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11.26.12: An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences in Crafting The Codex Lacrimae, Part 3.1: Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis (The Oxford Dons & the Inklings)

That love of Norse mythology was secured completely after our 6th Grade teacher read The Hobbit to our class after every lunch recess (AJ’s Blog, 9.24.12), and from that point on, I started reading fantasy books that had J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia as my touchstones.

Because these authors served as my entry point into both the epic fantasy genre and an interest in medieval European history, I’m going to spend the next few blogs discussing Tolkien and Lewis.  Specifically, their backgrounds in medieval history, and their respective contributions to (and creation of) an entirely new fantasy genre in the early 20th Century that converted Norse & Germanic myths into the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia.

Norman F. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages (1991)

We should situate ourselves with who these authors were, & to get the ball rolling, here’s a good excerpt from Norman F. Cantor’s Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. Norman F. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages (

[book excerpt] Norman F. Cantor,Inventing the Middle Ages (NY: William Morrow & Co., 1991, pp. 205-206.)

“Chapter Six: The Oxford Fantasists: Clive Staples Lewis, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, and Frederick Maurice Powicke”

Carpenter, The Inklings (HarperCollins, 2006)

Oxfordshire, Oxford, Magdalen College II (c. 1890s)

1. Save the Beloved Land

In the early forties, during the height of the war years, while a bomber moon shone down upon the deer park on the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, a half dozen dons and their friends…gathered on Tuesday evenings in the rooms of the Magdalen College tutor in medieval literature and political theory.  The Magdalen tutor was C.S. Lewis — Jack to his friends.  They drank beer and tea, smoked heavily in the British manner, throwing their cigarette ashes on the worn carpet, and read to each other from, and caustically commented on, written work in progress. The group called themselves the Inklings….

Tolkien, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

Another Inkling was the reclusive professor of Anglo-Saxon, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, called Ronald.  In the late twenties and early thirties he was renowned as an authority on Old and Middle English.  He was the leading scholar on the subject of two precious fourteenth-century poems written anonymously in the Midlands, about seventy miles from Oxford, in the dialect of the region. These poems, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl, are now regarded, along with Beowulf (c. 800) and the works of Chaucer (late fourteenth century) as the greatest medieval poetry in the English language.  There is no more beautiful poem in any medieval language than Pearl, an allegorical elegy for a dead child.  Tolkien was responsible for the definitive text of Sir Gawain, published in 1925.  For thirty years, off and on, he labored on a translation of Pearl; it was finally published posthumously, but it was soon superseded by a remarkable metrical translation made by Yale’s Marie Borroff…

C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

…Lewis in the war years was by far the best known of the Inklings group, both within the academic world and even more among the general public.  He had established his reputation as a leading medieval literary historian with The Allegory of Love (1936), a pioneering and influential study of medieval romantic literature, which he had written one chapter at a time over a half dozen long summer vacations from his heavy Magdalen College teaching load.  He was now rapidly gaining attention among the general public for his children’s fiction, for science fiction novels and allegories with a Christian twist, and for a series of BBC lectures…. [end excerpt from Cantor’s Inventing the Middle Ages].

For those interested in reading more about the Inklings, here are a couple of resources:

Wikipedia link (with tabs that lead to the author page for each member):

Book: Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends

Next time: Medieval Fantasy with Tolkien and Lewis

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