Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Inklings

Inklings: 1. vague ideas or notions; slight understanding 2. (slang) small pen marks 3. writers group created and attended by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Warren Lewis (C.S. Lewis’s brother), Charles Williams, and others 4. individual members of writers group called the Inklings.

I just finished reading The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer. I picked it up because it is about the writer’s group that two of my favorite authors were a part of and I wondered if the Tri Mu couldn’t learn a thing or two from them.

The Inklings met weekly to encourage each other, argue with each other, edit manuscripts and support creative community. They would get together around 9 p.m. every Thursday, Warren Lewis would brew tea, and C.S. Lewis would ask “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?” Someone would read aloud from a manuscript he was working on and the others would critique it as it was being read. The manuscript genres varied from Tolkien’s 15 years with The Lord of the Rings to Owen Barfield’s poetry to C.S. Lewis’s Christian apologetic works to Warren Lewis’s histories of 18th century France. The group would go until well past midnight; joking, arguing, critiquing and reading sometimes until dawn. In addition to their weekly critique meetings, the Inklings met in other venues both professionally and personally. Several of them worked as Oxford dons, so they visited each other on campus. Also, members of the group met for a social Tuesday morning breakfast at the Eagle and Child Pub (affectionately known as the Bird and Baby). They even took part in week-long walking tours of the English countryside where they wrote farcical poems about one another and “Passed the Plot” around as we are doing online right now.

Glyer’s book encouraged me as a writer because it gave me a glimpse into the creative processes of people I consider literary giants. J.R.R. Tolkien rewrote The Lord of the Rings several times in the years he was working on it and nearly gave it up more than once. As C.S. Lewis says, “He has only two reactions to criticism: either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning, or else takes no notice at all.” According to Glyer, Tolkien would never have written the book at all if not for the encouragement from the Inklings. He preferred digging into the back-story – his languages and histories – to writing the novel and may never have pushed himself through the 15 years of effort it took to write his “new story about Hobbits.”

C.S. Lewis’s creative process took on a different form than Tolkien’s. He would ponder an idea for months without writing. He compared the process to a pregnancy – to being “with book.” He also tried ideas out in different literary forms before landing on the perfect genre. For example, the second book in the space trilogy, Perelandra was originally a poem. Lewis also talked his ideas out with friends and colleagues before he set them down. However, once he started writing, he wrote in a fury. Each of the Chronicles of Narnia took six months to write, and he finished a draft of Pilgrims Regress in two weeks. He did little revision work after setting pen to paper, although he did edit and focus his stories based on advice from the Inklings.

The premise of Glyer’s book is that creativity, specifically the extremely successful creativity of the Inklings, is not an isolated event, but occurs in the context of society. She highlights five main activities of all artistic groups - encouraging, challenging, editing, collaborating, and offering public support. So far, the Tri Mu has taken part in all of these at different times. Encouragement keeps us going. Challenges sharpen our ideas. Edits strengthen our writing. Collaborations exercise our creativity. Support gets books sold (or at least gets us comments on our blog entries).

So, to officially kick off our Modern Myth Makers’ blog, I want to remind everyone that “No writer is an island, no idea is original, no effort is a solo effort. We stand upon the shoulders of giants, we collaborate with our colleagues and with the immortal words of our dead literary ancestors. Literature – indeed, all human effort – is dignified and uplifted through collaboration and cooperation.” (Cory Doctorow)



haricot vert said...

well crap... that was fantastic. bravo! well written!
gave me something to think about, that did.
very cool to see the distinctly different ways of expressing creativity between tolkien and lewis.

Kalayna-Nicole Price said...

Great first post! Wow, what a kick off entry for our first Wednesday post!

Amazing and inspiring Darlene!

Marilu Mann said...

I really enjoyed this blog. Thanks for mentioning it on FF&P! Very intriguing. Only one problem... now I have ANOTHER book I want to buy. :)

Carol said...

So happy to see the Inklings mentioned. Brilliant writing. I collect books about them all. I believe Tolkien also wrote for his son, who was serving in the military during WWII and requested to be kept up on the story. It was a precious link between then. Yes, we can learn much from them. Carol

Darlene C. Goodman said...

carol, I learned from the book that Tolkien's son, Christopher, was a member of the Inklings and helped his dad with editing and continuity on Lord of the Rings (Christopher was able to catch a continuity error from a very early age). I didn't know that story about their correspondence during the war, though. Thanks for the info!

carol said...

Darlene, life is so funny I no longer believe in coincidences. After reading about Tolkien here, I thought about pulling his book of correspondence out but got too busy. Then did a crossowrd puzzle and one of the clues was INKLINGS. So then I HAD to find the book and read happily last night some of his letters to his son who was in an 'air wing'. He wrote about the chapters he was writing. It was lovely. Thanks for reminding me of this treasure. Carol