Last meeting in April

27.4.13

We were a small gathering this time but our discussions were no less intense for all that as we took on the task of finishing off our reading of Carpenter’s Inklings. Ian led us into this by announcing that he had discovered the blue plaque to Charles Williams while in St. Albans for the TS AGM. This discovery had apparently taken other members attending the AGM by surprise!

Moving then to our text for the day, Vicki remarked on CS Lewis’s habit of serving beer to his undergraduates. Julie noted that cider was occasionally the beverage of choice, and Ian declared that the Inklings drank ‘bitter’ as a mature ‘man’s drink.’ He went on to elaborate on the gatherings at which drink was such a feature by noting the likely background to the kind of gathering that became the Inklings – initially the clubs and cliques favoured by boys at public school, and then the many undergraduate clubs they would have encountered at University. The Inklings were a natural extension of these peer groups.

Julie remarked on the paradox that the Inklings were thoroughly conservative in their outlook but initiated youth revolt, especially in the USA. Ian added that this was the counter culture, and Julie speculated that the New Age movement owed a debt to Tolkien. Ian considered the wider historical situation when he remarked that the origins of Tolkien and Lewis’s creative outlook lay in the pre-Raphaelite influence and its medievalism, which attracted Tolkien particularly. The effect of World War 1 was to destroy the old ideals of chivalry, but Tolkien’s work looked back to those ideals, and part of the younger generation after WW2 responded to those ideals, and the morality on which they were founded.

Julie observed that although the Inklings proposed among themselves that their writing should have a distinct influence on readers, they never as a group publicised their writing philosophy.

Kathleen distinguished between Lewis and Tolkien when she commented that the Narnia stories were written for children, but The Hobbit was written for older children. Julie observed that The Hobbit changes from a story crafted for children to a book for adults as the character of Bilbo develops, through the series of rescues he performs before and within Mirkwood.

Julie then went on to comment on the strange exclusion of Tolkien from knowledge of Lewis’s marriage. Ian observed that this was consistent with CSL’s particular view of managing such relationships, evidenced earlier by his dislike of other Inklings talking about their own personal relationships with their wives.

Vicki wondered what had happened to Joy’s sons after her death. Julie thought one of them had become quite eccentric.

I thought it was interesting that while Joy was in hospital she got to know Edith Tolkien and they seemed to be on friendly terms.

We all thought the Inklings functioned as a support network for its participants, and Ian observed that it was inward facing and devoted to their writing and other work. Ian also thought that the Inklings book illuminates the relationship between Tolkien and Williams which is often summarised inaccurately as Tolkien’s profound dislike of Williams, but was by no means one of such antipathy.

I remarked that having not known anything about Lewis or Williams until we came to this biography, I found nothing in the book that encouraged a feeling of wanting to know more about Lewis or his books, and Williams came across as having a fascination with the occult that was very much of its time, but was now outdated, hence the difficulty in finding any of his work.

Julie pointed out that the occult is still popular, as is clear from the popularity of books like The Da Vinci Code.

I wondered then about the appeal of the books of the Inklings, and whether this depended on the readership of their time and the changes to standards and scope of education. Ian reminded us of C.P.Snow’s theory of the 2 cultures, and the wider scope of education in USA as compared to UK, creating a different kind of readership.

Kathleen pointed out that in 1949 in England there was a great shortage of books in cheap paperback format, but this shortage did not affect the USA. Ian then remarked on Tolkien’s disgust at being transferred into paperback. Julie commented that even today there exists an elitist attitude to publication in England.

There was a division among us between those who found the Inklings biography a worthwhile read, and those of us who disliked it on various levels. It is unusual for anything we read to divide opinion in quite this way.

We move on now to read Egil’s Saga.

First meeting in April

14.4.14

After our trip to the Vyne, Easter and the five Saturdays of March, it seemed ages since we were last in the Library, so it was nice to be back, and our meeting this time was largely devoted to ctahcing up with news generated by (1) Ian’s trip to the Oxford Spring School, and (2) various kinds of fall-out from the Vyne exhibition. Laura brought some newspaper cuttings showing, among other things, that inaccurate newspaper copy is the least of the problems surrounding the wider dissemination of the Tolkien ‘brand’.

Ian’s report on his day in Oxford was far more positive. He reported the course structure to have been well thought-out, developing from Tolkien’s biography to cover matters including his created languages. Ian plans a proper report and the summary he gave us gave no hint of the fact that he had been suffering from a heavy cold while enduring the rigors of travelling in bitter snowy weather.

When we had exhausted our questions and sighs of envy, I addressed the question of our future reading in hopes of creating a good balance. It was pointed out that this May sees the publication of Tolkien’s Arthurian poem, which will be Christopher’s Tolkien’s swan song as an editor. More on future reading shortly.

We eventually turned our thoughts to our nominated reading for the day which was the final chapters of The Inklings. Chris opened the discussion with his observation that the book has provided interesting insights into the thoughts and feelings of people at the time when the Inklings group flourished. We noted some attitudes that seem now quite alien and entirely un-PC.

Angela remarked on the shocking insights provided by some of the remarks of members of the Inklings concerning women. Chris described them as generally a group of ‘odd-bods’, but this was contextualised by our various observations that they reflected contemporary attitudes, that their oddities related to some extent to the circumstances of their childhoods, in the case of Lewis and Tolkien – the early absence of mothers.

Anne noted in addition that they all projected massive egos. Tolkien’s desire to control even the design of the Allen and Unwin logo on the jacket of his own book was cited as evidence of this.

As a counterweight to the matter of huge egos, we all recalled the strange hold Mrs Moore exercised over C.S. Lewis.

Anne noted the recorded desire of CSL and Tolkien to change English literature and asked if we thought this had happened. I thought the only change they created was through Tolkien’s influence over the development of the fantasy genre. Ian thought Tolkien’s great contribution was the infusing of medieval morality in fantasy, and doing so in modern language.

Chris and Angela went on to observe that the war never really seems to touch the Inklings themselves. The peripheral problems such as running out of beer in the Bird and Baby because of the influx of American GIs was noted, as was Charles Williams’s grief at the bombing of London. His wife’s continued residence there seemed less of a concern – but it was for a time her choice.

Anne then pointed out that Oxford was never bombed and Laura pointed out that this was on Hitler’s specific orders as London was to be destroyed and after the invasion he wanted to take Oxford for his capital.

Carpenter’s choice to leave out much of the war experience of the Inklings was considered, and Chris noted that in the Tolkien Letters there is plenty of evidence of Tolkien being on fire-watching duties, but Laura was still surprised that Warnie Lewis, a former soldier, is not recorded as commenting on the war.

Having taken up much time at the start of the meeting with other matters, we ran out of time. It had been our intention to finish our deliberations on the Inkling with this session, but on account of the shortness of time, and the fact that Vicki had not had time to read the last chapters and Julie and Mike were both away, it was agreed that we should give ourselves another session to finish off the Inklings properly and allow everyone a chance to participate.

So our next reading will be a recap if necessary of the final Part of The Inklings. We will then start Egil’s Saga at our first meeting in May.