“Is there any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”
— C. S. Lewis
The Inklings were C.S. Lewis’s closest friends and toughest critics. During the time of his greatest productivity as an author, Lewis met with his circle of Christian friends every week. The Inklings — an informal discussion group whose members were associated with Oxford University in England — met for nearly twenty years, from the early 1930s through the late 1940s. Some were writers, all were enthusiastic about literature, and more than a few were deeply involved in the fantasy genre.
The Inklings usually met in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College or at a pub called The Eagle and Child (often referred to as The Bird and Baby). In addition to Lewis, regular members of the Inklings included J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings), poet-philosopher Owen Barfield (who was instrumental in Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity), Shakespeare scholar Hugo Dyson (also influential in Lewis’s conversion), poet-novelist Charles Williams (author of War in Heaven), Lewis’s elder brother Warren “Warnie” Lewis, children’s author Roger Lancelyn Green (King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table), Dean of Divinity Adam Fox, physician Robert Havard (affectionately known as “the useless quack” or U.Q.), scholar J. A. W. Bennett, historian Lord David Cecil, and Chaucer scholar Nevill Coghill. A number of visitors also joined the group from time to time.
The group had no rules, no leaders, and no formal agendas. Meetings were conducted ad hoc, but the writers in the group frequently read from their novels-in-progress. The Inklings members were the privileged first audience for such works as The Lord of the Rings, Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and The Screwtape Letters, and Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve. Laughter was a major component of every meeting, and the Inklings sometimes competed against each other to see who could read the longest (without laughing) from the atrocious prose of Amanda McKittrick Ros.
(In case you’re curious, here’s a sample — the opening sentence from Amanda McKittrick Ros’s Delina Delaney (1898): “Have you ever visited that portion of Erin’s plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?” Yes, that’s one sentence.)
It’s amazing to realize how many important and enduring works of literature were produced by that small circle of writers and scholars. Maybe the reason for that can be found in the power of such groups to keep writers focused on their goals. What is the secret behind such groups that enables individuals to stay motivated and focused on their goals for months or years? The answer: Accountability.
This dynamic property called accountability is the state of being answerable to another person or group of people. The concept of accountability groups can be traced back to the “Twelve-Step” programs of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The person who is enslaved by addiction allows others in the group hold him accountable and help him to keep his commitment. Through that commitment, the addict achieves his goal of recovery from addiction.
Novelist William C. Hammond has called the Twelve Steps “the most successful program known for changing alcoholics.” And the key to the effectiveness of AA and the Twelve Steps is accountability.
What do you want to accomplish for God? Who have you allowed to hold you accountable? Who are your Inklings?
“We were no mutual admiration society: praise for good work was unstinted, but censure for bad work — or even not-so-good work — was often brutally frank. To read to the Inklings was a formidable ordeal.”
— Warren Lewis
And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.