C.S. Lewis and the Inklings

A Fellowship of Christian Thinkers and Writers

Perhaps no informal association of writers has had the impact on the world that the Inklings have. This collection of gifted men met weekly between 1930 and 1949 in Lewis' rooms in Magdalen College at Oxford. During their celebrated gatherings, they would talk, share a beverage, and read aloud their latest projects. Discussion and constructive criticism of the work would follow. Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings were only two of the lasting literary works which bore the scrutiny of scholarly and friendly critique in this setting.

The same set of friends would also meet each Tuesday morning at an Oxford pub. This casual gathering usually assembled at the Eagle and Child, affectionately called by them the "Bird and Baby." These sessions, in the comfortable atmosphere of an English pub, continued up until Lewis' death in 1963. G.B. Tennyson describes the Inklings as a "literary school that shared not only Lewis's friendship but in their own ways Lewis's dedication to Christianity."

It is worth noting that a student at Oxford, Edward Tangye-Lean had actually formed the predecessor to the Inklings of renown. His "Inklings" group included both students and dons, and reviewed unpublished manuscripts. This club did not last long, but two of its members, Lewis and Tolkien maintained their mutually supportive bonds. Reflecting decades later on the connection between the two societies, Tolkien said, "although our habit was to read aloud compositions of various kinds (and lengths!), this association and its habit would in fact have come into being at that time, whether the original short-lived club had ever existed or not."

Although occasional visitors were invited to attend meetings of the Inklings, the core membership remained stable. In addition to C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, longterm members included Lewis' brother Warren, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield. Other regular members included Robert Havard, Lewis' physician, and Adam Fox, a poet and priest. In 1940, as Warnie headed toward the conflict of the Second World War, Lewis wrote to his brother, "the Inklings is now really very well provided, with Fox as chaplain, you as army, Barfield as lawyer, Havard as doctor--almost all the estates!" Colin Hardie, Ronald McCallum, George Sayer, Courtenay Stevens, Christopher Tolkien, John Wain, and Charles Wrenn were other regular members of the fellowship. Despite some confusion on the subject, although she was an anointed writer and a close friend of Lewis, Dorothy Sayers was never a member of the Inklings. In fact, Lewis wrote, "Dorothy Sayers, so far as I know, was not even acquainted with any of us except Charles Williams and me... I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation... Needless to say, she never met our own club, and probably never knew of its existence."

Lewis was extremely appreciative of the friendship of his fellow Inklings, saying "what I owe to them is incalculable." I'm sure I speak for not only myself when I declare that what we owe to the Inklings is likewise beyond measure.

Members of the Inklings
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1999-2005 by an Inkling in training