Where to Start with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: Guest Post by Wesley of Library Educated

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2021! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

If you’re new to Jack and Tollers and aren’t sure which book to start with, Wesley of Library Educated has got you covered!

Happy Inklings Week everybody! If you’re new to the works of the Inklings crew (maybe you’ve seen some movies and now you want to read the source materials!) you might be thinking, “this is a fair amount of books, where do I start?” (I can relate dear reader, I’ve been having these thoughts about Graham Greene and John LeCarre for a long time, so if anyone has any advice on those two…) So I’ve made some suggestions about what books you could start with and a few books that would maybe be best to wait until you have a little more experience with the author.

Let’s start with C.S. Lewis!

Books to Start With:

Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe: Even if you have never read this book or seen the movie, I bet you would recognize some names and scenes just because it’s so engrained in pop culture. Four siblings in an unfamiliar country house stumble into a magical world that is in the grip of an evil queen but hope for the inhabitants is coming in the form of Aslan, a lion that isn’t safe, but he is good. Heroes, villains, a redemption arc that will make you cry, so buckle up. 

Screwtape Letters: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – one rookie demon tempter and his old pro tempter demon uncle write letters back and forth to each other about the best way to tempt a human into a life that will lead him away from eternal salvation. I know from that description the book sounds a little dark but it’s poignant, funny (someone gets so upset they turn into a centipede, can you imagine being that mad?) and a confirmation that there is endless red tape and bureaucracy in hell, which makes PERFECT SENSE.

Out of the Silent Planet: The first of “The Space Trilogy” we follow a man who is drugged, kidnapped, and thrown into a spaceship as a sacrifice to creatures on a distant planet. (Fun fact, Lewis said he would write a space travel story and Tolkien would write a time travel story, but Tolkien never finished his). Turns out the creatures don’t actually want to eat our hero, and we are faced with the philosophical questions that are so popular in space travel: how do we relate to these previously unknown creatures? What is our obligation to each other? How do we live in peace?

Books to Wait On:

The Abolition of Man: It seems pretty obvious from this book that CS Lewis did not always have a good time in school. The book gets deep into the weeds about what things are needed to have a well rounded education and there are references to ancient philosophers (and not like, the big ones that you’ve heard of) and all sorts of other deep cut references. You can feel his passion, but it’s tough to get worked up about the English education system in the early 1900s. 

The Pilgrim’s Regress: Did you ever have to read Pilgrim’s Progress in school? It’s a book heavy with allegory and deeper meaning and you have to use your whole brain the whole time you’re reading it. Pilgrim’s Regress is C.S. Lewis’ version of the Milton classic. It’s a heavy read and it’s not really a representative example of Lewis’ writing.

Alright, on to J.R.R. Tolkien!

Books to Start with:

The Hobbit: Wizards! Adventures! Strong friendships! The threat of getting eaten! DRAGONS! (Well, just one but he’s a good one). The Hobbit is a beloved classic for generations for a reason. It’s a great place to get introduced to the Baggins clan, steadfast Gandalf and the amazing world of Middle Earth. A great place to dip your toe into this expansive universe.

The Children of Hurin: If you want to dip into Middle Earth, but don’t want a trilogy start here. It takes place 6,000 years before some rings gets a bunch of short guys into trouble during a long journey. An unlikely hero and his band rise to greatness in troubled times, but can they handle everything that will come their way?

Books to Wait On:

The Silmarillion: This book is no.joke. One of Tolkein’s last book to be published and one very near and dear to his heart, but it is not designed to be read like a traditional novel. If you put yourself in that mind set it will be an easier read. I know Jamie loves this one, but when we read it for Inklings book club I was on the struggle bus in a very real way!

The Return of the King: What I mean to say with this is – if you’re doing the Lord of the Rings trilogy you need to read them in order. It’s not like other series’ where the stories are loosely connected to each other and the characters are the same so you can read them willy nilly. Order is important with this trilogy!

What would you add to the list?


The Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection with Archivist William Fliss

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2021! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

Back in 2019, I came across the call for fans of Tolkien for Marquette’s Oral History Project – an “effort to document Tolkien Fandom, the Department of Special Collections at Marquette’s Raynor Memorial Library is building a collection of brief testimonials from Tolkien fans.” Naturally I signed up immediately (you can listen to mine here). 

The project continues, with the goal of “6,000 audio interviews, one for each of the Riders of Rohan that Théoden mustered and led to the aid of Gondor.” The curator, William Fliss, was kind enough to join this year’s Inklings Week, sharing more about the project! If you’re a fellow fan, be sure to sign up! 

Thank you William for joining us! 

Archivist William Fliss

The Hobbit saved my life.”

“If Frodo and Sam can get to Mount Doom then I can handle what I’m dealing with.”

“The legendarium has been my star-glass, my light in dark places when all other lights go out.”

These words come from fans of the Inkling J. R. R. Tolkien, captured in a collection I am building in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, called the Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection. If you are a Tolkien fan, please consider contributing an interview!

Since 2012 I have served as curator for Marquette’s celebrated Tolkien Collection. It surprises many people to learn that Marquette University owns the original manuscripts for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, acquired directly from Professor Tolkien in 1957. These manuscripts are the heart of Marquette’s collection; however, over the decades Marquette has also sought to document the fandom that has sprung up around Tolkien and his works.  

This new oral history collection is one of my contributions to that effort. The concept is very simple. Tolkien fans of all ages and levels of intensity are invited to contribute a brief interview to Marquette. Each fan has up to 3 minutes in total to respond to 3 questions: (1) when did you first encounter the works of Tolkien? (2) why are you a fan? (3) what, if anything, has he meant to you?

Simple, right? Well, some people struggle mightily with the 3-minute limit, but it does force the fans to concentrate on what has been truly important to them in their relationship with Tolkien’s works.  Each audio recording and its accompanying transcript are uploaded to a digital collection on the library’s website where they can be enjoyed by other fans or studied by scholars of Fan Studies. (Yes, there is an actual academic field call Fan Studies, complete with its own peer-reviewed journals!)

The idea for this project sprang from the fact that Marquette is a pilgrimage site for Tolkien fans. Fans passing through Milwaukee often stop by the archives. We keep an exhibit of reproductions of selected manuscripts on display in our reading room. (Unavailable at present because of the pandemic.) After meeting many such fans and chatting with them about their experiences of Tolkien’s works, it dawned on me that if I wanted to document contemporary fandom, these are the voices I should be capturing.  

I have built the collection around the image of the Muster of Rohan from The Lord of the Rings. In that story, King Théoden gathers his riders from across the Riddermark and leads 6,000 of them on a desperate ride to lift the siege of Gondor. My goal is to gather interviews from 6,000 fans, one for each of the Rohirrim that rode to Gondor’s aid! I chose this number with my heart and not with my head. I realize now just how long it will take me to get there, so if you are reading this and love Tolkien, please consider contributing an interview.

I am building the collection gradually. Keeping with the spirit of the “Muster”, I group the interviews into éoreds of 120 fans, the éored being the basic unit of the Rohirrim. After an éored fills, I upload its interviews to the site and begin work on the next one. I am also assembling the interview text into a dataset that can be downloaded from Marquette’s institutional repository. My hope is that digital humanists will analyze the interviews and report on interesting patterns or commonalities across them.

I have collected over 600 interviews so far. My own study of them to date has been based on impressions rather than systematic analysis. Having listened to every interview more than once, I am struck by the number of people who came to Tolkien’s works through a parent or older sibling; and I marvel at how many of these fans have introduced their own children to the works or intend to do so in the future. This gives me great confidence that Tolkien will remain a popular author for generations to come.

I am also impressed by how much Tolkien has meant in people’s lives, especially his role in helping people overcome hardship. As the quotations above indicate, fans turn to Tolkien for strength and comfort in hard times. It can be grieving the loss of a loved one, overcoming addictions or disabilities, struggling with depression, enduring bullying, wrestling with despair—you name it—people have found in Tolkien’s works the hope to persevere.

If you are interested in learning more about the collection, I will be giving a presentation called “Forth now, and fear no darkness!”: Reflections on the Tolkien Fandom Oral History Project at Marquette University at the Digital Moot hosted by the wonderful Prancing Pony Podcast.

Please consider contributing an interview. All fans are welcome!


Still Chasing the Inklings: Guest Post by Katherine Reay

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2021! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

It’s always a delight to have award winning author Katherine Reay join us for Inklings Week! And be sure to pre-order her fall novel, The London House – it looks amazing!

When sitting down to write this post, I thought about all the academic approaches I might take about this remarkable literary group, citing the importance of camaraderie, creative discussions, intellectual freedom, and friendship.

Yet my enduring love and my “chase” after them is far more personal — and that’s what I want to share. Two particular Inklings — C.S. Lewis and and J.R.R Tolkien — have become, over the years, my creative, intellectual and spiritual anchors. Years ago I read that C.S. Lewis credited George MacDonald with “baptizing his imagination” and G.K. Chesterton for baptizing his intellect. That’s what Tolkien and Lewis did for me, baptizing both imagination and intellect together. Tolkien gave me the stars (that indescribable magic within a story) and Lewis — my favorite Inkling — taught me, and is still teaching me, how to navigate them. 

While C.S. Lewis penned incredibly rich stories, he didn’t create the all-encompassing aura Tolkien offered. Lewis’s stories carry you along like an arrow, leading you somewhere great. He had a very defined purpose for each word within each story, and he often kept that purpose his little secret. He rarely revealed his point, his message, his meaning — the crystalline truth he wanted to impart — but it was always there. Lewis masterfully left finding that “deeper magic” to the reader as he wrapped it into a powerful and imaginative story. 

It is that “deeper magic” that draws me back as a reader and pulls at me when writing. I too want to lay down a theme just below the surface that invites the reader in and hints at something more. I can’t claim to have captured it by any means, but I do chase it. 

Today I’d like to peel back the curtain on my latest C.S. Lewis inspired attempts to bring a bit of “deeper magic” to the page… 

For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. 

This simple line from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters grabbed my imagination and formed the foundation for my novel, The Printed Letter Bookshop. In the story, readers follow three women at varying stages in life, each dealing with her own journey and challenges, but all finding themselves thrown together in a struggling bookstore. Surrounded by mistakes, mishaps, and a budding friendships, these women slowly learn that their pasts do not define them and their futures are not immutably fixed. They learn, as Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters, that life can only be truly lived, experienced, and savored — in the present. 

To “show” that on a different level, readers will notice that each woman tells her story from a different point-of-view. One shares in third person, as if she has stepped away from her own life and is a mere observer of the happenings around her. The second woman writes in past-tense as she has formed her present on a faulty foundation and, in many ways, is stuck in those assumptions and mistakes. Although the final woman shares her story in present-tense, she does so for all the wrong reasons — out of fear because her past is too painful and her future holds no hope. 

So, while The Printed Letter Bookshop, is a collective journey of women friendship and the joy of books, it is also a pointer to the idea that living in the past (that long-ago time when all seemed perfect) or imagining a too distant future (one in which you finally realize your goals) can only trip us and keep us from the real life, love, and blessings of our now — our present. 

In my next book, I returned to Lewis again — as I always do — but not for a perspective on time, but simply for perspective. For The London House, which will publish in November, I delved into his famous Mere Christianity. We know it as a book, but my WWII character Caroline Waite experiences it as a series of fifteen-minute BBC radio talks given between 1941 and 1944. 

Lewis was invited on air to talk to the British people and boost their morale during the fearsome days of WWII. Caroline listens to the first talk, originally titled “Common Decency”, which aired on August 6, 1941. It was his profound insight into human nature delivered within that talk that opened for me the well-spring beneath The London House — the conflict between perception and truth, sacrifice and safety, secrets and lies, all during a time when it must have felt the world was ending. 

Today I have shared about Lewis’s influence on my thoughts and writings — my chase for the “deeper magic.” But the chase doesn’t end there — the Inklings themselves possessed a “deeper magic”that would be powerful if found today among a group of readers, writers, and friends. Warren Lewis described it best: “Properly speaking, the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agenda, or formal elections.” Again — it was camaraderie, creative discussions, intellectual freedom, and friendship. All things well worth chasing! 

Thank you for spending a moment with me here today and I hope you enjoy all the posts and fun this week offers.

All the best to you, 



The Hope We Find in C.S. Lewis’ THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2021! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

Like Samwise Gamgee oft reminded Frodo on their journey through Middle Earth and Mordor, hope keeps us going. No matter what our battle is, hope is often a defining factor. Throughout C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia we see how hope encourages many characters in Narnia. As I recently re-read The Magician’s Nephew in preparation for this week, I was pleasantly reminded of so many of my favorite scenes: Aslan singing Narnia into creation, Aslan choosing the Cabby and his wife as the first King and Queen of Narnia (King Frank and Queen Helen), Polly and Digory’s friendship…

Yet, one piece of the story struck a little differently this reading – Digory’s longing for his mother’s healing, his encounters with Aslan, his mission to help plant the Tree that would protect Narnia, and the hope we see through it all. 

After witnessing the birth of Narnia and the power in its lands, Digory felt hope for his Mom (who was back in our world and very sick), probably for the first time in a long time. It wasn’t that Digory wanted riches and fame (like Uncle Andrew’s reaction to Narnia), instead he longed for his Mother to be free of pain and suffering from her illness. There’s a beautiful scene before Digory goes on his journey to the tree: 

“But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another…

The Lion drew a deep breath, stooped its head even lower and gave him a Lion’s kiss. And at once Digory felt that new strength and courage had gone into him.

What a beautiful picture of God giving us strength in our times of grief and pain. Hope is such a powerful thing and hope has often been what has given me such needed strength and courage. It reminds me of Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

With the help of Fledge and support of Polly, Digory travels to where he needs to bring back an apple to help save young Narnia. There Jadis is, having already taken what wasn’t hers, and quickly jumps into trying to turn Digory away from his task. This scene very much reminds of another story ; ). After refusing to eat the apple for himself, the Witch says to Digory: 

You simpleton! Do you know what that fruit is? I will tell you. It is the apple of youth, the apple of life. I know, for I have tasted it; and I feel already such changes in myself that I know I shall never grow old or die. Eat it, Boy, eat it; and you and I will both live forever and be king and queen of this whole world—or of your world, if we decide to go back there.”

How cunning Jadis is, how hard she is trying to manipulate him, not only with this, but to help his Mom. For Digory, the possibilities were never about him and his own power, but the love a son has for his mother and his deepest desire that she might be healed. But, it was another kind of love that helped Digory finally see the evil of the Witch. After multiple attempts (full of twisted lies of the apple’s power) by the Witch, we see that the love from a friendship is just as powerful:

“You needn’t take the little girl back with you, you know.” That was where the Witch made her fatal mistake. Of course Digory knew that Polly could get away by her own ring as easily as he could get away by his. But apparently the Witch didn’t know this. And the meanness of the suggestion that he should leave Polly behind suddenly made all the other things the Witch had been saying to him sound false and hollow. And even in the midst of all his misery, his head suddenly cleared, and he said (in a different and much louder voice): “Look here; where do you come into all this? Why are you so precious fond of my Mother all of a sudden? What’s it got to do with you? What’s your game?” 

“Good for you, Digs,” whispered Polly in his ear. “Quick! Get away now.” She hadn’t dared to say anything all through the argument because, you see, it wasn’t her Mother who was dying.

Even though Digory knew he made the right choice, that didn’t mean there still wasn’t grief or sadness. As they are flying back on Fledge, we read that “Digory never spoke on the way back, and the others were shy of speaking to him. He was very sad and he wasn’t even sure all the time that he had done the right thing; but whenever he remembered the shining tears in Aslan’s eyes he became sure.” It was remembering the hope of Aslan that brought him the peace he needed. 

When Polly, Digory, and Uncle A came back to our world, Digory was able to give his mom the gift of the apple and while he waited, it was the memory of Aslan that kept his hope alive for her healing: “For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.”

Hope is something all of us need and wherever you are, may you too find hope that will bring you peace in all things. 

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23 (NIV)


Inklings Week 2021 is Coming!

It’s May and that means Inklings Week next week! I’m always excited about this week of all things C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but this year I have a couple new things planned!

We’re kicking off Inklings Week with a panel and all things C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien! Joining me will be two fabulous friends and Inklings fans, Wesley of Library Educated and bestselling author Katherine Reay.

Join us Monday Night, 5/10, at 6:30 p.m. MST on FB live. You can RSVP here.

I also wanted to introduce you to those kind enough to join in with fabulous guests posts.

Wesley H. of Library Educated: Reader and blogger extraordinaire! I always enjoy our bookish and not so bookish conversations around Twitter and she reads such a variety of books, you can always find a book or two to add to your TBR.

Katherine Reay, national bestselling and award winning author: I still remember being so wowed by Katherine’s debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley. She’s a go-to author and friend and if you enjoy women’s fiction – be sure to check out her books!

William Fliss, Archivist at Marquette University and curator of the Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection: I connected with William about this project and absolutely contributed. I’m excited for you all to find out more and the awesome things he’s encountered so far!

Looking forward to next week and hope you’ll join in the fun! Be sure to sign up for the newsletter, so you don’t miss any posts!

Book Wisdom, Inklings

Once a King or Queen in Narnia, Always a King or Queen

At the end of C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, after all the adventures, battles, brave acts, and sacrifice, Aslan leaves the four siblings with this exhortation:

“Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen. Bear it well, Sons of Adam! Bear it well, Daughters of Eve!” said Aslan.

The calling Aslan has given the siblings doesn’t change when they leave Narnia (although at the time, they don’t realize they will), just like our calling as Christians doesn’t change with our life circumstances.

Kind of a relief right? What a gift this truth is. For those of us who have surrendered our lives to Christ, our whole identity changes. We are no longer lost, searching for purpose. We have encountered peace, hope, joy, and most important, Love.

The Pevensie children each had titles bestowed to them, along with their King and Queen status. Peter the Magnificent, Susan the Gentle, Edmund the Just, and Lucy the Valiant. While we may not go around using such titles, what if we started living by their truth more?

What does it mean to be The Magnificent?
Philippians 2:1-4 reads, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV)

Humility. I think that’s one of the biggest parts of being magnificent. It’s not about who only cared for themselves, it’s about caring deeply for others. When we take a quick glance at historical kings and queens, the ones who inspire us the most? They are the ones who did the most for their people. But the moving stories don’t stop with kings and queens of old, but the people who lead by example and who show us a life well lived, one full of generosity and caring for others more than themselves.

And what of our gifts? 1 Peter 4:10 draws us again to that of a servant: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV)

What does it mean to live a life as one who can be called The Gentle?
How do we live up to such a calling and one of gentleness? It would be easy to pass it off as being a “pushover,” but that’s not it. It always comes back to love. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians brings to the forefront what that means: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

What does it mean to be The Just?
I can speak on justice, and our calling to lead this charge as Christians, for hours, but I’ll start with this quote from Timothy Keller in Generous Justice. I highly recommend the book and I love one of his early quotes: “God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to “do justice.”

Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.” (NIV)

Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (NIV)

Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.” (NIV)

What does it mean to be The Valiant?
And finally we come to courage. There is so much pain, so much hurt, and the world needs the Church. May we find the courage to keep on fighting for what’s right, even when the hits keep coming. And the good news? We don’t have to do this on our own. We can trust in the promise that Christ is with us and on the side of Truth.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14 (ESV)

What a holy calling we have! The world needs it now more than ever before. And if 2020 has taught us anything (I mean it has, I have a whole list), it has reminded us that life is so very short. Don’t waste these titles, don’t waste this calling.

This life isn’t meant to be boring, no matter what path your life follows, for we are Kings and Queens. When we follow Christ, when we live to make His Name famous, it’s a wild ride.

“He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”


Where Did Narnia Come From?

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2020! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

Well, we come to the end of yet another Inklings Week. I hope you have enjoyed digging in deeper into all things Lewis and Tolkien! To end the week, I thought I’d share this short piece of Lewis sharing just how he came up with the idea of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

From ON STORIES, “It All Began With a Picture…”:

The Editor has asked me to tell you how I came to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I will try, but you must not believe all that authors tell you about how they wrote their books. This is not because they mean to tell lies. It is because a man writing a story is too excited about the story itself to sit back and notice how he is doing it. In fact, that might stop the works; just as, if you start thinking about how you tie your tie, the next thing is that you find you can’t tie it. And afterwards, when the story is finished, he has forgotten a good deal of what writing it was like.

One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books, and my three science-fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’

At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.

So you see that, in a sense, I know very little about how this story was born. That is, I don’t know where the pictures came from. And I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he ‘makes things up’. Making up is a very mysterious thing. When you ‘have an idea’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it?

Thanks again for joining this year’s fun! Until next year – Happy Inklings reading!


Counting the Cost: A Look at C.S. Lewis’ Call in Mere Christianity

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2020! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

Today I thought I would share a bit from Mere Christianity, where C.S. Lewis talks about “Counting the Cost.” I highly recommend reading the whole chapter (and well, the whole book too), but since I can’t just copy all of it here #copyrightlaws, I wanted to share a short bit.

After digging into why we, as humans, settle for the “easy” Christian life, Lewis points out that when we do we miss out. God has much bigger plans than we can even think of, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get there.

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.

But this is a fatal mistake, of course we never wanted, never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture…We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is no conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.

Thought-provoking and convicting all at the same time! Have you read Mere Christianity? Do you have a favorite section?


What Would Characters in These Books Read in Their Universes? | Guest Post by Wesley of Library Educated

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2020! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

Joining us today is the fabulous Wesley from Library Educated! If you don’t follow her already, be sure to for all kinds of fabulous book recommendations!

When Jamie asked me to be a part of Inklings Week I said of course, I am all for celebrating these fantastic books and authors! And then I somehow (honestly I don’t know how my brain is functioning these days) got to thinking “what would characters in these books read in their universes?” Some of these books you can read along with them….and a few of them I just think they might need.

Susan Pevensie – Susan Pevensie, the voice of reason and calm in a topsy turvy world. She’s a young woman who finds herself in a weird position. I bet these books are on her nightstand if they have nightstands in Narnia at Casa Cair Paravel or back home in England.

Samwise Gamgee – he’s just a small town hobbit gardner who suddenly gets whisked away from his cozy life in the Shire and onto quite the adventure. Samwise was not prepared for what he was getting into (though who was?) so we might need to give him some tools.

I’m assuming Talking to Crazy works on Gollum even if he’s not exactly people anymore.
All of the hobbits can share Your Life After Trauma actually

Eustace Scrubb – oh my gosh, Eustace the boy who was so awful he almost deserved his awful name. It took a lot, like so incredibly much, to get Eustace from the most awful little boy to a young man who worked hard to improve his character. There are several books for that.

Éowyn – sweetheart, caregiver, witch-king slayer, Éowyn is versatile and awesome. I bet she knows that as long as we have books we will never feel caged, so I want her to read these books that will make her feel supported and confident!


Looking at J.R.R. Tolkien’s Early Years

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2020! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

Before we dive into a bit of Tolkien’s early years, I want to start off with this fantastic tid-bit about Tollers: Tolkien considered himself like a Hobbit, in all ways except size of course. As Colin Duriez wrote in Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: J.R.R. Tolkien:

“Like Hobbits, Tolkien explained, he relished gardens, trees and farmlands that were not mechanized. He, too, liked his food plain, had a fondness for eating mushrooms straight from the field, and smoked a pipe. In the drab mid-twentieth century, Tolkien enjoyed wearing ornamental waistcoats…He added that he went to bed late and, if possible, got up late. Also like Hobbits, he was little travelled.”

On January 3, 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa. The first the world heard of this was in a letter written by his father Arthur to his mother in Birmingham describing Tolkien one day later on January 4, 1892. He writes:

“My Dear Mother,
I have good news for you this week. Mabel gave me a beautiful little son last night (3 January). It was rather before time, but the baby is strong and well and Mabel has come through wonderfully. The baby is (of course) lovely. It has beautiful hands and ears (very long fingers) very light hair, “Tolkien” eyes and very distinctly a “Suffield” mouth. In general effect immensely like a very fair edition of its Aunt Mabel Mitton. When we first fetched Dr. Strollreither yesterday he said it was a false alarm and told the nurse to go home for a fortnight but he was mistaken and I fetched him again about eight and then he stayed till 12:40 when we had a whisky to drink luck to the boy. The boy’s first name will be John after its grandfather, probably John Ronald Reuel altogether. Mab wants to call it Ronald and I want to keep up John and Reuel…”

They did stick with all the names, Reuel being Arthur’s own middle name and Ronald, well that seemingly was because his mom Mabel liked it (this was also the name family called him by, including his future wife Edith). His younger brother Hilary would arrive two years later in February 1894.

1895 photo of Hilary and J.R.R. Tolkien. © Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth by Catherine McIlwaine

Growing up in South Africa had plenty of adventure. One such story took place during the days Tolkien was beginning to walk and he stumbled upon a tarantula. In Humphrey’s Carpenter’s biography (J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography) doesn’t specify the size of it, but it ended up biting him and as his biography reads “He ran in terror across the garden until the nurse snatched him up and sucked out the poison.” First off, nope, no ma’am, no sir. Second, Tolkien later claimed that the incident didn’t leave him with a special dislike of spiders. I’m thinking the creation of Shelob and Ungoliant might say otherwise.

As a young toddler, Tolkien had health issues and the heat made things worse, so to help, his mom Mabel took the brothers to Cape Town in November 1894. After the holiday there, they made the decision to go back to England, but Arthur decided to stay in South Africa a little bit longer, especially since being away meant half pay. Before they left, Tolkien watched his dad paint the letters A.R. Tolkien on their trunk. This was the only memory he would be able to recall clearly of his father.

In February of 1896, Tolkien had a letter prepared for his Dad. It read:

“My dear Daddy, I am so glad I am coming back to see you it is such a long time since we came away from you I hope the ship will bring us all back to you Mamie and Baby and me. I know you will be so glad to have a letter from your little Ronald it is such a long time since I wrote you I am go such a big man now because I have got a man’s coat and a man’s bodice Mamie says you will not know Baby or me we have got such big men we have got such a lot of Christmas presents to show you Auntie Gracie has been to see us I walk every day and only ride in my mailcart a little bit. Hilary sends lots of love and kisses and so does your loving Ronald.”

This sweet letter was never sent because Mabel received a telegram that same day, saying that Arthur suffered from a severe haemorrhage. He died the next day on Feb 15, 1896.

The Tolkiens stayed in Birmingham for a time and Tolkien grew close to his mother’s side. As Carpenter notes:

“He came to feel far closer to them than to the family of his dead father. His Tolkien grandfather lived only a little way up the road, and sometimes Ronald was taken to see him; but John Benjamin was eighty-nine and had been badly shaken by his son’s death. Six months after Arthur died, the old man was in his own grave, and another of the boy’s links with the Tolkiens was severed.”

Imagination and future inspiration came in abundance though when, in the summer of 1896 Mabel moved the boys out of Birmingham to the hamlet of Sarehole. The Sarehole Mill led to many adventures of Tolkien and Hilary, where they would roam the meadow to the mill and even venture close enough to see the two millers at work. As Carpenter described, “The old man has a black beard, but it was the son who frightened the boys with his white dusty clothes and sharp-eyed face. Ronald named him ‘The White Ogre.” When he yelled at them to clear off they would scamper away from the yard, and run round to a place behind the mill where there was a silent pool with swans swimming on it.”

Another funny story of Tolkien’s youth (and reminds me of certain scenes in the Lord of the Rings) was this: “An old farmer who once chased Ronald for picking mushrooms was given the nickname “the Black Ogre” by the boys. Such delicious terrors were the essence of those days at Sarehole.”

He also loved learning and could read by the time he was four.


Shortly thereafter he could also write proficiently. Tolkien could thank his mother for that, as Carpenter points out: “His mother’s own handwriting was delightfully unconventional. Having acquired the skill of penmanship from her father, she chose an upright and elaborate style….and Ronald soon began to practise a hand that was, though different from his mother’s, to become equally elegant and idiosyncratic.”

His early love of language amazes me.

Early on, his mom introduced him to the rudiments of Latin, and this became a delight. He quickly showed a special aptitude for this and so she began to teach him French. There wasn’t much success with piano though. Carpenter described it best, saying “It seemed rather as if words took the place of music for him, and that he enjoyed listening to them, reading them, and reciting them, almost regardless of what they meant.”

His love of trees also grew in this time (shout out to the Ents!) and after reading many classics (like the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, especially the Red Fairy Book), created an early love of dragons. Years later Tolkien would say “I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighborhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril.” At seven he even began to write his own story about a dragon.

Another huge event in Tolkien’s early life was in the spring of 1900, when his mother decided to become Catholic after having attended an Anglican church. Her family did not take this well and much of her financial help was cut off. In September 1900, Tolkien entered King Edward’s (his father’s old school), but with that they had to move back to the city, as the commute was too far for young Tolkien. Of country life, he later reminisced “Four years, but the longest-seeming and most formative part of my life.”

Another key friendship came in 1902 and that was Father Francis Xavier Morgan. More than a priest, he became a dear friend to the family.

Ronald and Hilary and Father Francis Morgan © Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth by Catherine McIlwaine

Only two years later, another blow would come to young Tolkien and his brother Hilary. In April 1904, Mabel was diagnosed with diabetes and a few short months later, she collapsed and went into a diabetic coma. Six days later, on Nov 14th, she passed away.

As you can imagine, this deeply impacted the boys.

Years after her death, Tolkien shared about this impact. She represented many things and Carpenter notes this interesting observation: “Indeed it might be said that after she died his religion took the place in his affections that she had previously occupied.”

After her death, he became even more firmly involved in the study of language. One more major effect of her death, as Carpenter suggests, was a profound effect on his personality. “He was by nature a cheerful, almost irrepressible person with a great zest for life. He loved good talks and physical activity. He had a deep sense of humour and a great capacity for making friends. But from now onwards there was to be a second side, more private but predominantly in his diaries and letters. This side of him was capable of bouts of profound despair.”

They went to live with an aunt by marriage, Beatrice Suffield. While she provided the physical needs, there was much to be desired, so soon the Oratory became their real home.

It was this time, Tolkien’s love for languages continued to grow more and more. He not only wanted to learn them, but understand why they were there. He also came across two poems that would fire up his imagination. They were two he would later translate; Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. As his love for the look and sound of words continued, he started to invent his own.

At the age of 16, Tolkien would meet someone who would greatly change his life – a Miss Edith Bratt. This story deserves a whole post of it’s own, but they were together for two years and because of different factors (including Father Francis), they separated. But spoiler alert, they end up back together.

Between seeing Edith, the debate club and playing Rugby, Tollers found it hard to concentrate, as he was supposed to be working towards an Oxford Scholarship. He missed his first attempt at getting an Oxford Scholarship (this was the only way he could have afforded to attend Oxford), but he succeeded a year later in 1910.

Once he was officially separated from Edith, he became involved in several activities – much in hopes of forgetting all things Edith. Since the library was a key and important part of King Edward’s, Tolkien earned one of the “librarian” titles that were granted to senior boys by assistant master. In 1911 the librarians were Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Robert Quilter Gilson (son of the headmaster), among others. They soon formed an unofficial group called the Tea Club. Later Geoffrey Bache Smith joined the group and were all solid friends.

Outside of Rugby, he was also part of the debate team. During one debate, where the tradition was to give it in Latin, for Tollers, that apparently was much too simplistic. No, no. That wouldn’t do. So instead he gave one in Greek, Gothic and Anglo Saxon.

Tolkien in 1911. © Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth by Catherine McIlwaine

Before he headed to Oxford, Tolkien, his brother Hilary and family took a trip to Switzerland and would later serve as inspiration for some people and places we know and love from Middle Earth.

“‘One day we went on a long march with guides up the Aletsch glacier – when I came near to perishing. We had guides but either the effects of the hot summer were beyond their experience, or they did not much care, or we were late in starting. Anyway at noon we were strung out in file along a narrow track with a snow-slope on the right going up to the horizon, and on the left a plunge down into a ravine. The summer of that year had melted away much snow, and stones and boulders were exposed that (I suppose) were normally covered. The heat of the day continued the melting and we were alarmed to see many of them starting to roll down the slope at gathering speed: anything from the size of oranges to large footballs, and a few much larger. They were whizzing across our path and plunging into the ravine. They started slowly, and then usually held a straight line of descent, but the path was rough and one had also to keep an eye on one’s feet. I remember the party just in front of me (an elderly schoolmistress) gave a sudden squeak and jumped forward as a large lump of rock shot between us. About a foot at most before my unmanly knees.”

I’ll leave you all with this reminder of a certain wizard who is never late.

“Before setting off on the return journey to England, Tolkien bought some picture postcards. Among them was a reproduction of a painting by a German artist, J. Madlener. It is called Der Berggeist, the mountain spirit, and it shows an old man sitting on a rock under a pine tree. He has a white beard and wears a wide-brimmed round hat and a long cloak. He is talking to a white fawn that is nuzzling his upturned hands, and he has a humorous but compassionate expression; there is a glimpse of rocky mountains in the distance. Tolkien preserved this postcard carefully, and long afterwards he wrote on the paper cover in which he kept it: ‘Origin of Gandalf’.”


  • Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: J.R.R. Tolkien by Colin Duriez
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
  • Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Diana Pavlac Glyer
  • Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth by Catherine McIlwaine