Saturday, February 2, 2008

Nothing more simple

Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep, describes the meetings of the Inklings:
Lewis and Tolkien continued to meet, week after week, to talk and joke and criticize one another’s poetry. Over time, these literary critiques proved to be so interesting and so useful that they invited other writers to join them. The group just kept growing. Eventually, a total of 19 men became members of the Inklings. Their meetings moved from Monday mornings to Thursday nights. Late nights. The members arrived around 9:00, or 9:30, or even later.

When half a dozen members had assembled, Warren Lewis would produce a pot of very strong tea, the men would sit down and light their pipes, and C.S. Lewis would call out, “Well, has nobody got anything to read us?” Someone always did. Out would come the rough draft of a story or a poem, and the others would settle down to listen, to encourage, to critique, to correct, to interrupt and argue and advise. They’d continue this way, reading aloud, energetically critiquing, until two or three in the morning. And meetings went on like this every week for nearly twenty years.

The range of manuscripts that the Inklings brought to meetings was rich and remarkable. Lewis read Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and others, many of them chapter by chapter as they were written. He read some of his poetry, including “Donkey’s Delight,” and, at one point, he shared a long section of his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. He also read The Screwtape Letters to the group, and the Inklings loved them. According to one of the members, The Screwtape Letters “really set us going. We were more or less rolling off our chairs.”

Tolkien brought along each new chapter of The Lord of the Rings, week after week as they were written. He also shared original poetry, excerpts from “The Notion Club Papers,” and sections from The Hobbit. Others read poetry, plays, literary studies, academic papers, biographies, histories. Charles Williams read his novel All Hallows’ Eve; David Cecil read excerpts from his biography Two Quiet Lives; Owen Barfield read a short play about Jason and Medea; Warren Lewis read The Splendid Century, a history of France.

Listening to drafts and offering energetic feedback occupied the better part of every Inklings meeting. Nothing could be more simple—a small group of tweedy British men, meeting week after week in Lewis’s rooms at Magadalen College, sitting on the shabby grey couch, drinking tea, reading and talking. ....
C. S. Lewis Blog: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Inklings

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