- Learning from GiantsUsing the Inklings as Writing Mentors
Modeling is one of our most potent ways of learning. In our early childhood days, we imitate our parents' ways of being. When we enter school, we emulate our favorite teachers and remake ourselves regularly to fit in with our peers. We shadow people in young adulthood who do jobs like the ones we hope to do, and we attach ourselves as student teachers, interns, or teaching assistants to people we believe really understand the mysterious act of teaching.
Those of us who are writers take this penchant for finding role models a step further. Since the finished products of writers are readily available, we read the works of people who write like we hope to write, studying them carefully for style, organization, beautiful wording, ideas. We encourage our students to do the same thing. Yet we realize that these finished products mask all sorts of fits and starts, known euphemistically as the writing process, to which we can never be privy. Who among us, then, would not jump at the chance to be a fly on the wall of an effective, long-standing writing group of extremely prolific writers as they follow this usually hidden writing process within the support of the group? In Diana Glyer's new book, The Company [End Page 159] They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, we have such a rare and golden opportunity.
As the title implies, Glyer's book is aimed specifically at two rather disparate audiences. Remarkably, she manages to meet the needs of both of these audiences well while providing an interesting and readable text to readers who do not happen to fall into either of these categories. In the title of the book, the connection to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their writing group, the Inklings, is immediately apparent. And this book is all that Inklings scholars could want. Glyer displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the Inklings and the work of the men who made up this group. Each chapter ends with voluminous notes, and the works cited section runs to more than twenty pages of references, leading the interested reader further and further into the works and lives of the Inklings. In addition, the book contains an appendix by David Bratman,1 himself an Inklings scholar, which succinctly summarizes biographical and bibliographical information about each of the Inklings and serves as a quick reference during the reading of the book for readers less acquainted with the members of this group.
Glyer's second audience, though, writers and teachers of writing, may not be as obvious from the title of the book. While the subtitle does mention "writers in community" the names of Lewis and Tolkien may obscure the fact that this book is primarily about how writers work and how we as writers and teachers of writing can benefit from a close examination of the methods employed by a community of extremely successful writers. In many ways, the book is not really about Lewis or Tolkien or any of the other Inklings per se. Instead, it is a book for teachers of writing that uses a well-documented writing group to illustrate its points. For this task, Glyer is perhaps perfectly placed. As a scholar of both Inklings studies and composition studies, Glyer is able beautifully to synthesize research about how writers use community to further their work with examples of the Inklings actually employing these methods. As such, for all its importance to the field of Inklings scholarship, the book's most lasting value may yet prove to be to those of us who teach writing.
The book is organized very clearly to serve the needs of its two main audiences, with the first two chapters being devoted to research about the Inklings and the influence the members had on each other, and the final six chapters devoted to specific instances of that influence using research from...