The Inklings: A Gifted Gathering

By Always Narnian

For some, the name “Inklings” may be completely unheard of and unknown, whereas titles such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Lord of the Rings are only too familiar. The authors of such works, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were two of the many writers and academics involved in a group by the name of the Inklings. This group was founded in 1933 and continued until the early 1960s in Oxford, England. They were not a rigid organization ruled by guidelines, but a passionate group who strived to produce excellence by reading aloud and critiquing the written works of the members.

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It all started when Tolkien and Lewis, who had been involved in a previous group also called the Inklings (and which did not last for a serious length of time), started a new group by the same name in 1933. The majority of the original Inklings were students, whereas the new-founded group of Tolkien and Lewis was a more notable company of fellows — such as academics, professors, scholars and tutors. Perhaps the first materialization of the Inklings were the times when Tolkien would read aloud his intricate story The Silmarillion (published posthumously) to Lewis. [1] The group expanded, with names such as Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson, Warren Lewis, Colin Hardie, Christopher Tolkien, Gervase Mathew and many others eventually becoming a part of this circle of writers.

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The Magdalen Tower

Every Thursday night the Inklings would gather at Magdalen College, in Lewis’ rooms there, whether or not all members attended. This is where they would read, discuss, and mercilessly criticize one another’s unpublished writings. “Out would come a manuscript, and we would settle down to sit in judgement upon it — real unbiased judgement, too, since we were no mutual admiration society: praise for good work was unstinted, but censure for bad work — or even not-so-good work — was often brutally frank.” [2] Such were the words of C.S. Lewis’ brother, Warren, regarding this group of impressive friends. They were not limited to this, however, as there was much merriment, tea, pert conversations and debates and they even one time had a humorous competition trying to read a publication by Amanda McKittrick Ros while attempting not to laugh! Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson (who had the opportunity of being present at a couple of these meetings), had this to say about their joviality: “There’s a kind of a strange attitude in the academic circles of today that great minds have to be dour, serious. In fact, the reverse was true of these men: they had huge senses of humor, and the repartee and the wit and the flow of their conversation was amazing. The hallmark of an Inklings meeting, and I remember it well, was laughter.” [3]

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Starting in the 1940s, the group would have a casual gathering at The Eagle and Child pub on Tuesday mornings, which was not for the purpose of reading, but merely for the company and good time. They also gathered less frequently at other pubs such as the Lamb and Flag. The meetings at Magdalen lasted until 1949, whereas the Inkling members still met at pubs until the 1960s, until the death of Lewis brought the Inklings to a complete stop in 1963.

A good number of works — including poems, essays, and plays — came out of this remarkable team of writers. However, most well-known are Lewis’ Christian works (such as The Screwtape Letters) and his Narnia series, as well as the fantasy tales of Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis even dedicated his book The Problem of Pain to the Inklings. J.R.R. Tolkien read much of The Lord of the Rings in these weekly settings, and his earliest edition of this story was also dedicated in part to these men: “…To the Inklings, because they have already listened to it with a patience, and indeed with an interest, that almost leads me to suspect that they have hobbit-blood in their venerable ancestry.” [4] The Inklings meetings were indeed not without their reward, as the creative genius of these men continues on and graces us with classic tales to pass on from generation to generation.

[1] The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis & Narnia by Jon Kennedy, M.A.
[2] C.S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert & Clyde S. Kilby
[3] The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion by Perry Moore
[4] The Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, Architect of Middle-Earth by Daniel Grotta

Pictures credit: Ajnos Gamgee

4 thoughts on “The Inklings: A Gifted Gathering

  1. hobbit_of_narniahobbit_of_narnia

    I am so envious of the Inklings because they got to hear these epic stories read out loud by the actual authors! What wouldn’t I give to have been there for that!

  2. always narnianalways narnian Post author

    Hey Hobbit- I know, right? It would be such an awesome experience to be able to hear those men read their own works!

    1. Ajnos GamgeeAjnos Gamgee

      One of my favourite quotes about The Inklings goes “The Inklings was a group of kindred spirits who met weekly in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen ‘theoretically to talk about literature, but in fact nearly always to talk about something better.'” I think it’s a pretty apt description of TLC 😀

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