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The (original) Inklings were a group of Oxford academics and writers, their most famous members including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Hugo Dyson. They used to meet regularly, often at the Eagle & Child pub in Oxford, and read portions of their work to each other. Out of this group came such well-known and influential works as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

My question is: how and why was this group first established? When was it set up? Who were its founding members? Was there any special motivation for it, and how did it grow to its later glory?


While this question doesn't directly relate to any particular work of fiction, I feel it's very interesting from the point of view of understanding not only the lives of several authors but also the possible effects on their works. After all, feedback received during Inklings meetings may have led to substantial changes to some of the works being read.

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The well-known Inklings was a literary discussion group, and that is exactly what they did.

There was a preceding group where they got the name from, which was founded for the purpose of reading aloud unfinished compositions.

When this initiative folded with the departure of its founder Edward Tangye Lean in 1933, Tolkien and Lewis, both members of the original group, transferred the name to their own group at Magdalen.

Formed around Lewis and Tolkien and being invitation only, it was a gathering of like-minded spirits valuing narrative in fiction and encouraging the writing of fantasy. Apparently it was discussion as well as the reading aloud of their unfinished works, receiving both praise and candid criticism.

According to Tolkien, Lewis took particular pleasure in listening to others read their works aloud, having a phenomenal capacity to remember these texts. Tolkien summed up the spirit of Inklings meetings when he called it “a feast of reason and flow of soul” (Letters, 102).

On the connection between the two 'Inklings' societies, Tolkien later said "although our habit was to read aloud compositions of various kinds (and lengths!), this association and its habit would in fact have come into being at that time, whether the original short-lived club had ever existed or not."

The name “Inklings” itself is a bit of whimsy, a pun on those who dabble in ink—writers--and those who may only have an inkling of what they intend to write about when they begin a project.

The golden years of the Inklings seem to have been from the late 1930s to the mid-1940s, when the group heard J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings read aloud, as well as C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and Charles Williams’ All Hallows Eve.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inklings
  2. http://www.ignatius.com/promotions/looking-for-the-king/who-were-the-inklings.htm
  3. http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Inklings
  4. Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings (Houghton Mifflin, 1979)
  5. Diana Glyer, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (Kent State University Press, 2007)
  6. Harry L. Poe & James R. Veneman, The Inklings of Oxford (Zondervan, 2009).
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Tolkien and Lewis started it when Tolkien returned to Oxford.

I'll answer the questions that you mentioned one by one. Unless otherwise specified, the quotes come from Inside The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by James Stuart Bell, Carrie Pyykkonen, and Linda Washington, chapter 5.

When was it set up?

Years later (after working on the Oxford English Dictionary), when he returned to Oxford as a professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Tolkien and Lewis founded a writer's group called the Inklings.

According to Wikipedia, this was in 1925. So the earliest possible year is 1925. But the Wikipedia article on C. S. Lewis claims that they met for the first time in 1926, pushing the possible date farther forwards. In doing some Internet sleuthing, I looked at the source that Wikipedia provided for when they ran - from a book called Brothers and Friends: The Diaries of Major Warrington Hamilton Lewis, C. S. Lewis's brother. I then looked up the book on Google Books and performed a search for 'Inklings'. On page 183, there is this:

Transcript below

-ings of the Inklings did not begin until April 1940. Though members of the Inklings often met at various times throughout the week, the regularity of Tuesday mornings

So maybe the Inklings were founded in April 1940, although that could be referring to when they started regularly meeting.

Update: Doing some searching through Google Books, I found this from The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter:

Transcript below

These three men knew each other well. Lewis and Tolkien met in 1926 and soon achieved an intimacy which lasted for many years. Around them gathered a group of friends, many of them Oxford dons, who referred to themselves informally and half jestingly as 'The Inklings'. When in 1939 Charles Williams found himself obliged to

So apparently it just sort of developed after Tolkien and Lewis met.

...

This group met weekly (sometimes on Monday or Tuesday mornings, other times on Thursday evenings) during the 1930s and '40s...

Who were its founding members?

See my first quote - it looks like Tolkien and Lewis set it up themselves.

...1930s and' 40s and consisted of Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Williams: Owed Barfield (Lewis was his daughter's godfather); Warren Lewis; Nevill Coghill (an Oxford professor); John Wain (not to be confused with John Wayne, the American actor famous for westerns - this is John Wain, the English poet and novelist); Gervase Matthews (a lecturer at Oxford); Hugo Dyson (whose talk with Lewis along with Tolkien helped Lewis to believe in God once again); Robert "Humphrey" Havard (another lecturer, who was also Lewis's and Warren's doctor); Lord David Cecil (an Oxford professor); and others, including Tolkien's son Christopher. Some friends and fellow writers like Eric Rucker Eddison (whose novel The Worm Ouroboros also was a favorite of Lewis's) and Dorothy Sayers (the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series) made guest appearances.

Was there any special motivation for it, and how did it grow to its later glory?

The Inklings liked hanging out together and hoped to encourage each other in their meetings.

As for why Lewis and Tolkien set up the group in the first place - probably for discussion about the works they were writing, and connecting to other writers. Why do you set up a chess club? For practice, fun, and people. It seems like that would be why they would set up a group like that.

This is basically what it says in The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter:

Transcript below

who edited the university magazine Isis and published a couple of novels while still studying for his degree. There were also a few dons present at the meetings. The club existed so that members could read unpublished compositions aloud, and ask for comments and criticisms. Tangye Lean named it 'The Inklings'. No record of its proceedings survives, though Tolkien recalled that

Thanks @doppelgreener for all of the transcriptions in chat!

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