28. Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Glyer

I did not give The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings a super good rating, and I wanted to read this one in order to compare the two. I realize it is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. The Fellowship was very broad and academically boring with moments of shear brilliance as it sought to give in-depth biographies of four of the main players who formed the Inklings.

This book had a very specific purpose: to look at written documents and draw some conclusions about how creative works are formed in community. It succeeded swimmingly! I loved this book from beginning to end, but I am also glad I "slogged" through the other one because the "brilliant" parts were so brilliant! I even used an excerpt from a brilliant section as I walked along Addison's Walk in Oxford in July 2016:

So, I do not regret reading that book that was so difficult to get through!

But this book was so well-written. It was concise, and I learned so much more about the inner workings of the Inklings rather than history of the four main people in the group.

The bottom line: We would have no Lord of the Rings if it were not for C.S. Lewis' constant encouragement and accountability for Tolkien who was a procrastinator and perfectionist. We would not have the space trilogy from C.S. Lewis if it were not for a wager that they gave to each other for Lewis to write about space travel and Tolkien about time travel (p. 39). Tolkien's was never completed, but Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength were the result of that wager. 

The author's conclusion:
In many cases, the presence of resonators, opponents, editors, and collaborators does not merely make a project easier, or lighten the burden, or move things along. Often, these important companions are essential to a project's existence. It is true of writers in general; it is also true of the Inklings. In short, none of them would have written the same things in the same ways if it had not been for the influence of this group. (p. 156)

Oh to be a bug on the wall in C.S. Lewis' rooms on Thursday nights! I can only dream.

The Epilogue of this book is entitled, "Doing What the Inklings Did." It contains suggestions on starting your own little collaborative creative community: 

  • Start Small
  • Stay Focused
  • Meet Often
  • Embrace Difference
  • Start Early and Intervene Often
  • Criticize But Don't Silence
  • Increase the Channels (find a variety of ways to communicate with one another)
  • Try More Than One (group)
  • Think Outside the Group
  • Take Baby Steps (read another book about the Inklings or creative collaboration, consider participating online, remember: two is a magic number [groups may be 5 or 6, but the heart is two people who are passionate - that was Tolkien and Lewis])

Finally, where the author gets the title. This would be my only criticism of the book. While it makes sense in the context of the following paragraph, I would have not really known to search this title out had it not been for someone on Amazon suggesting an alternative to The Fellowship after reading a negative review (with similar criticism that I had of the book).

Here is the full quote about how the Inklings influenced Tolkien's work and from whence the title of the book came:
No one ever influenced Tolkien -- you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch (a fictional creature from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and "The Hunting of the Snark"). We listened to his work, but could affect it only by encouragement. He has only two reactions to criticism; either he begins the whole work over again form the beginning or else takes no notice at all. (p. 151)

The author thinks Lewis missed something because Tolkien would get quiet and jot notes but WOULD make revisions at home far more often than Lewis ever realized!

Thankful for the Inklings. Thankful for this excellent book. Thankful I got to walk in their footsteps while at Oxford last month! 

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