They gathered every Thursday around nine in the evening with pipes and pints in hand. At any given meeting there was likely to have been at least one historian, a philosopher, a physician, several poets, and a number of professors. The Inklings, as they called themselves, were literary enthusiasts who praised the value of good narrative and gathered to encourage, challenge, and better one another in their various attempts at creating it. Out of these spirited meetings, in which it is said that “praise for good work was unstinted, but censure for bad work, or even not-so-good work, was often brutally frank,” there arose the final drafts of The Lord of the Rings, Out of the Silent Planet, All Hallows’ Eve, and The Great Divorce to name a few.(1)
Contrary to the many critics who insist these writers had little influence on one another (the Inklings’ themselves said of Tolkien that it was easier to influence a “bandersnatch” than the creator of Middle Earth), Diana Pavlac Gyler avers they would not have been the same writers had they not written within the community of the Inklings. “[E]ach author’s work is embedded in the work of others,” writes Gyler, “and each author’s life is intertwined with the lives of others.”(2) Influence, after all, is far from imitation. While it is true that these authors came to their meetings with determined ideas, their reflective and challenging interactions sharpened thoughts, minds, and lives. J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, as well as C.S. Lewis, would likely have imagined far different worlds had they not participated in the regular reading and criticism of their works in progress.
This idea of communal creativity is one I resonant with from my own experience of thinking and writing. Even my most original thoughts or imaginative creations are indelibly shaped by a lifetime of encounters with artists, theologians, family, and community. We do not interpret the world alone nor do we live without influencing one another profoundly. In this sense, we might say that creativity in all its forms—even in the simplest acts of living and acting—is inherently an interactive process. What J.R.R. Tolkien notes on the lips of Frodo can indeed be said of our own interacting stories. Peering at the large red book in which Bilbo started to tell the story and Frodo then continued, Sam looks down in wonder, “Why, you have nearly finished it, Mr. Frodo!” he exclaims.
“I have quite finished, Sam,” answers Frodo. “The last pages are for you.”(3)
When the New Testament writers began to speak of creation through the light of all they saw in Jesus Christ, they affirmed the Old Testament understanding of total dependence upon the maker of heaven earth, but they spoke also of Christ’s presence as the Word at the beginning. Likewise, the early church began to see the role and presence of the Spirit in God’s creative work. Creation, they came to understand, and all we see within it, is the work of God in community. All of creation declares the glory of God, the work of the loving interaction between Father, Son, and Spirit—the very first creative community.
As a Christian, I believe this ultimate image of creative collaboration is one that explains our longing for community and connection, our desire to create and work. We are creatures and co-creators alike. The creative collaboration of the Trinity throughout time and creation invites the notion that God has made us for community and relationship, that our stories come together as if a great book with room for more, and that the grace of a good storyteller is working to make the work inherently beautiful. As the Father has invited us to participate in his good work of creation, so Christ has called us to join him in the community of the kingdom among us, each of us works in progress by the Spirit.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) W.H. Lewis, “C.S. Lewis: A Biography” (Unpublished Manuscript, 268-269); Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
(2) Diana Pavlac Gyler, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2007).
(3) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 1027.