Note: the following blog post is a repost from our 2009 Southwest Regional Retreat Writers Workshop blog. Click here for the main 2009 C.S. Lewis Southwest Regional Retreat page.
Review of The Company They Keep:
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer
“No man is an island, entire of itself,” John Donne wrote in the 17th century, “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . .”
Everyone needs others. If God had meant us to do this life solo, He would have stopped with Adam.
In The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer has written about the community shared by the Inklings and the influence it had on the lives and works of individual members – C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, R.E. Havard, David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, Warren Lewis, and others.
Charles Williams thought we should live by the principle that, everyone, all the time, owes his life to the lives and labor of others. He believed in co-inherence-the unity within the Trinity, of all Christian believers, and of divine and human in the Incarnation.
The story of the Inklings gives us an exceptional example of the elements of influence and encouragement. In Chapter Three we read about “Resonators,” which “refers to anyone who acts as a friendly, interested, supportive audience.” They show interest, give feedback, express praise, offer encouragement, contribute practical help, and promote the work of others. This heartening gift is absolutely essential to the very existence of any work.
“What I owe them is incalculable.” (Lewis)
“We owed each a great debt to the other.” (Tolkien)
Think of it. Would we have The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters today, were it not for the relationship these men shared?
When I read Tolkien’s epic a second time as a mature adult, I was enchanted. I reread it again and again, and The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and whatever other works I could find. Then I started on the biographies and discovered you really can’t have Tolkien without Lewis, and visa versa. While enjoying Glyer’s book, you learn all the delicious reasons why. If it hadn’t been for Tolkien and Dyson’s influence, would Lewis have turned to God? Would Tolkien have ever finished his Rings epic if Lewis had not “put the screw” to him?
We discover Lewis struggled with discouragement, and experienced anxiety, fear, and doubt, but saw them as inevitable aspects of the creative process. His first desire was to write poetry, but rejection shook his confidence. He battled discouragement over the delay in publishing his first novel. And he suffered from ill health.
As a “notorious non-finisher,” Tolkien needed the presence of others to keep writing. It took him twelve years to write LOTR. After Lewis died and the group disbanded, Tolkien became increasingly isolated and unable to write.
Tolkien said of Lewis, “He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a hobby.”
Interestingly though, Tolkien-the perfectionist-was not taken with the Chronicles. He thought his friend mixed too many elements. Some of the Inklings couldn’t bear to hear more of “The New Hobbit.”
Lewis, though, thought LOTR was “like lightning out of a clear sky.”
Glyer called it “diversity within unity.” “Out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerge,” wrote Lewis, who also said friends ” . . . join like raindrops on a window.” They “are not primarily absorbed in each other. It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up-painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, fighting shoulder to shoulder.” Lewis
Upon conclusion we are left with the principle that we are influenced by the company we keep.
She quotes a Buddhist monastic saying, “When a tree grows by itself it spreads out, but does not grow tall. When trees grow together in the forest, they help push each other up towards the sun.”
I look forward to hearing Diana speak at the C.S. Lewis Foundation Southwest Regional Retreat. It is a rich opportunity for all of us to grow up towards the sun and reach out and influence each other. Read the book before you come. It will enrich the experience. It did for me.
(For your convenience, you can buy the book through the C.S. Lewis Foundation Bookstore)