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.