THE COMPANY THEY KEEP
by Diana Pavlac Glyer
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Two of the biggest names in twentieth-century fantasy literature, the names non-genre readers would know if asked to name names, are J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia series, as well as numerous other non-fantasy works. Both men were members of a loose literary society, the Inklings, which met over the course of several years. In The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, Diana Pavlac Glyer examines how their writing society functioned, the purpose it served, and how these two men, and their associates, influenced each other's prose.
One of the issues that Glyer points out early in her study is that the traditionally held belief is that the Inklings had no influence on each others' writings. This is based on comments the Inklings made about each other, but seems absurd on the face of it. If they are reading their works in progress to each other over the course of several years, and discussing those works, it seems that there must be some influence. Glyer discusses this sort of influence noting that the concept of literary influence has often carried a negative connotation of unoriginality, which is certainly not the case of Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams, and the other members of the Inklings. Instead, Glyer effectively demonstrates that these men influenced each other by offering suggestions for new works or improvements on works in progress.
Although Glyer focuses her attention on the Inklings, most notably C.S. Lewis, many of the comments she makes could be applied on a more general level to any collaborative writing group. By examining a single group, however, especially one which was as prolific and included such well-known authors as the Inklings, Glyer is able to provide concrete examples to support her discussions of the manner in which writers groups can work.
Glyer is a professor of English at Azusa Pacific University and the book was published by Kent State University Press. Despite those facts, The Company They Keep does not have the feel of a dry academic tome. Glyerís style is engaging and she is adept at bringing the figures she discusses, particularly the Lewis brothers, to life in her work. The Company They Keep, therefore, is an entertaining, as well as informative book, and is likely to make the reader want to explore the Inklings further, an endeavor made easier by David Bratmanís extensive appendix providing biographical information on the groupís various members.While common sense would indicate Glyerís primary thesis, that the members of the Inklings influenced each other, this is a thesis which has previously been rejected by Inkling scholars. However, by carefully defining what influence means in literary terms and demonstrating how the Inklings worked together, Glyer proves her thesis admirably. Perhaps more importantly, she does so in a manner which is approachable and engaging.
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