Monday, December 12, 2016

Early Inklings Scholarship: The Platypus Reads Part CCCVI

There's nothing quite like arriving late to the conversation. It's why I don't like being late to Christmas parties if I can help it. When I began reading Inklings scholarship (Tom Shippey on Tolkien, Doug Gresham on Lewis), I knew that I'd arrived late to the party. Things were being referenced or scoffed at that I didn't fully understand. Over time, I began to pick up on elements of the earlier conversation and orient myself. Recently, however, I've been able to go back and look at that earlier part of the discussion; specifically, the parts before the coming of Humphrey Carpenter and his monolithic J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Inklings.

The particular works in question come not from Oxford insiders or authorized biographers but academics on this side of the pond who were willing to risk professional scorn by asserting the literary greatness of the Inklings and their associates. They are, respectively, Understanding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings (copyright 1968) by William Ready, and Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien/C.S. Lewis/G.K. Chesterton/Charles Williams (copyright 1974) by Edmund Fuller, Clyde S. Kilby, Russell Kirk, John W. Montgomery, and Chad Walsh. Those in the know will recognize the names of several North American scholars who were instrumental in securing Inklings material for future research. These are the guys that Humphrey Carpenter seems to be pushing back against when he asserts that the Inklings weren't particularly united or particularly Christian. They also look like the fellows Diana Glyer is giving a nod to when she proves Humphrey Carpenter to be in serious error.

For me, this was the missing part of the conversation. I had reconstructed the basics from context clues, but it was highly enlightening to actually see the argument. Hearing the participants in their own words gives me a better idea of how to understand later speakers like Carpenter and Glyer. I had to get these books on loan or from the used bookstore, but they were well worth the extra effort -if not because of their conclusions then because of the hole they fill in the conversation.

So, if you feel like their might be some holes in your understanding of Inklings scholarship, may I suggest picking both of these volumes up?

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