J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis talked, dined, drank, and walked together. And then, other friendships began to form around this critical one. Some arrived by chance, some by circumstance, and others by design. Eventually, they adopted a name: “The Inklings.”

With the friendship of Tolkien and Lewis having grown into something almost preternaturally solid, one finds constant references to the two men getting together in the private letters of each.[1] Two letters to Lewis’s closest friend, Arthur Greeves, reveals much about this. First, in February 1933:

Since term began I have had a delightful time reading a children’s story which Tolkien has just written. I have told of him before: the one man absolutely fitted, if fate had allowed, to be a third in our friendship of old days, for he also grew up on W. Morris and George Macdonald. Reading his fairy tale has been uncanny—it is so exactly like what we wd. both have longed to write (or read) in 1916: so that one feels he is not making it up but merely describing the same world into which all three of us have entry. Whether it is really good (I think it is until the end) is of course another question: still more, whether it will succeed with modern children.[2]

Then, again, in late March of the same year:

I was talking about this to Tolkien who, you know, grew up on Morris and Macdonald and shares my taste in literature to a fault. We remarked how odd it was that the word romance should be used to cover things so different as Morris on the one hand and Dumas or Rafael Sabatini on the other—things not only different but so different it is hard to imagine the same person liking both. We agreed that for what we meant by romance there must be at least the hint of another world—one must ‘hear the horns of elfland.’[3]

Tolkien and Lewis talked together, they dined together, they drank (tea and beer!) together, and they walked together.

A third soon joined. Immediately before Christmas 1932, Warnie retired—permanently, he had hoped—from the military and moved into his brother’s house. He “has become a permanent member of our household and I hope we shall pass the rest of our lives together,” Jack wrote in a personal letter. Further,

We both have a feeling that ‘the wheel has come full circuit’, that the period of wanderings is over, and that everything which has happened between 1914 and 1932 was an interruption: tho’ not without a consciousness that it is dangerous for mere mortals to expect anything of the future with confidence. We make a very contented family together.[4]

As if by providential design, Warnie had come back to the faith at almost exactly the same time as had Jack, though the two had returned to Christianity by quite separate paths.[5]

Other friendships began to form around this critical one of Tolkien and Lewis, though. Some arrived by chance, some arrived by circumstance, and some arrived by design. Soon, the English literature professor Hugo Dyson joined in; theater director and Chaucer and Shakespeare scholar, Nevill Coghill, joined as well; as did physician Robert Havard and the Anglo-Saxon scholar, C.L. Wrenn. When he could spare time from his law practice, Owen Barfield took the train up from London and participated. By 1936, biographer Lord David Cecil had become a part of this group, meeting and talking—and talking and meeting in, mostly, C.S. Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford. When an undergraduate, the novelist Edward Tangye Lean, who had led a student-faculty group called “The Inklings,” graduated from Oxford in June 1933, Jack adopted the name as a way of describing his and Tolkien’s literary friends.[6] Tolkien specifically remembered the group as “the undetermined and unelected circle of friends who gathered about C.S.L.”[7] Either through humility or obstinance or a combination of each, Lewis refused to believe this, seeing the Inklings much more as a family.[8]

While much of the early history of the Inklings remains lost in details due to a lack of documents and documentation, that which remains reveals much. In particular, Lyle Dorsett of the Wade Center at Wheaton College did what he could to preserve the earliest days of the Inklings in a number of interviews conducted in the 1980s with the remaining members of the group. The most forthcoming was from one of the non-academics, Dr. Robert “Humphrey” Havard, a physician not only for many of the Inklings, but for other famous figures, such as Christopher Dawson.

He had never been called by the name “Humphrey,” until meeting with the Inklings. The name came about completely by bizarre accident with Dyson obnoxiously misremembering Havard’s name. “Oh, you know, that Humphrey or something,” he responded in conversation. “And the name for some reason took on and stuck and I was known to the Inklings as Humphrey from that time on. And still am by those who survived,” Havard explained in 1984.[9]

A young convert to Roman Catholicism—because of the influence of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s writings and because of the direct influence of Ronald Knox and Martin D’Arcy—Havard and Lewis talked Aquinas during a medical consultation. “I attended Lewis for an attack of influenza, I think, in the early part of 1935. After spending roughly five minutes discussing the flu, “we then turned on Thomas Aquinas and we discussed Thomas Aquinas over the following 30 minutes or so.” Soon after, if not at that very visit, Lewis encouraged Havard to attend an Inklings meeting.[10] In his invitation, Lewis did not use the term “Inklings,” but, rather, referred to it as a “group of us.”[11] What made Lewis and Havard take such a quick liking to each other? “I think because I showed an interest in religio-philosophical discussion. “We took to each other. We got on very well together. He became, really, one of my best friends. Well, my best friend for—some many years,” Havard explained. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent 30 minutes discussing religion with one of my patients,” had they not immediately liked one another.[12] In hindsight, though, Havard chided himself—and perhaps Lewis—for his being rather quiet during the meetings. “I was a very silent and quiet member. But as it turned out,” he continued, “I woke up one day to find my friends famous.”[13]

Though it would take a while for the term Inklings to come into common usage among the group, Havard stressed, it always shared its identity as a group around C.S. Lewis. Lewis, however, blatantly countered such a notion at the time, claiming “that we were all a family group, but I said at one stage that if anything happened to him, the group would split up. And he objected to this very forcibly. And said that’s nonsense. Nothing of the kind would happen.” Still, Havard continued, “It was a group of his—he was the dominant—the dominant personality.”[14]

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Notes:

[1] One feels this especially in Warnie Lewis’s diary, Friends and Brothers, 106-127.

[2] CSL to Arthur Greeves, February 4, 1933, in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2: 96.

[3] CSL to Arthur Greeves, March 25, 1933, in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2: 103.

[4] CSL to Arthur Greeves, February 4, 1933, in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2: 95.

[5] CSL to Arthur Greeves, March 25, 1933, in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2: 101.

[6] George Sayer, Jack, 149; Green and Hooper, C.S. Lewis: A Biography, 162; and JRRT to William Luther White, September 11, 1967, in JRRT Letters, Letter 298. Tolkien mentioned Edward Tangye Lean in JRRT to Rayner Unwin, June 22, 1952, in JRRT Letters, Letter 133.

[7] JRRT to William Luther White, September 11, 1967, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 298.

[8] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

[9] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

[10] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

[11] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

[12] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

[13] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

[14] Interview with Dr. Robert E. Havard, WCWC. Date: July 26, 1984. Location: Down House, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight. Interviewer: Lyle W. Dorsett.

Editor’s Note: The featured image is “The Bibliophile’s Desk” by L. Block (1848-1901), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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