtually no spin-off benefits on the other members: e.g. Charles Williams

Hey - I got a Charles Williams book for my birthday! But I am a cultist, and I got the idea from you anyway. :)

Wurmbrand said...

Tolkien and Lewis are popular. Should Charles Williams and the others be considered popular? There is a solid base of interest in Williams (as evidenced by the continuing publication of books about him and the republication of many of his own books), but I would guess that there is less popular interest in Williams now than there was in the Seventies. You would run across references to him in magazines like The Christian Century or even (rarely) newspapers. Is that still true? Is he perhaps popular in the UK but not the US?

Bruce Charlton said...

@W - I would say that Charles Williams is essentially unknown in the UK except among a few highbrows with theological interests (such as the previous Archbish of Canterbury - President of the CW society). I can't see that changing, since he is very hard to read - even the novels.

Wurmbrand said...

There is a market for books about the Inklings, and not just as published by religious publishers such as Thomas Nelson, Eerdmans, etc., but also from academic publishers. I wonder, though, if it's mostly the same people and libraries that buy these books. Are readers under 35 or so exploring any of the Inklings other than Tolkien and maybe Lewis? I'm doubtful about the appeal of Lewis to readers under 35, except for the Narnian books. I've probably said this before, but when I was delving into the Inklings in the early and mid-Seventies, part of their appeal, to many college-age readers, was, I think, their perceived intense Englishness. Englishness was attractive. I don't think that is nearly as true now as it was 40 years or so ago. England then was associated both with elegance and history, on the one hand, and much of the most interesting popular music on the other hand. I don't sense that that is how American young people think now. They don't know much history; literary studies have largely been spoiled by Theory etc.; and the music they listen to is produced by inner-city Americans or performers associated with Nashville, etc. I'm generalizing freely. But I see these as factors tending to diminish the visibility and appeal of the Inklings. Forty years ago, fantasy had not quite become the shopping mall niche that it is now. If you liked Tolkien and read about him, you'd soon some to mentions of Lewis and Williams. Now you will probably find yourself directed to -- George R. R. Martin?