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  • The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J.R R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
  • Dale Nelson
The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J.R R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, by Diana Pavlac Glyer . Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2007. xix, 270 pp. $45.00 (hardcover) ISBN 08733888909.

The Inklings were C. S. Lewis and his brother Warren, Lewis's doctor R. E. Havard, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other men who met in Lewis's Magdalen College rooms on Thursday evenings and in the Eagle and Child pub on Tuesday mornings during the 1930s and well into the 1940s. Humphrey Carpenter and others assume that the Inklings met above all for "discussion and conversation" (22). However, Glyer contends that the Inklings "were members of a writing group, knowledgeable peers who met on a regular basis to discuss written works in progress" (42, my italics). If the matter is to be settled by quantitative estimates, Glyer probably would not be able to sustain her contention, since approximately half of the Inklings gatherings—on Tuesday mornings—were devoted to freely ranging conversation. She concedes that the Tuesday sessions may be "accurately described as just a gathering of friends" (19). But her statement that the Inklings did indeed meet on Thursday evenings "as a writing group for about seventeen years" (27) appears to be true, and Glyer convinces the reader that certain statements made by Tolkien, Lewis, Owen Barfield, and others (xvii), minimizing or denying influence, should not be taken at face value or have been oversimplified.

Lewis and Tolkien became friends as men who enjoyed medieval Norse literature and met in the late 1920s to discuss it in the Coalbiters group at Oxford. The Coalbiters did not survive, but what was to become the Inklings, a more long-lived association, "grew in the transactional space between Lewis and Tolkien as they shared their original drafts" with one another (43). Tolkien had taken the initiative, giving Lewis the manuscript of "The Lay of Leithian." He must have trusted Lewis already, since not only was this work a chief element in his developing mythology, but because it is a version of the story of Beren and Lúthien, one of his writings closest to his heart, relating to his romance with Edith Bratt. Lewis commented enthusiastically right away and soon responded with constructive criticism, and offered some of his own poetry for Tolkien's consideration.

"Much of the early history of [the Inklings] is uncertain,"and Glyer does not pretend to be able to trace just exactly how and when the Lewis-Tolkien friendship, by the accretion of other men, had coalesced into something that could definitively be called The Inklings. The first references, from 1936 on, to the name for this group "occur some five [End Page 235] or six years after they had been meeting regularly" (10). Although approximately twenty men could be regarded as Inklings, usually only half a dozen or so attended a given Thursday session. Lewis,his brother, Tolkien and Dr. Havard are regarded by Glyer as the most faithful attendees (11). The Inklings lasted for almost twenty years as a writing group because they possessed a "diversity of perspectives within a unity of interests" (33). Most of them were Christians who were conservative as regards politics, but they did not perceive themselves as a "movement" and never had a manifesto.

Glyer introduces a fivefold scheme for talking about the dynamics of a writing group. The first four terms are drawn from the work of Karen Burke LeFevre. Resonators encourage writers with praise of specific works and urgings to keep writing; they may even help with money needs or provide space for writers to write. Resonators may function as promoters, whether by buying and giving away copies of an author's work or by writing favorable reviews. By opponents Glyer means writing group members who provide "healthy criticism" or who provoke increased commitment from a writer to his or her own work when it is defended. Editors provide suggestions for minor changes, as the verb to edit often suggests, or may take an author's work and rewrite large portions of...


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