Thursday 18 October 2018

Who is your favourite Inkling - as a person?

I don't mean who was the best writer or the best person; neither do I mean which Inkling you respect the most... I simply mean which of the Inklings is your favourite person - someone with whom (given appropriate circumstances) you might have developed an affectionate relationship.

And let's include here the extended definition of the group that includes the people who met for conversation and drinks on Tuesday or Monday lunchtimes, at the 'Bird and Baby' or Lamb and Flag pubs; as well as those 'inner ring' who met on Thursday evenings in CSL's rooms to read works in progress.

Which Inkling do you like best as a person cengenial to you? Who of these would you have most liked to spend time with - conversing, eating or drinking, walking-with...?

You don't have to be restricted to a single name - and please explain your reasons. 

For those of you who don't already know my views - I'll give my personal choice later.

'Canonical' Inklings from David Bratman's list (if you want to mention somebody else not mentioned here - Walter Hooper, Roger Lancelyn Green, Dorothy L Sayers... that's fine, but for interest please include your justification):

Barfield, Owen (1898-1997)
Bennett, J. A. W. (1911-1981)
Cecil, Lord David (1902-1986)
Coghill, Nevill (1899-1980)
Dundas-Grant, James (1896-1985)
Dyson, H. V. D. (1896-1975)
Fox, Adam (1883-1977)
Hardie, Colin (1906-1998)
Havard, Robert E. (1901-1985)
Lewis, C. S. (1898-1963)
Lewis, W. H. (1895-1973)
Mathew, Gervase (1905-1976)
McCallum, R. B. (1898-1973)
Stevens, C. E. (1905-1976)
Tolkien, Christopher (1924-
Tolkien, J. R. R. (1892-1973)
Wain, John (1925-1994)
Williams, Charles (1886-1945)
Wrenn, C. L. (1895-1969)


Michael Dyer said...

I've decided to not be clever and choose CS Lewis, here's why.

First of all through his letters and other means, it seems like it's possible to "get to know" CS Lewis as a person in a more in depth way than perhaps some of the others on the list.

I like him because he's a guy who has been through some stuff, not just the war. He's clearly very flawed and very burdened, but that he views joy and humor almost as a discipline, so he bears it well. I think talking to him would be profitable and interesting without being born down on or purely trivial. Possible downsides, seems like an occasional depressive, but hey, it happens.

For that reason, although not an Inkling, Chesterton also seems like someone you would actually enjoy being around, while also being beneficial.

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

Tolkien would be a nice friend to make. We share some similar tastes in trees and poems. The professor also seemed like a positive person to be around in general. He lived life excellently.

While C. S. Lewis was a powerful formative influence on me, I've always had the impression we would have deeply disagreed with each other if we met in person.

- Carter Craft

John Fitzgerald said...

I'd be a bit tempted by Roger Lancelyn Green. It'd be nice to sit down and bounce ideas around about myth and story. But to be honest it'd be Williams hands down for me. I just find his spiritual intensity so compelling. I know what's been said about him but to my mind anyone capable of writing War in Heaven, All Hallows' Eve and Descent into Hell, plus conceiving the Taliessien sequence (even if the poems themselves aren't lways the best) can't have been irredeemable. Quite the reverse. The man could and should have been a saint!

I like to think as well that I would have been a good influence on him. Sounds egotistical, I know, but I think we would have understood each other on a deep level and I might have been able to sense when things were going amiss and advise him, hopefully, on how to channel his energies in more fruitful directions.

Thursday said...

I don't know much about most of these, since I haven't read many biographies etc. of group members. So, I'm just going to pick from out of the four best known writers, judging them primarily from their writings: Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams.

The answer for me is easily C.S. Lewis. Barfield is perhaps the most brilliant purely intellectually, but his work keeps you at bit of a distance. Tolkien also keeps you at a bit of a distance, through through the medium of fiction. Williams is a bit of a creepy weirdo. Lewis in his writings is generally very warm and inviting, as well as being quite profound. Reading one of his books is like meeting an old friend.

Wurmbrand said...

Might be Warnie.

Philip Neal said...

CSL could be intimidating to those who knew him slightly, including many a Magdalen pupil. Tolkien had an inner life which even his closest friends knew little about, and could get carried away on one of his numerous hobbyhorses. I have never much liked Williams apart from the poetry and I know too little about Barfield to form a judgment. For intelligent natter over a drink, I think I would choose Hugo Dyson - by all accounts very witty, friendly, exhausting and tremendous fun.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I can only say that I don't know and quite honestly barely care.

I'm probably atypical in not really caring which of them I'd find the most personally congenial, since most of the reason I don't care which I'd find the most personally congenial is because I don't experience personal congeniality as a meaningful aspect of relationships. I do notice that there are people who are more personally congenial in various ways, but I lump that in as being about as important as whether I find their breath inoffensive and their hairstyle attractive. Or more realistically, I find those among the substantial aspects of personal congeniality.

That admission is probably necessary context to the assertion that I really have no way of knowing which of them I'd find most personally congenial. That's the sort of thing that you only find out by actually meeting someone and spending a certain amount of time with them. I'm prone to natively assume that I'll be able to get along well with most people in person simply because that's overwhelmingly been the case, even people who are only meeting me for the intention of trying to betray or murder me have generally felt conflicted about what they were doing once they actually met me. That may be part of why I regard it as unimportant, a loaf of bread means less to someone who's never suffered from not having one. That's why bakers sell bread at prices others are willing to pay to have them, after all.

But I don't always make an effort to be likable precisely because I don't see it as that important.

So I'm not prone to firmly hypothesize about exactly how personally congenial I'd find someone I've never met. It's barely important to me if I actually meet someone, if I haven't and won't, it doesn't matter at all.

What does matter is whether I have a positive duty to not get along with someone, because doing so would be a betrayal of moral principles I've committed to defend. I could easily find many people very congenial except for my duty to not get along with them.

Anonymous said...

Very difficult to say! I'd certainly like to know more about all the others besides the Big Five (CSL, WHL, OB, JRRT, CW) - and I certainly enjoyed meeting Owen Barfield and John Wain.

Tantalizing thought - if I'd been more brashly Boswellian, I might conceivably have met another seven of them...

Technically, I suppose I might have met yet another seven of them - except when I first visited England, in 1970, I didn't know who any of them were (except perhaps Tolkien as author of a paperback with some sort of odd emus on the cover, which my father had liked well enough but which had no obvious appeal to me).

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks - that's a very interesting set of responses so far - and very wide ranging.

My own answer would vary through the years. I am extremely fond of Tolkien, and find him fascinating; but I don't think he would have liked me very much - so it would be a rather one way relationship.

I find Warnie Lewis a very warm and appealing personality; but I suspect we would not have had much to talk *about*.

My choice is Owen Barfield - because as well as liking him, we share a basis of concern. Most of my extra-familial friendships have been based on mutual interest - working-on some project. And I have, over the years, come all the way around to Barfield's focus on 'the evolution of consciousness' - for me, as for him, this is The most important thing that needs sorting-out.

And I cannot think of anything I would enjoy more than 'working'-through this matter in dialogue with OB; by means of multiple, in-depth, no-holds-barred conversations.

Anonymous said...

I would most have liked to meet Warnie Lewis or Adam Fox. I like what I have read of Warnie’s approach to life: shunning social conflict and politicking in all its forms and focusing on his own interests such as music, taking walks, and reading about old France. With his travels and military service, Warnie would probably have had many interesting stories and I would have liked to travel on his houseboat. Also, I would like to meet the man John Wain called “the most courteous I have ever met – not with mere politeness but with a genial, self-forgetful considerateness that was as instinctive to him as breathing.”

Adam Fox comes across as an interesting person in his essay “C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table” in the book of the same name. What was it like to be Dean of Divinity in irreligious Magdalen College? Fox’s statement that all of the main Inklings were interested “in the occult in some way” is an interesting observation. Was he himself interested in occult or speculative matters? Fox is one of the Inklings whom I would most like to get to know better. It seems like there is an interesting personality under the little facts of his life available.

Even though he is not an Inkling, another related person I would like to have met is J.A. Smith. Lewis wrote in the preface to The Allegory of Love “To have lived on the same college staircase with Professor J. A. Smith is in itself a liberal education.” In Fox’s essay, he writes “Now J.A. had fallen into the way of speculating on odd little problems, which apparently assailed him in bed when sleep deserted him. … One day he asked me at breakfast what I thought the common Greek word cheir meant. … I dutifully obliged by saying ‘hand,’ and indeed I had no other answer ready. ‘No,’ he said triumphantly. ‘That is what I thought you would say. But my belief is that it means ‘a forearm.’ ’ He illustrated this with examples that I cannot now recall; several of them were from Homer.” From this it appears that Smith was a man who was constantly thinking and truly loved the mind. For that reason I think I would get along with him.

Hrothgar said...

I decided to answer this by imagining myself as a younger contemporary of the major figures (too young to fight in the Great War, which is an experience I gain no pleasure from trying to visualise myself having), and fringe member of their group:

Overall I would probably have preferred either Warnie Lewis or Tolkien. They both seem like quite congenial characters who I would be equally happy to share a beer, stroll through the countryside, or fireside chat with.

I might actually have preferred Warnie, at least on initial acquaintance, as while he was by no means an intellectual slouch and would probably not have been dull to talk to, he also seems to have been a man with something of a gift for genuine masculine friendships of the type which were far more commonplace then than now. He was thus presumably an easy man to get along with in person, especially considering that he seems to have been an integral member of the group, rubbing shoulders with a motley assortment of often difficult characters, mostly of genius or near-genius intellects, without apparently having been either seen as out of place there, or developing any serious personal emnities. I think I would have had to be careful not to spend too much time at the bar if I had spent it around him, though!

I probably have more in common with Tolkien overall than anyone else in the group, including at a more superficial level a liking for such disparate things as dark gloomy ancient forests (I spent my early childhood in an isolated dwelling secreted in the midst of one like a Haladin homestead, wandering the woods by myself all day at an age when most modern children are scarcely out of their parents’ sight for a moment), silly rhymes and puns, literary parody, mysterious subterreanean delvings (many of my ancestors were miners, after all), Albion's remaining unspoiled countryside, the picking, cooking, and eating of wild mushrooms and other forage... the list goes on.

There would also of course be much potential for deep and serious conversation on the true nature and significance of myth, and suchlike topics; which is something that has fascinated me for as long as I remember, so I presume it would have in those days too. However, he also seems like he was often rather a reticent man in person, most of all on the subjects that were closest to his heart - and would thus have been hard to get to know well enough to have those conversations in the first place. It may have even taken some time for a more casual friend or acquaintance to get anywhere near realizing the true extent of his mythic vision before publication of LOTR, given the relative thinness (and often, the levity) of what he had published before. I like to think, though, that I would have recognized something of where he was ultimately headed if I had been in any way a regular attendant of Inklings sessions, and developed my understanding of him accordingly.

Bruce – may I ask why you think Tolkien would not have liked you very much?

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR and Hrothgar - very nice comments!

Why wouldn't Tolkien have liked me? Well, not many do! And, due to health problems, I am not able to participate in the kind of conviviality typical of Inklings. The people (outside my family) I best get on with are, as I say, ones whom I am actively working with; pursuing some specific project - and that implies OB.

stephen cooper said...

I did not realize there were so many Inklings, so my opinions should be taken in that light. Anyway, based on what I already know: I could be completely wrong about this, but I would like to put in a word for Eddison.

Who would not want to be friends with the sort of person who writes fantastically vivid novels, as an adult, and gives to the main characters names he dreamed up when he was still in junior high? (Brandoch Daha, for example, is the name of one of the protagonists in the Worm Ouroboros, and Eddison said he thought up that name when he was very young...) Loyalty, even if it is loyalty to one's memories, is a great thing in a friend. I know that Tolkien admired the world Eddison created for his works set in Zimiamvia, while also not admiring the negative aspects of Eddison's view of the world - but if we limit our selection of friends to people who do not have faults, we are going to very lonely in this world, (or supremely blessed in this world, but that has never seemed a reasonable and likely option for me ...sad to say)

I wonder what it would have been like to be a friend of George McDonald, or his son (who wrote a biography about him).
Finally, one of the most interesting things I ever read about Tolkien is that he was a friend of a friend of John Newman, or, at least, a friend of a friend of a friend - and John Newman wrote some hymns that are still sung throughout the year in churches, touching the hearts of millions of Christians. As much as I like the Lord of the Rings, I do not expect to hear any Elvish hymns in a church, no matter how surpassingly beautiful the music is, in that church, in this world, on any Sunday ... touching the hearts of the people praying in the church with me. Hearts that are full of love, one hopes, and if they are not, then that is what we pray for, sometimes - in my experience - (we pray that those hearts accept the love of God and realize it) while the music that accompanies the words of Newman echoes in the poorly built little churches where I pray so often.

Keri Ford said...

I love Tolkien and I can imagine sitting under a tree silently, I would just like to be around him for a while. Tolkien's imagination has infused into me, but I wouldn't know what to say to him.

But to talk to it would be Barfield, I would want to ask him about his and Steiner's work it really feels like something that needs to be worked out in conversation, actually I think that conversation needs to be going on in our culture, and I do like the man.

Of course I would have loved to have heard Lewis and Williams speak