Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings
Diana Pavlac Glyer
The Kent State University Press / Black Squirrel Books, 2015
224 pp., 24.95
Those who have been bandersnatch-hunting know that it is a challenging sport. You need a vorpal sword; you need a conveniently located tum-tum tree under which to stand in uffish thought; and you need a valiant steed on which to go galumphing back. Diana Glyer is a seasoned hunter. She has caught the questing beast, and it turns out to be tame and useful once brought home. Who is her bandersnatch? None other than J. R. R. Tolkien—but also other writers who claim to have worked alone but were really shaped by the communities in which they worked. Now Glyer has produced a beautiful little book, gloriously illustrated with hunt-the-bandersnatch pictures by James A. Owen, so that all artists and writers who want to be in creative community can hunt and catch bandersnatches of their own.
In a letter to Charles Moorman in 1959, C. S. Lewis wrote: "No-one ever influenced Tolkien; you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch." When Glyer read these words, she found them hard to believe. Lewis and Tolkien met bi-weekly for over 20 years, reading their works aloud. Surely there must be documentary evidence that Lewis did influence Tolkien's writing strongly, and vice versa?
In 2007, Glyer published a game-changing scholarly study, The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (Kent State Univ. Press). It established once and for all, in meticulous detail, that Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings did indeed influence one another in profound ways. Glyer shows how regularly they commented on work-in-progress, and how they often revised to incorporate suggestions.
Tolkien sent Lewis a draft of an early version of what would become The Lay of Leithian, for example; Glyer presents a convincing case that Tolkien was nervous about baring his soul in this way, and that a critical response by Lewis could have shut down the friendship and hindered Tolkien's growth as a writer. But Lewis's reaction was enthusiastic, and when he later provided detailed line-edits, he did so with humor and sensitivity, with the result that Tolkien took many of his suggestions into account, changing individual lines and sometimes even incorporating Lewis's recommended word choices.
Bandersnatch is Glyer's own popularization of her earlier scholarly work. In particular, it targets two audiences: fans of the Inklings, and artists/writers who are in or want to be in a creative community. Each chapter discusses one way that the Inklings worked together—critiquing writing, collaborating on projects, promoting one another's works, and so forth—and ends with a little box called "Doing What They Did," which presents advice on how to apply the Inklings' principles of creative community in an artists' or writers' group of one's own.
As a reader who fits into both categories, I found this book doubly engaging. It's fun, practical, lively, and learned, deserving of a wide audience.
Sørina Higgins is an English teacher, writer, editor, and Inklings scholar. Her blog, The Oddest Inkling, focuses on Charles Williams.
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