Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings
by Diana Pavlac Glyer; Illustrated by James A. Owen
Kent, Ohio: Black Squirrel Books, 2016
(xix + 202 pages, $18.95, paperback)
Reviewed by DONALD T. WILLIAMS
Diana Pavlac Glyer established herself as the premier scholar of the Inklings as a writers’ group with her magisterial tome The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Pt., 2007). Now she has published Bandersnatch, which describes itself as “abridged and adapted” from the earlier volume. It is much more than that. It is indeed based on the research in The Company They Keep; nevertheless, Bandersnatch is a completely new work with its own unique claim on our attention. Anyone interested in writing or in the Inklings who does not have access to the first book can be glad that this material has been made more accessible, but even those who have appreciated the longer book will want to acquire the popular version, which is not at all a redundancy. It not merely an abridgement; it is completely rewritten and repitched tonally, and delightfully so.
The title comes from C. S. Lewis’s crack that “No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch” (xi). Too many people have taken that hyperbolic and jocular jab as literal truth. Glyer shows that it was literally not true at all. There is more than one kind of influence, and she analyzes them all. A friend can, for example, give a writer an idea, he can offer helpful constructive criticism of the writer’s own ideas, or he can just encourage him. Tolkien himself confessed that The Lord of the Rings would never have been finished without the encouragement—and nagging—of the Lewis brothers. And the Inklings had all the other kinds of influence on each other’s works (including Tolkien’s) as well. Glyer’s detective work in ferreting a great deal of that influence out is as good as a mystery novel in its own right.
Glyer’s detective work is not only intriguing; it is also often insightful. Her readers will gain useful perspectives on two things: many of the Inklings’ works that they already love, and the writing process itself, especially the role of collaboration and encouragement in it. Judged by their longevity and their output, the Inklings were surely the most successful writers’ group ever assembled. There are reasons why. Each chapter of Bandersnatch ends with a sidebar entitled “Doing What They Did.” People interested in starting their own writers’ groups, or those already involved in one who want to make it work better, will find a gold mine of practical wisdom there.
The illustrations by James A. Owen are worth the price of admission all by themselves. Each major Inkling, and the group as a whole, are captured by his woodcut-like line drawings in their natural habitat (the Oxford of the 1940s). The titular Bandersnatch gets his own portrait as a frontispiece, and he is lurking in each of the other pictures as well. Finding him is great fun! And Owen’s interpretations of the Inklings and their world are a wonderful enhancement of the book’s argument.
Lewis, Tolkien, and Charles Williams were among the greatest Christian writers of the Twentieth Century. Lewis and Tolkien are among the greatest Christian writers of all time. The fact that they knew each other and worked together with other like-minded Christian writers, iron sharpening iron to inspire each other and hone their skills, has not a little to do with that fact. Glyer understands them well as writers, as a collaborative group, and as Christians. That makes her a great asset, and her book a treasure. I am happy to recommend it.
Donald T. Williams is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College and the author of Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016).