The Inklings were a group of friends brought together by their shared love of literature. Weekly meetings took place every Thursday at C.S. Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford University, and in the rather more informal setting of The Eagle and Child (a pub in Oxford) on Tuesdays at midday during term time. During these meetings, the group would engage in literary discussions and read aloud from their own works in progress. Among the works read aloud at these meetings were C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. However, the Inklings also played host to other writers, thinkers, and literary critics who all too often go overlooked. Here are 6 of the lesser-known members of the Inklings.
1. Lord David Cecil
Lord Edward Christian David Gascoyne-Cecil was – perhaps unsurprisingly, judging from his name alone – born to an aristocratic family. As the youngest of four children and the second son born to James Gascoyne-Cecil, 4th Marquess of Salisbury, and the former Lady Cicely Gore (the second daughter of Arthur Gore, 5th Earl of Arran), he was styled a “Lord” by way of a courtesy title.
As a child, he had been delicate and sickly, spending a great deal of time in bed. With little else to do, he thus developed a love of literature which went on to inform his professional life. After attending Eton College, Cecil went on to study Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford University. From here, he graduated with a First Class degree in 1924 before going on to a fellowship at Wadham College, also at Oxford University, until 1930. During this period, he wrote and published his first book, The Stricken Deer (1929), a study of the poet and Anglican hymn writer William Cowper.
Following his first book, he wrote studies of various canonical writers, including William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Dorothy Osbourne, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Gray, Charles Lamb, and Walter Pater, as well as serving as the editor of a study of Desmond MacCarthy, who was his father-in-law. Ten years after the publication of The Stricken Deer, Cecil was made a Fellow of New College, Oxford, where he remained until 1969. During his time at New College, he taught Bidhu Bhusan Das, Ludovic Kennedy, and Kingsley Amis.
2. Hugo Dyson
Get the latest articles delivered to your inboxSign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter
Henry Victor Dyson Dyson – who signed his works H.V.D. Dyson and was known as Hugo – was an academic, teaching English at the University of Reading from 1924 until 1945, when he was granted a fellowship at Merton College, Oxford.
Though he did not write a particularly great deal of literary criticism, Dyson was noted for the quality of his lectures. In the 1960s, he delivered a televised series of lectures on William Shakespeare, on whom he was an expert. Though he was an English academic and not an actor, his ease in front of a camera and his accessible style of address in this lecture series led to him being given a role in the 1965 film Darling as Professor Walter Southgate.
Throughout his life, Dyson was a committed Christian, and it was during a long walk on the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, that he and J.R.R. Tolkien succeeded in converting C.S. Lewis to Christianity. While Tolkien was his ally in this mission, Dyson did not care for The Lord of the Rings, and in the face of his criticism, Tolkien eventually stopped reading aloud to the group.
3. Owen Barfield
Sometimes referred to as “the first and last Inkling,” Arthur Owen Barfield was born in London on the 9th of November 1898. He graduated from Wadham College, Oxford University, with a First Class degree in English Language and Literature in 1920. It was at Oxford University, when both were students, that Barfield first met C.S. Lewis at the age of 19, and the two remained close friends for over forty years, with Lewis dedicating The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Barfield’s daughter and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to his son. The dissertation Barfield wrote for his degree formed the basis of his third published book, Poetic Diction.
Upon graduating, however, Barfield devoted himself to creative – rather than critical – writing, producing fiction and poetry. In 1934, he became a solicitor (in which capacity he became C.S. Lewis’s legal advisor and trustee) and worked in London until his retirement in 1959. During his working life, however, Barfield also published myriad essays, articles, and longer works, as well as becoming a leading proponent of anthroposophy in the Anglophone world. Among the books he wrote is Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, for which he is perhaps best known.
According to Verlyn Flieger, Barfield also influenced Tolkien’s work. Barfield’s cultural influence extends beyond the Inklings, however, as his work Worlds Apart is known to have influenced the poet and Nobel Prize winner T.S. Eliot, while Saul Bellow (another Nobel Prize winner) was also an admirer of Barfield’s writings. Arguably, then, James Hillman is justified in pronouncing Barfield “one of the most neglected important thinkers of the 20th Century.”
4. Charles Williams
Unlike many members of the Inklings, Charles Walter Stansby Williams did not attend Oxford University. Despite winning a scholarship to study at University College London, he left without a degree in 1904 when he was unable to pay his fees.
In 1908, Williams went on to work as a proofreading assistant for Oxford University Press, where he was soon promoted to the position of editor. In this role, he oversaw the first large-scale English translation of the works of Søren Kierkegaard.
As well as his work at Oxford University Press, Williams was also a prolific writer, producing works of poetry, theology, literary criticism, and writing novels, for which he is best known. His novels blend theological and fantastical elements, though, unlike the fiction of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, they are set in a world that is recognizably our own. His works were admired by the likes of T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.
When the Second World War began in 1939, Oxford University Press relocated its offices from London to Oxford so as to escape the worst of the Blitz. Though Williams’ wife refused to accompany him, his move to Oxford did have the benefit of bringing him into the social orbit of the other members of the Inklings. C.S. Lewis, in particular, was a great admirer of Williams’ work. He soon became a regular member of the Inklings and participated in readings and discussions, through which he was able to complete his novel, All Hallows’ Eve. He also made use of his new environs by giving lectures at Oxford University on writers such as John Milton, for which he was awarded an honorary MA.
5. Warren Lewis
Although he is best known as the older brother of C.S. Lewis, Warren Hamilton Lewis was also a soldier and a historian. Serving throughout the First World War, he retired from military service on the 21st of December 1932, having performed 18 years of active service. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he was recalled from his retirement to active service once more, this time with the temporary rank of major.
After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Warren Lewis went to live with his brother in Oxford and began his second retirement in earnest. He then dedicated his time to the study of history, seventeenth-century French history in particular, which had always been of interest to him. He subsequently published seven books of French history under the reign of Louis XIV.
Just as his brother returned to the Christian faith in 1929, Warren Lewis too resumed his faith in 1931. Though Warren was the older of the two brothers, he outlived his brother by almost a decade. After C.S. Lewis’s death in 1963, Warren edited his brother’s letters in preparation for publication in 1966. He also wrote a short memoir of his brother by way of a preface for the collection of letters. According to some of his brother’s letters to his friend Arthur Greeves, Warren suffered from alcoholism. Moreover, Warren granted his family papers to Wheaton College, where they form part of the Marion E. Wade Collection, thus helping to further consolidate his brother’s legacy. And when he himself passed away in 1973, Waren Lewis was interred alongside his brother.
6. Adam Fox
Adam Fox was Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1938 to 1942 and was among the first members of the Inklings. During his time as Oxford Professor of Poetry, Fox penned his “Old King Coel,” a long poem (published across four volumes) based on the story of King Cole, the grandfather of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine.
As “Old King Coel” might suggest, Fox – like many of his fellow Inklings – was a committed Christian. He wrote a biography of the Anglican priest and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, William Ralph Inge, which won the 1960 James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In addition, he was the Dean of Divinity at Magdalen College (where the Inklings’ weekly meetings were held) and later went on to become Canon of Westminster Abbey, where he is buried in Poets’ Corner. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 2013, a memorial dedicated to C.S. Lewis was also put up in Poets’ Corner, thus reuniting the two Inklings after their death.
From its inception, the Inklings were a collaborative group of literary enthusiasts. At their meetings, members could read aloud from their own creative works in progress and receive constructive criticism from trusted friends – or, in the case of Tolkien and Dyson, a rather more derogatory style of criticism. Nonetheless, the feedback Charles Williams received on his novel, All Hallows’ Eve, was integral to his creative process, allowing him to finish and refine the novel. And it is this group dynamic for which the Inklings deserve to be remembered.