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The Company They Keep

I have just finished reading The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer. This is the definitive treatment to date of the literary group known as the Inklings--that group of writers and friends who gathered around C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien beginning in the 1920's and 30's in Oxford, England and continuing on, in some fashion, until Lewis's death in 1963.

Glyer is professor of English at Azusa Pacific University in California, having received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Therefore, as one might expect, this is an academic book reflecting the highest level of scholarship. The chapter endnotes are a feast in and of themselves for every reader fascinated not only with the Inklings but every reader intrigued by the study of literary influence and how writers can positively effect one another and the world when they work together in community.

Glyer attacks head-on the common assumption about the Inklings, Lewis and Tolkien in particular. That is that these writers were not influenced by one another, but that they were, somehow, solitary geniuses who just happened to meet together as friends, enjoying a drink in the pub and casually talking about their works in progress. I must admit that I began reading this book with some skepticism, since Lewis himself denied the presence of any literary influence among his group of friends. However, chapter by chapter I became convinced of the correctness of Glyer's contention that these writers and friends did influence each other's literary productions in any number of different ways.

The book begins with an excellent introduction to the phenomenon of the Inklings themselves. Then Glyer proceeds in chapter 2 to define literary influence. Throughout the rest of the book she meticulously proves her case that each of the major participants in the Inklings group did, in fact, influence one another's writings and that they did so as resonators, opponents, editors, collaborators and referents. As Glyer clearly states:

"The Inklings were not a cult or a coterie or a cohesive literary movement, but neither were they just a loose-knit group of friends. They were members of a writing group, knowledgeable peers who met on a regular basis to discuss written works in progress. They read their work aloud to one another and offered specific, substantial suggestions. In doing so, they influenced one another and one another's writing." (Company, 42)

If I have any bone to pick with this painstakingly detailed study of one of the most important writer's groups of the twentieth century it is that the description of the life and work of each member of the Inklings, well written by David Bratman in the book's appendix, is too brief. The glaring omission in this vital appendix is any description of the Inklings' personal and familial lives. As Glyer very perceptively points out in chapter 8, "Creativity: Appreciating Interaction", ". . . if writers really do depend on one another in helpful, joyful, and significant ways, as I have argued throughout this book, then one would expect to find each of the Inklings not only interacting with other Inklings, but also embedded in a series of other important creative collaborations." (Company, 206) Glyer proceeds, quite helpfully, to note how various members of the Inklings, Tolkien in particular, were influenced and helped in their writing especially by members of their respective families. This being the case, one would anticipate that some mention of each of these writers' families in the biographies of the appendix would be in order. Alas, this expectation on my part was disappointed.

Nonetheless, The Company They Keep, is a very valuable book indeed, one which should be read and thoughtfully considered by anyone deeply interested in C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, the Inklings, their literary output and the craft of writing in general. My hat is off to Diana Pavlac Glyer for giving to Inklings studies a work of such excellent scholarship and essential insight. While Humphrey Carpenter's biography of the Inklings will, I think deservedly, continue to be the most widely recognized popular treatment of this literary group, Glyer's work will be the essential academic text for many years to come, one which should be utilized to the full in every university classroom where the work of the Inklings is read, enjoyed and examined.


Steve Hayes said…
Is the author any relation of Ross Pavlac, whose web pages The Avenging Aardvark were a great inspiration to me in the early days of the web?
Sorry, Steve, I don't know the answer to your question. But you could ask Diana directly. I don't have her e-mail address handy. But I'm sure you can easily find her on the web.


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