Community Encourages Creativity, 9 Lessons We Can Learn from the Inklings

Do you know what a Bandersnatch is, or where you might find one? I didn’t until I read Bandersnatch, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, by Diana Pavlac Glyer. The Inklings were, of course, the famous writers’ community that met in the 1930s and 1940s at Oxford in England. Most think of their meetings at the Eagle and Child pub, but the Inklings did more critiquing of their works-in-progress in Lewis’ rooms in Magdalen College on Thursday nights.

Tolkien once described the name Inklings as a pun with 2 meanings: “people with vague or half-formed intimations,” and “those who dabble in ink. This is a great name to describe what everyone has always believed about how the Inklings helped each other with their writing.

In many years of research, though, Ms. Glyer, an authority on Tolkien and Lewis, had never found proof of how they influenced each other’s writing. In fact, Lewis once wrote, “No-one has ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.” (written by Lewis in 1959 in a letter to a reader).

Read on to find out not only what a bandersnatch is, but what Glyer discovered in a library in Wheaton, Illinois

Discovery in a Library

Ms. Glyer discovered letters by Tolkien from 1937 that showed just the opposite was the case. Lewis had been reading and giving criticism on The Lord of the Rings from the very first drafts! And Tolkien was listening and making changes based on those criticisms.

Ms. Glyer spent the next 23 years studying letters and drafts by the Inklings to learn more about their collaborative process, which she wrote about in a scholarly book: The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. Later she wrote Bandersnatch to reach a wider audience with stories about the Inklings and lessons other writing communities can learn from them.

9 Lessons Discovered from the Inklings (these are Ms. Glyer’s headings followed by my shortened summaries)

  1. “Start Small” Lewis and Tolkien discovered they had many interests in common and decided to meet weekly—we only need 2 or 3 people to begin, but should meet regularly.
  2. “Stay Focused” On Thursday evenings the Inklings shared their works in progress and then listened to comments from the other members—we need to stay focused on our group’s stated purpose and not get distracted by too many other concerns.
  3. “Meet Often”  Although the Thursday night critique time was most important, the Inklings met regularly at the Eagle and Child pub and for other activities that deepened their relationships—as difficult as it is, we need to find ways to become more connected to members of our group through in-person contacts such as conferences, letters, emails, prayer. The more we know about the people in our groups, the better we are able to understand and help their writing.
  4. “Embrace Difference”  Lewis once said, “We were by no means men of one trade.” The differences of the group members brought a diversity that enriched the collaboration of the Inklings—under the umbrella of a shared interest in writing, diverse backgrounds and viewpoints can enrich the collaboration in our groups, too.
  5. “Criticize But Don’t Silence”  The Inklings were honest in their critiques, but they didn’t dismiss another’s work even if it wasn’t their cup of tea. Tolkien didn’t like The Chronicles of Narnia at first, but he could still see its value and recommend it—our groups need to help creative people improve with honest and thoughtful critiquing.
  6. “Vary Feedback”  Ms. Glyer found that the Inklings used different types of feedback, such as encouragement, specific suggestions for editing, alternate ideas and examples—good critiquing shows wisdom in choosing just what a piece and its writer needs.
  7. “Increase the Channels”  In their letters and notes, we see that the Inklings met in different ways and also communicated in different ways, sometimes they wrote long detailed critiques; other times communication was verbal, even noisy—we can learn from them to find creative ways to communicate our thoughts.
  8. “Try More Than One” The Inklings participated in other groups with different purposes. Tolkien helped found The Tea Club, and Lewis was part of a group called Beer and Beowulf—other groups can help broaden our experiences and perhaps minister to others in various ways.
  9. “Think Outside the Group”  The Inklings shared their ideas on walks and in pubs, in letters and with poems—we can do that, too, sometimes just sharing an idea with one person or asking an expert for advice. It can be great to bounce an idea off the whole group or just with one or two.

So What Is a Bandersnatch and Where Can We Find One?

Lewis Carroll created the bandersnatch as one of the fierce beasts to be avoided in his poem, “Jabberwocky,” which you’ll find in Through the Looking-Glass.

But thanks to Ms. Glyer’s research, we see that Tolkien avoided being a fierce Bandersnatch working all on his own. Instead he shared numerous drafts of The Lord of the Rings with the Inklings. He listened and often acted upon that collaboration, which enriched and improved his story. And he dedicated the first edition of the trilogy to the Inklings.

Do you belong to a writing group? How have you found it to be helpful?

If you don’t have a group, you might consider joining us here at Write 2 Ignite, a group of Christian children’s writers who meet to encourage and inspire each other in on this blog, in critique groups, on our Facebook page, and in masterclasses.  Come see what we’re all about!

Kathy O’Neill is an art teacher who loves to show everyone they can draw. Visit her website to discover more about her writing and workshops, and her blog for a Christian view of great art and related projects and devotions for children. Kathy’s goal is to engage children’s and adult’s hearts, hands and minds to discover God and their own creativity through art, history, and nature. Kathy has written for many publications, including Light from the Word, The Quiet Hour, Appleseeds, and DevoKids.

5 thoughts on “Community Encourages Creativity, 9 Lessons We Can Learn from the Inklings

  1. I was part of a writers group for years. It was very helpful. Then we each started moving to other states. A few kept up via email, but, alas, I didn’t. Thanks for the insight.

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