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New Book Examines How C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien Influenced Each Other’s Works

With the recent blockbuster movie adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, a new generation has become familiar with the books of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. But not everyone knows the behind-the-scenes story of how these authors influenced each other’s works. That story is revealed in The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, a new book by Diana Pavlac Glyer, Ph.D., professor of English at Azusa Pacific University.

Glyer examines Lewis and Tolkien’s membership in the Inklings, a group of writers who met weekly in Oxford to read aloud their work and offer feedback. While some scholars contend that the Inklings had little influence on each other, Glyer’s book tells a different story. “I have spent 20 years examining the rough drafts and final versions of their works,” she said. “I pored over their letters and diaries to discover exactly what the Inklings said to each other and what difference it made.” What Glyer discovered provides compelling evidence that Lewis, Tolkien, and the 17 other Inklings significantly influenced one another’s lives and writings.

For example, a frustrated Tolkien was tempted to abandon The Lord of the Rings until Lewis took him to lunch and made him promise to write more. The Inklings also interacted in various other ways. “They wrote book reviews to promote each other. They wrote poems and stories about each other. They used each other as models for characters in their books,” said Glyer. Over a period of almost two decades, they encouraged, critiqued, and on occasion, even rewrote each other’s work.

The Company They Keep takes us into the smoky Oxford offices and noisy pubs where they met to discuss their writings, allowing us to bear witness to the informal collaborative process by which some of the 20th century’s most popular literary works were born.

The book also offers broader insights into how influence takes place in small group settings. “In the process of writing about the Inklings, I have learned a great deal about the mess and mystery of the creative process,” Glyer said. While the book is a compelling account of the mutual influence between Lewis and Tolkien, “it addresses other issues as well, teaching us a great deal about writers and writing, and encouraging all of us to draw together and learn from one another in community.”

Glyer received a B.A. and B.S. from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio; an M.S. from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois; and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community By Diana Pavlac Glyer, Kent State University Press, March 2007