Feast of St David the Righteous of Thessalonika
I APPROACH the Inklings as “The Hogwarts Professor” and the “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.” Though I am older than the average member of Rowling’s Raiders, the global fandom empires, I am guessing that I am not unusual in coming to an appreciation of the Inklings, specifically, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, through my search for answers to the question, “Why do we love Harry’s seven adventures the way we do?” That search for me began with Ms. Rowling’s primary source material, the part of her reading material she calls her “compost heap” from which everything she imagines grows.
While Austen is her favorite writer and Emma the book she read 20 times in a row before writing Philosopher’s Stone, and though Nabokov and E. Nesbit and Collette inform her thinking, Ms. Rowling’s obvious points of reference for writing a seven-book series with Medieval flourishes, High Fantasy symbolism, and heroic battles against Evil in the World were the Narniad and The Lord of the Rings. Her public relationship with “Jack” and “Tollers” has waxed hot and cold—first flattered by the linkage in readers’ minds, then alarmed and defensive (for more on that, see hogwartsprofessor.com for my blog review of the history: “Tolkien and Rowling: A Case for ‘Text Only’”). But the debts remain obvious and profound.
I have gleaned three points from my study of the Inklings as a Potter Pundit. First, Charles Williams, as Lewis put it in Coleridgean language, was the “esemplastic” figure of the mythopoeic crowd who met in Jack’s rooms and at the Bird and Baby. Though not as accessible or as popular as his friends became, Williams’ genius for renovating Medieval story telling elements—literary alchemy, ring composition, and dynamic allegory—to critique Modern mindsets and errors (and provide solutions in the imaginative cathartic experience the reader has) are the stuff, structure and substance of his friends’ Chronicles and Middle Earth triumphs. It is no accident that their reading Williams’ Place of the Lion re-set both Lewis and Tolkien’s ideas of what was possible in story-telling in our times.
Second, we love Lewis’ Narniad and Tolkien’s Rings for the same reason we love Harry Potter, what I call the “Eliade Thesis.” Mircea Eliade wrote in The Sacred and the Profane that in a secular culture entertainments—fiction especially—serve a mythic or religious function. The Granger Corollary to this thesis is that those stories that serve up the most mythic or transcendent content with sufficient subtlety that the reader is able to suspend disbelief in poetic faith (Coleridge again) will serve this “religious function” or spiritual oxygen best in our God-denying Age. The Christian content of Rowling’s septology (see my book How Harry Cast His Spell) is as deep as her literary mentors’ work, if she is never the apologist or evangelist in hiding that Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien are.
Finally, Coleridge, Coleridge, Coleridge. . . The Bard of Ottery St Mary is the genius beneath the Inklings. He is what Rowling lifts from their imaginative toolboxes. His “inside bigger than the outside” conceit and its delivery of the radical contra Empiricist and materialist logos epistemology is the heart of everything Lewis wrote. It is what Coleridge scholar Barfield taught Lewis about “the world being mental,” and a much bigger part of Tolkien’s magic than is usually acknowledged (his Newman-inspired priory education being his Coleridge fount).
What do the Inklings mean to me? They have helped me understand the artistry and meaning of Harry Potter, from the alchemy and soul triptych to the chiastic structures and resurrection symbolism. In that, they have pointed me to a better understanding of the mechanics and purpose of writing within the Eliade Thesis: stories are written for the cardiac rather than the cranial intelligence, the logos within rather than the discursive occluding logismoi. And this has helped clarify Patristic anthropology, psychology, epistemology, and soteriology for me.
I am a better person, a more real person, for reflecting on and entering into the works of Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams.
Can a reader ask for more?
John Granger is author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures and blogs at HogwartsProfessor.com.