There is something wonderful about good literature. The words, the phrases, the characters, the exciting plot twists – a good story of an amalgamation of many things working together. When we find a story that captures us, that plants its roots firmly in our imaginations, we quickly develop a deep and lasting appreciation for that work.
Have you ever had that feeling? The sensation of being transported to another time, another place? It is nothing short of magical. But how does an author achieve this? How does he or she take bare symbols on the page and create something that blossoms so beautifully in our minds?
Talent and hard work. That is the short, expected answer. However, writing is a difficult and soul-bearing process. There are times when the glorious worlds that an author envisions are not what sweeps across the page. Writers get discouraged; they wrestle with self-doubt. They also need a strong and trustworthy voice to give advice and constructive criticism. Most of our greatest writers had this including two ever-popular fantasy staples, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Tolkien and Lewis were friends and lecturers at Oxford. First they discovered a mutual love for “northerness” – Norse mythology. They began to write and challenge one another, meeting in Lewis’s room at Oxford on Thursday evening. More people joined, and out of this casual gathering came one of the most influential writing groups in history – The Inklings. Here drafts of The Lord of the Rings and certain books from The Chronicles of Narnia (along with many other manuscripts) were read and given critical feedback. This shaped the drafts into stronger pieces, and later into cherished and much-loved classics. The fascinating journey of this writing group, along with beautiful illustrations, is presented in the newest work by scholar Diana Glyer, Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings.
This book, wonderfully illustrated by James A. Owen, traces the journey of the Inklings from its infancy to its full maturation. This included men from a variety of backgrounds – scholars, a doctor, an attorney, a publisher – that met twice a week, once to share drafts and another to engage is rowdy and boisterous conversation at The Eagle and Child Pub. Glyer carefully details how Lewis provided feedback to sharpen sections of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien gave feedback to Lewis on The Chronicles of Narnia (spoiler: he wasn’t a fan). Both men gave substantial criticism which made the manuscripts much better. For example, what were some of the original hobbit names? Glyer tells you, along with how Lewis’s suggestions were incorporated to make the characters better (another spoiler: the first names were kinda hideous).
Additionally, Glyer explains how creative collaboration makes a draft better. This is not “slavish imitation or thinly veiled plagiarism,” she writes. Instead, it is the encouragement of other artists contributing to a wider body of art. Many times, we look to our favorite authors or painters or musicians to lend us inspiration. Why not surround ourselves with artists whom we admire to catalyze our creativity? Glyer writes, “More and more, normal creativity starts to look a lot less like a lone genius stuck with a single breathtaking insight and a whole lot more like a series of sparks coming from different directions, each spark inspiring something new” (149). She has worked for over 40 years in Inklings scholarship, reading all of the works of each Inkling. The fruit of her labor was her award-winning dissertation, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community.
Glyer’s book is a significant contribution to Inklings Studies. If you are not a Tolkien or Lewis fan, there are still lots of great lessons and stories in the book to pique your interest. Glyer discusses how to create collaborative groups in her epilogue; it is a helpful guide for anyone who wants to create in community, using a wealth of examples from her research on the Inklings.
This book is a MUST HAVE!!! I urge you to add it to your library.
Buy Bandersnatch (out December 8th) here.
Buy The Company They Keep here.