J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings

Tolkien Event 2016

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Life, Death, and Immortality. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring guest posts and interviews!


Katie from Doing Dewey reviewed  The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski earlier today.  This book explores the literary community that helped form and sustain Tolkien’s imagination as he worked on his legerdarium.  The myth of the solitary artist persists, but books like this reveal the networks in which writers work.  And yet we don’t often talk about Tolkien and his friends–at least, I can’t imagine that many outside the world of Tolkien scholarship know much about the Inklings.  They represent, however, not only writers in community but also a certain philosophy of creativity worth discussing

Who or what are the Inklings?

Depending on the source you read, you’ll likely find different descriptions of this group and people will disagree on which individuals count as members. Broadly speaking, however, the Inklings were a group of intellectuals and writers, many associated with Oxford University, who met informally in the 1930s and 1940s to discuss literature.  The group was informal, so there were no dues, set meeting times, or membership lists.

The individuals most often associated with the group are J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.  Hugo Dyson is often mentioned, as well, since he is credited, along with Tolkien, with converting Lewis to Christianity.  Tolkien’s son Christopher and Lewis’s brother Warren are associated with the group, too, as is Roger Lancelyn Greene.  Some add Dorothy L. Sayers, though the group seems to have been for men and she did not attend meetings–most likely her philosophy of writing causes her to be associated with the rest.

What are they known for?

Broadly speaking, the Inklings are associated with faith (mostly Christianity–though their personal beliefs varied) and literature.  Lewis in particular became known not only for his allegorical Chronicles of Narnia but also for his work as a Christian apologist.  Tolkien, of course, is known as a devout Catholic who inspired Lewis to leave atheism for Christianity, in particular by suggesting that myths could contain a larger truth; his works are built on his Christian beliefs and his concept of joy.  Owen Barfield, an anthroposophist, also steered Lewis towards theism. Charles Williams was a writer who set his fantasies in his own time; some of his works are  War in HeavenDescent Into Hell and The Place of the Lion.  Some believe that Williams’s work inspired C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy.

Where can you start to find out more?

  • “On Fairy Stories” by J. R. R. Tolkien: Explains Tolkien’s philosophy of writing.  It is often paired with his allegory on the purpose and nature of art, Leaf by Niggle.
  • “Christianity and Literature” by C. S. Lewis: This selection can be found in The Seeing Eye. It grapples with the ways in which Christianity and culture intersect, and the role of the Christian writer.
  • The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer: This book traces the influences that of the Inklings on each other’s work.
  • Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen: A fun YA fantasy that features Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams as heroes who must save a magical Archipelago from darkness.


3 thoughts on “J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings

  1. Greg says:

    I had heard of The Inklings and little snippets about them over the years, but didn’t know a lot. To be honest, the idea of Tolkien and C.S Lewis and others meeting for years, discussing their views and WIP’s, etc is fascinating. To be a fly on the wall for some of those conversations! Nice to see an overview of this!


    • Krysta says:

      I always love it when authors are friends. It’s just nice to think of them being able to get together and find support and get feedback. Writing is hard work–why not do it together?

      Lewis and Tolkien later fell out, alas, but I agree that it would have been amazing to be able to attend one of their meetings!


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