Feb. 2nd, 2017

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It has been said that the Inklings - the community of writers that surrounded C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams - was the most influential group of writers of the 20th century. In Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, Diana Pavlac Glyer traces the story of the Inklings as a working writers' group from its beginnings, detailing the evidence for the extensive influence the members had on each other's writing. The book itself is an adaptation of her earlier and more scholarly work, The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in community, and has been organised in such a way as to offer not only illuminative anecdotes about the writers and details of the process of critique and collaboration that marked their interactions, but observations on what made the group so successful in fostering each other's work and the lessons other groups might draw from that success.

The story of the Inklings begins with Lewis and Tolkien. Both employed in teaching English at Oxford, their association began when Tolkien, who believed that study of mythology and early languages was essential to the study of English, started a club, named the Kolbítar (Old Norse for “old cronies who sit round the fire so close that they look as if they were biting the coals") for the study and appreciation of old Icelandic literature. Lewis, long fascinated by Norse mythology, joined the club.

Then, in 1929, Tolkien asked Lewis to read his early draft of the Lay of Leithian, the poem about the love of the mortal Beren for the elven Lúthien Tinúviel, which would eventually become part of The Lord of the Rings. Lewis praised it highly - but he also offered a detailed critique on all levels, from conceptual matters to word choices. Tolkien responded with extensive revisions. Lewis then shared some of his own work with Tolkien, and eventually the two began meeting regularly to read and critique each other's work. They were eventually joined by Lewis's brother Warren, retired from military service, who had engaged on a project of editing the Lewis family papers for eventual publication (Warren Lewis would later turn his efforts to historical research and write several well-respected books on 17th century France.)

Glyer notes that while we tend to associate the Inklings with writing and scholarship, a third key element - like the first two, a matter of commitment, even devotion rather than simple interest - that bound them together was Christian theology and faith. As C. S. Lewis wrote when inviting Charles Williams to join their company, “We have a sort of informal club called the Inklings: the qualifications (as they have informally evolved) are a tendency to write, and Christianity."

Over time, the group, which adopted the name of the Inklings, grew to include other working writers - poets, essayists, scholars in a wide range of subjects from literature to medicine, novelists and playwrights - though not all participated to the same degree and several members came and went during the years. In all, 19 men are considered to have been members of the Inklings - Owen Barfield, J. A. W. Bennett, David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, James Dundas-Grant, Hugo Dyson, Adam Fox, Colin Hardie, Robert E. “Humphrey” Havard, C. S. Lewis, Warren Lewis, Gervase Mathew, R. B. McCallum, C. E. Stevens, Christopher Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Wain, Charles Williams, and C. L. Wren.

Glyer focuses her attentions on the writers 'at the heart' of the Inkings - Tolkien senior and later his son Christopher, the two Lewis brothers, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams - detailing their influences on each other and their collaborative projects. What emerges is a remarkable portrait of a group of intensely intellectual and creative men who shared some of the most intimate aspects of their lives - their creative processes and their spiritual selves. A rich community of authors, whose individual works would influence many other writers beyond their circle. Without their connections to each other and the long ongoing conversation that encompassed them all, English literature of the 20th century - including genre fiction - would have been very different, and much poorer for the loss.

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