The Inklings

The Inklings was an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England, for nearly two decades between the early 1930s and late 1949. The Inklings were literary enthusiasts who praised the value of narrative in fiction, and encouraged the writing of fantasy. Although Christian values were notably present in several members’ work, there were also non-Christian members of the discussion group.

The more regular members of the Inklings, many of them academics at the University, included J. R. R. “Tollers” Tolkien, C. S. “Jack” Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Tolkien’s son Christopher, Lewis’ elder brother Warren or “Warnie”, Roger Lancelyn Green, Adam Fox, Hugo Dyson, R. A. “Humphrey” Havard, J. A. W. Bennett, Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, and Walter Hooper during the year leading up to C. S. Lewis’s death.

“Properly speaking,” wrote Warren Lewis, “the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections.” As was typical for university literary groups in their time and place, the Inklings were all male. Readings and discussions of the members’ unfinished works were the principal purposes of meetings. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, and Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve were among the novels first read to the Inklings. Meetings were not all serious; the Inklings amused themselves by having competitions to see who could read the notoriously bad prose of Amanda McKittrick Ros for the longest without laughing.

The name was associated originally with a society of Oxford University’s University College, initiated by the then undergraduate Edward Tangye Lean circa 1931, for the purpose of reading aloud unfinished compositions. The society consisted of students and dons, among them Tolkien and Lewis. When Lean left Oxford during 1933, the society ended, and its name was transferred by Tolkien and Lewis to their group at Magdalen College. On the association between the two ‘Inklings’ societies, Tolkien later said, “Although our habit was to read aloud compositions of various kinds (and lengths!), this association and its habit would in fact have come into being at that time, whether the original short-lived club had ever existed or not.”

Until late 1949, Inklings readings and discussions usually occurred during Thursday evenings in C. S. Lewis’s college rooms at Magdalen College. The Inklings and friends were also known to gather informally on Tuesdays at midday at a local public house, The Eagle and Child, familiarly and alliteratively known in the Oxford community as The Bird and Baby, or simply The Bird. Later pub meetings were at The Lamb and Flag across the street, and in earlier years the Inklings also met irregularly in yet other pubs, but The Eagle and Child is the best known.

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