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.