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Inklings and Writing Groups

English: THe Pub Eagle and Child in Oxford, wh...

Did you know that some famous fantasy writers were part of a writing group? The Inklings was a group of literary enthusiasts who encouraged writing fantasy. The four most prominent members were C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Other frequent members included Tolkien’s son Christopher, C.S. Lewis’ older brother Warren, Roger Lancelyn Green, Adam Fox, Hugo Dyson, Robert Havard, J.A.W. Barnett, Lord David Cecil, and Nevill Coghill. Warren Lewis described the group as “‚Ķneither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections.”

Who are these people?

English: Round sign at the Eagle and Child Pub...
  • C.S. Lewis is most known for the Narnia Chronicles.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien¬† is known for the epic Lord of the Rings.
  • Charles Williams wrote a total of seven novels, including “War in Heaven” and “All Hallow’s Eve”.
  • Owen Barfield mainly wrote philosophy, on topics such as the evolution of human consciousness. He did, however, write one fairy tale: “The Silver Trumpet.”

The Inklings usually met at Lewis’ college rooms or at the Eagle and Child pub (popularly called the Bird and Baby) in Oxford England. Meetings took place on Thursday evenings. They would read and talk about each other’s works in progress, discuss fantasy and philosophy, and enjoy the company of friends. The pub meetings were more for fun; they wouldn’t read manuscripts, but sometimes read bad poetry to see how long they could last before laughing.

The group started in 1933 and met regularly for the next 15 years. Everyone benefited. Tolkien continued to work on Lord of the Rings at the encouragement of C.S. Lewis. Each writer improved their work from suggestions by other members. Their discussions led to essays, lectures, and other works in the attempt to legitimize fantasy and fairy tales as more than children’s stories, to be seen as liable literary pieces.

What does this mean for me?

Writers can find similar benefits in today’s writing groups, whether you join an existing one or create your own, online or in person. Friendships can be made when you find someone with similar interests. Sharing work will improve your writing and critiquing skills. Or perhaps you only want to discuss literature. The Inklings showed that a writers group doesn’t have to always be serious, or have any sort of leadership. All it takes is a group of people with something in common. Next time I’ll talk about my own experiences with writing groups, and how you can find your own.

A fun, related bit of trivia:

Lord of the Rings Online is an online multiplayer game based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth. While my husband and I were playing, we came across an interesting quest chain from a hobbit named Ronald Dwale. At one point you have to fetch his lost paper. The sheet of paper starts out: “In a hole there once lived a boar. No, wait, that’s not right.” The second ‘R’ in J.R.R. stands for Ronald, and his story “The Hobbit” happens to start very similarly to this paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

The final part of the quest chain is Missing the Meeting. If you own the game, I encourage you to go experience the quest yourself, but the basics is that Ronald Dwale is unable to attend the next meeting of his writing society. You have to deliver his message to The Bird and Baby Inn. “With the return of my lost paper, I really should get started on my new book, but I haven’t an inkling how I should reach my friends in time to tell them of my absence.”

When you visit the Bird and Baby Inn, you see the following “Inklings” in the back room:

Jack Lewisdon ((C.S. “Jack” Lewis))
Carlo Williams ((Charles Williams))
Owen Farfield ((Owen Barfield))

So if you ever happen upon this quest in game, enjoy the developers tribute to the Inklings.

(Originally written for a Fantasy Newsletter)

Next time on Mary’s Expression (Feb 20): Delving deeper into writing groups.


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