Religion shaped the Inklings as much or even more than did whatever generational zeitgeist one might want to attribute to the group…

Though not the best-known Inkling, Adam Fox had the privilege of being the first of the group to arrive in this world. Through no choice of his own, he appeared on July 13, 1883. [1] Dark and inscrutable are the ways in which we come into the world, as Edmund Burke reminds us. Charles Williams, remembered, for better or worse, far more than Fox, came a little over three years later, on September 20, 1886. He survived birth, while his twin brother did not. [2] Almost a full decade after Fox, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien entered this existence on January 3, 1892, in South Africa. Warnie Lewis, the quasi-Boswell of the Inklings, was born on June 16, 1895, followed in that same year, on December 20, by Charles Leslie Wrenn. [3] Only four and a half months later, on April 7, 1896, Hugo V. Dyson appeared. [4] Warnie’s little brother, Jack, arrived on November 29, 1898, with Owen Barfield arriving three weeks earlier, on November 9, and R.B. McCallum on the Feast of St. Augustine (August 28) of the same year. [5] 1898 obviously proved a good year for the Inklings, or at least for their parents. Nevill Coghill came on April 18, 1899, R.E. Havard in 1901, Lord David Cecil on April 9, 1902, Mathew Gervase on March 14, 1905, C.E. Stevens on April 14, 1905, and Colin Hardie on February 16, 1906. [6] Youngest of the Inklings was J.A.W. Bennett, born February 28, 1911 and also the only New Zealander. [7]

For those looking for a generational explanation for the intent as well as of the success of the Inklings, the birth dates provide only minor guidance. While the vast majority of Inklings came from the British Isles, a minority came from Ireland, one from Scotland, and one from New Zealand. The twenty-eight years separating the birth of the oldest, Fox, from the birth of the youngest, Bennett, witnessed vast changes in the world. Victorian and Edwardian in large part, the Inklings, especially the English ones, each came into a world romantically and mythically in love with children and the innocence of childhood. World War I, of course, shattered this, symbolically as well as actually, exchanging a rather idyllic and sacramental world for an ideological and ceaselessly bloody one.

Religion—whether at birth or through conversation and conversion—shaped the Inklings as much or even more than did whatever generational zeitgeist one might want to attribute to the group. Warnie and Jack Lewis, Williams, Dyson, Cecil, Coghill, and Fox were or became devout Anglicans, while Tolkien, Havard, Hardie, Gervase (a Dominican Friar), and Bennett were or became serious Roman Catholics. [8] Barfield drifted in and out of the Anglican Church throughout his life, though he probably adhered most to the heterodox teachers of Rudolf Steiner, and the one Scottish Inkling, R.B. McCallum, belonged to the Presbyterian Church. [9] While there were obvious exceptions, the Inklings as a whole embraced liturgical Christianity, though to varying degrees of high and low. More often than not, it seems, the variety of Christian understandings added to the overall quality of the Inklings and their discussions. From time to time, though, tempers would flare. In August 1946, for example, Dyson “threatened that if any more Papists join the Inklings, he will resign.” [10] Additionally, as Gareth Knight has so persuasively argued, the Inklings believed in various forms of magic and, certainly, in a sacramental understanding of the world. At times, this remained fully commensurate with orthodox understandings of Christianity, emphasizing the Augustinian elements of imagination and goodness as synonymous with being. At other times, however, the focus on the imaginative veered toward the eerily supernatural. “They all had a tendency to the occult in some way,” the eldest of the Inklings, Adam Fox, claimed in a 1975 interview. [11] Though Evangelical Protestants have turned C.S. Lewis into a Protestant saint, he embraced and idealized paganism—especially in his fiction—to a rather shocking degree. At critical points in his story telling, for example, Venus, as a goddess of love, might well descend upon a country cottage, inspiring the procreative desires of the protagonists. One must, however, distinguish the fascination of the pagan for the Inklings from their sanctifying it. Quite often, the line between embracing and sanctifying is narrow and nuanced, difficult to discern upon a quick reading. Certainly, the Inklings would have seen themselves as sanctifying rather than merely accepting.

While most scholars have noted the special power of C.S. Lewis’ charisma in bringing together and holding together the Inklings, it would not be an understatement to claim that Tolkien’s mythology played a role equally vital to the well-being and essence of the group. His mythology—which to this day has yet, fully, to see publication—began long before Tolkien met Lewis and continued long after Lewis passed from this world. Tolkien’s mythology not only provides a chronological and philosophical base for understanding the Inklings, but his distinction of myth from theology matters significantly as well. The one serious flaw in this argument is that one of the major Inklings, H.V.D. Dyson, the anti-Papist noted above, liked Tolkien but despised the fantastical and fabulistic.

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[1] London Times (January 19, 1977), 16.

[2] “Charles Williams,” entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, v. 59, pg. 146.

[3] For Warnie, see London Times (April 16, 1973), 16; and for C.L. Wrenn, London Times (June 4, 1969), 12.

[4] (Dyson) London Times (April 7, 1896), 17.

[5] See, respectively, (C.S. Lewis) London Times (November 25, 1963), 14; “Owen Barfield,” entry in DNB v. 803; and (McCallum) London Times (May 21, 1973), 16.

[6] See, respectively, (Coghill) London Times (November 10, 1980), 14; (Cecil) London Times (January 3, 1896); “Mathew Gervase,” entry in DNB v. 37, 288; (Stevens) London Times (September 2, 1976), 14; and (Hardie) London Times (October 20, 1998).

[7] (Bennett) London Times (February 5, 1981), 16.

[8] For the various religions of the Inklings, see the excellent summation by Father Peter Milward, S.J., “Links with the Inklings,” St. Austin Review (June 2002): 18-20.

[9] Herb Gunn

[10] WHL, diary entry for August 15, 1946, in Brothers and Friends, 193.

[11] Adam Fox quoted in Knight, The Magical World of the Inklings, 15.

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