Friendship, Dialogue, and the Inklings

“In this kind of love…Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, ‘Do you care about the same truth?’  The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend.  He need not agree with us about the answer.” – C.S. Lewis on friendship love in The Four Loves

I have become quite enamored with The Inklings of late.  The Inklings was an informal group at Oxford begun mainly by C.S. Lewis and which “had no specific agenda beyond a vague shared interest in literature among its members and a vague notion of a kinship of spirit existing between them.  Lewis was the nucleus, without whom any gathering would have been inconceivable, but Tolkien was also almost always present.”[1]  This group would discuss literature, theology, and read their latest projects to the group for criticisms.  Chapter by chapter over the years, J.R.R. Tolkien read his manuscript for The Lord of the Rings to this group.  It was also due to the constant encouragement of Lewis that Tolkien finished the story for publication.  Tolkien wrote to a friend saying, “But for the encouragement of C.S.L. I do not think that I should ever have completed or offered for publication The Lord of the Rings.”[2]  Likewise, Tolkien was encouraging to Lewis to finish writing and publishing Out of the Silent Planet, the first in the Space Trilogy.

There is something I find particularly fascinating about the members of this group; they were literary geniuses but apparently did not see themselves as such.  They did not simply generate books of brilliance on whims and expect everyone to swoon at their magnificence.  They submitted their work to the critique of the group.  Many, if not all, of the publications from these men were vetted before being deemed worthy.

“Out would come a manuscript and we would settle down to sit in judgment upon it,” recalled Warnie Lewis.  “Real, unbiased judgment too, for about the Inklings there was nothing of a mutual admiration society; with us, praise for good work was unstinted but censure for bad, or even not so good, was often brutally frank.  To read to the Inklings was a formidable ordeal, and I can still remember the fear and trembling with which I offered the first chapter of my first book–and remember too my delight at its reception.”[3]

These men did not allow themselves to think higher of themselves than they should and they each humbled themselves enough to hear the “brutally frank” criticisms of peers and friends.  This is exactly why their works are so good.  Each book was the final draft of a manuscript analyzed by peers and friends.[4]

Dialogue is a healthy thing.  These men not only presented their manuscripts to the group but also discussed anything they all thought important, including religion.  It was due to a long and late night talk with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson that Lewis returned to Christianity.  If no dialogue had taken place, nor a willingness of all parties to attempt an understanding of the others’ beliefs, Lewis may never have re-discovered Christianity and given us his great literature.

The arch-literary-nemesis of the Modernist George Bernard Shaw was the Christian G.K. Chesterton.  They both wrote scathing reviews of the other and debated publicly but could still invite each other home to dinner and drinks and laughter together.  Surely this was largely due to the truth of Lewis that two men to whom a question is important can be friends even though they do not agree upon the answer.

Another strong ingredient, I believe, was Chesterton’s Christian conviction to love thy enemy and to treat all people with charity.  Does not charity include giving someone the time of day and discussing with them something they consider important?

 


 

[1] Joseph Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, 63

[2] Joseph Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, 35

[3] Joseph Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, 64

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