Academic journal article Mythlore

The Company They Didn't Keep: Collaborative Women in the Letters of C.S. Lewis

Academic journal article Mythlore

The Company They Didn't Keep: Collaborative Women in the Letters of C.S. Lewis

Article excerpt

NO ONE WORK OF C.S. LEWIS OR J.R.R. TOLKIEN, OR CHARLES WILLIAMS encompasses all that the phrase 'the Inklings' conjures in the minds of fans familiar with all three writers. In fact, as individual authors, none of the three men fully represents the Inklings, whose famed interactions have acquired mythic proportions. The Inklings as a corporate entity has evolved in the minds of readers into something larger and better than the sum of its parts.

One way of comprehending that entity is as a writing community, as Diana Pavlac Glyer has done in The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. The metaphor of 'community' helps to explain how the group functioned to inspire members to greater literary production, and places them parallel to other communities of writers that, while differing from the Inklings in content and theme, functioned for one another in similar roles. Glyer identifies these roles, using terms extrapolated from Karen Burke LeFevre, as Resonators, Opponents, Editors, and Collaborators. As Glyer points out, asserting that the Inklings were collaborators contradicts an assertion by my colleague, Candice Fredrick, and me that the work of the Inklings does not fit the term collaboration.

Glyer builds a strong argument for seeing the Inklings as collaborators, especially if one adds to her argument the concept of different levels or degrees of collaboration, and with the proviso that Inklings collaboration rarely reached the most involved level. Perhaps a classification system could calculate the ratio of time collaborators spent together on a project to the time spent working and writing individually. The least-involved level might be termed simple cooperation, a word that sums up much of the Inklings collaboration as outlined by Glyer. This form involves minimal interaction within the writing process, other than initial planning and later response; of course, such projects might reflect many hours of dialogue on the part of the collaborators, as is probably the case with the Inklings, but most of the writing, that is, the actual putting words on paper, would be completed individually. Glyer has identified this level of collaboration as "collaborative projects" (135). One could then imagine other degrees of collaboration, each involving more of the collaborators' shared time in a shared space (or these days, virtual time and space), culminating with writers working together from beginning to end on a joint project. The Inklings were not amenable to this more involved form of collaboration. Even Glyer has acknowledged that C.S. and Warren Lewis's adolescent "Boxen" was the "most reciprocal" Inklings collaborative effort (136); Glyer describes few other Inklings collaborations reaching such a level of mutual involvement. Fredrick and I were thinking of this more intense level of collaboration when we wrote the sentence quoted in Glyer, "One would never be tempted to suggest that the Inklings' reading and critiquing could be appropriately labeled 'collaboration'" (xvii).

Yet beyond simply acknowledging that indeed Glyer is right, that some of the Inklings' works can appropriately be labeled 'collaborative,' I am also struck by her assertion because of its intersection with the central theme of my work with Lewis: that is, feminist analysis. While Glyer's book focuses on 'The Company They (Lewis and Tolkien) Kept,' my work has focused on 'The Company They Didn't Keep'; that is, individuals who were part of the Inklings' lives, but not part of the small group of like-minded men who met weekly to read and debate one another's work. Women, even if they were like-minded, were excluded from the group because they were women. Yet collaboration is a venture that some feminists have claimed as a mode of working that is especially comfortable and appealing for women, perhaps even more so than for men. (1)

Applying Glyer's categories to the women in the lives of the Inklings suggests that some of them also functioned as Resonators, Opponents, Editors, and Collaborators. …

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