Not Everyone at the Inklings Meetings Loved Tolkien’s Stories

by Mr. Sheehy

Tolkien was excessively hard to please, even by his friends. I have mentioned his distaste for Williams’s writings and his frustrations with much of Lewis’s work. Dorothy Sayers’s famed fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey inspired in Tolkien “a loathing for him (and his creatrix) not surpassed by any other character in literature known to me, unless by his Harriet [Vane].” These views made Tolkien the odd man out in what was otherwise an extremely simpatico group–with one significant exception: Hugo Dyson hated Tolkien’s stories so much that he would audibly groan and even swear as they were being read, whether by Tolkien himself in a mumble or by his son Christopher with eloquence; ultimately Dyson’s objections led to Tolkien’s fiction being taken permanently off the Inklings’ menu. Perhaps this was not wholly to be regretted: as Lewis writes in The Four Loves, if friendship “is not full of mutual admiration, of Appreciative love, it is not Friendship at all.” However, “it must not become what the people call a ‘mutual admiration society'”–a group in which strong criticism is ruled out. (204-05)

That’s from Alan Jacobs’s biography of C.S. Lewis, The Narnian. It is hard not to enjoy the way Jacobs approaches this element of Lewis’s life, beginning with this confession before discussing the Inklings:

The Inklings have been written about so much, and so reverently, that it has been hard for me to dismiss the temptation to ignore them altogether, as though I had never heard of them. (Imagine a book on Shakespeare that never mentions a play called Hamlet.) (201)

Surely it is that hagiographic love of the Inklings so common that makes the scene quoted above so amazingly funny to me.

I love it.