Inklings at the Eagle and Child

They met in a pub called the Eagle and Child. Usually it was on Thursday evenings, and they sat in the Rabbit Room beside a fireplace, and ate good plain food and drank beer if there was any, and sometimes hot cider with chunks of apple floating. In the course of these weekly meetings there was always good talk and good debate, but perhaps most enjoyable were their readings.

After much small talk, one man said: “Well has anyone got anything to read?” Someone in the room pulled out a manuscript, handwritten, and prepared the papers in correct order, and the others continued chatting.

“This is what I have so far of my next chapter,” he said, and waited for everyone to quiet. He began to read from the manuscript. It was the usual sort of thing they heard each week.

This particular chapter was about a company of men and elves and dwarves and small creatures called Hobbits. And of course one old wizard. They had just arrived at a door of stone in which were elvish engravings revealed by moonlight. Next came a journey through darkness, with distant echoes of shadow and flame. Jack Lewis was very fond of this story—most of them were—and they all listened intently, and he read on for the next hour.

For them it was commonplace to hear regular readings from The Lord of the Rings, as well as Lewis’s novels, such as Out of the Silent Planet. They also suggested changes to each other’s stories as they saw fit, and criticized one another, sometimes rather harshly. But of course they were all just a group of friends, and they called themselves The Inklings.

They were mostly Oxford dons brought together by university connections. It all began with the meeting of Tolkien and Lewis, who at first didn’t get along too pleasantly. They both seemed the other’s opposite, and hardly talked.

But soon after Tolkien met Lewis, he began a club dedicated to the reading of Icelandic mythology (in the original text.) The group was called the Coalbiters (the Icelandic name was Kolbíter, a jesting term meaning “men who lounge so close to the fire in winter that they bite the coal.”) Lewis was invited to one of these meetings, and it just so happened that he fervently loved Icelandic mythology. After one Coalbiters meeting, he and Tolkien stayed up till 2:30 in the morning discussing the gods and giants of Asgard.

A friendship began. It was the kind of moment, as Lewis once remarked, when someone who has till then believed he was all alone in his feelings, cries out: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

The Inklings began later after Lewis and Tolkien had met the other Oxford professors. I imagine they all had theWhat! You too? experience when they first met. They each had writing in common, and they all loved their secondary worlds. But this unity between them, something one might call friendship, made all the difference. Without C.S. Lewis there would be no Lord of the Rings, nor would there be Narnia if not for Tolkien’s influence.

So these Thursday night Inklings continued, until Lewis’s death in ’63. There seems to be something magical in those meetings—even more magical than drinking tea and eating cakes with a Fawn in a snowy land—a magic element that’s only found when all the members are present: when all are laughing at a bawdy joke, or when all are listening to a story read, or drinking from pub glasses in the Eagle and Child.

Much of a writer’s time is spent in solitude: working at his desk, listening to those voices in his head, dreaming the fictive dreams. When, by good Providence, he finds a group of like-minded people, others who are strange like him, who understand the burdens and mysteries of being creative, it is (as Lewis would say) “good magic.”

This was a guest post on another literary blog, Ian Duncan Books. Check out this great site: