Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Inklings were historians

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Although The Inklings are usually considered to be a literary group, they were really much more like historians.

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With the exception of Robert 'Humphrey' Havard (scientist and doctor) all of the main members took an historical perspective on their subject: Tolkien was a philologist, Jack Lewis wrote about medieval literature and society, Charles Williams published several historical 'potboilers'  - and some, such as Warnie Lewis and Gervase Mathew - were straightforward historians, who wrote history books.

But the core Inklings had a specifically mythical interest in history.

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This was partly intrinsic to the individuals (and a major reason for their friendship), but found an early formulation in the first books of Owen Barfield  -  Poetic Diction and History in English Words which had a major impact on both Lewis (who had been friends with Barfield since they were undergraduate contemporaries) and Tolkien.

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The key activity shared by Lewis and Tolkien - and to very varying degrees by the other Inklings - was the recovery of the mythic vision of history.

That was what the Inklings meetings were about.

Yes they were a writing group, and a social group; but what was being written and what kept the group together around Lewis had this core, implicit, purpose and tendency.

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More importantly, it is why the group is still of interest today.

Because the problem for which mythic history is proposed as (at least the start of) a solution is by now very bad indeed, and much worse than in the 1930s and 1940s.

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The Inklings were not just historians, nor even historians of ideas: they were engaged in trying to reconnect the modern mind with an historical mode of thought, a mythic mode of thought - by argument, by scholarship, and of course by the imagination.

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5 comments:

Jonathan said...

So now that you've whetted our appetites, can you please provide a reading list where we can marinate in this mythic mode of thought? Thank you.

bgc said...

The reading list of core relevance would simply be the main output of Tolkien and Lewis: their stories and essays.

ajb said...

"the recovery of the mythic vision of history."

I don't want to marinate: do you recommend any specific, short introductory works (blog posts?) that explain this idea?

bgc said...

@ajb -

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2011/01/curing-vulgarization-of-england-from.html

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2010/10/real-history-becoming-more-mythical.html

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2011/04/tolikiens-notion-club-papers-completed.html

ajb said...

Bruce, thanks for links to those. I don't 'get' it, though. Is what Tolkien is doing here similar to what Virgil was doing in The Aeneid?