Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Creative collaboration demonstrated in the Oxford writers group the Inklings

Review of Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of
the Inklings

The Inklings was an Oxford writers group which met during the 1930s and 40s, and included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. It is unusual for a writers group to garner the attention the Inklings have over the years. A few select scholars have devoted much of their lives to not only studying the lives of the men who were part of this group, but the group as a whole. As early as 1979, scholars such as Humphrey Carpenter realized the importance of the interaction of the Inklings to their lives and writings. Colin Duriez' recent book has helped amend and clarify much of what we thought we knew. In 2007, Diana Pavlac Glyer went a step further in her book, The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, examining the extent of influence the Inklings had on each other's writings. Glyer may not be as well known to Inklings fans as Carpenter and Duriez, but she is considered one the foremost Inklings scholars in the academic world.

Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings is the newly published adaptation of her 2007 book, re-written for a wider audience. The Company they Keep was meant for academic use. However, although the earlier book has been described as "easy and enjoyable to read" with "plenty to enjoy" for new fans and scholars alike, Glyer realized the "fundamentally academic" work should be updated. Besides being of interest to fans of Tolkien, Lewis, and the other Inklings, Bandersnatch also is also helpful to aspiring writers, artists, and inventors, providing suggestions on how to interact with others in the same kind of creative collaboration the Inklings did.

The title of the book comes from an often quoted line from a letter Lewis wrote to Charles Mooreman in 1959. Mooreman was researching a book about "the Oxford Christians," which came out in 1966. After admitting the influence Charles Williams and he had over each other, Lewis writes, "No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch." (A "bandersnatch" is a creature created by Lewis Carol. Lewis was undoubtedly borrowing from a quote from "Through the Looking-Glass" where the White King describes his Queen: "She runs so fearfully quick. You might as well try to catch a Bandersnatch!")

Lewis' "bandersnatch" quote has been often used to affirm the idea the Inklings really did not have much influence on each other's writings. However, the context of the quote demonstrates the group did have a significant influence over Tolkien. The next two sentences read: "We listened to his work, but could affect it only by encouragement. He has only two reactions to criticism; either he begins the whole work over again from the beginning or else takes no notice at all."

As Glyer points out, "listening and encouraging are neither passive activities nor insignificant ones." And "starting over" when criticized "represents major influence, indeed." [p. 152] And there is evidence that Tolkien rarely took "no notice at all." Tolkien's papers indicate he often jotted down notes to himself based on suggestions he was given by others.

Dr. Glyer presents this and other evidence to show quite convincingly how the Inklings not only influenced each other's work, but often quite literally helped edit one another, "officially" collaborated on projects, and wrote each other into their works. She gives some help along the way for writers and others to work "in community" with others, doing what the Inklings did. Well worth the time for any Inklings fan, or those who just want some ideas on how to collaboratively work with other in the creative community.

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