August – October 1994

A few of what JRR Tolkien called “secondary worlds” have become part of our everyday world. In that exclusive company are places like Wonderland and Oz. Over the last 40 years Narnia and Middle-Earth have joined Oz and Wonderland as places nearly as real as reality. There are few who have not heard of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. What is not widely known as the men themselves is that Lewis and Tolkien, along with a loosely knot group of fellow writers and academics, were part of a group called “The Inklings.”

During the 1930s and 1940s an informal society of friends met on a regular basis to talk, read and discuss one another’s writings. The title “The Inklings” is actually rather formal for what was in reality a loose mesh of friendships. The involvement of different “members” varied over the years. At the center, however, there was the figure of CS Lewis whose Oxford rooms were the most common meeting place for the group. Others with the strongest ties to the group were JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield. We will concentrate on these because each created (or in the case of Owen Barfield, provided an exposition of the philosophy underlying the writings of the other three) a “magical world.”

CS Lewis’ Narnia and to an even greater extent JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth have become part of our popular culture. Television has made Narnia known to many who may never read the seven book series describing it. Middle-Earth has contributed to our culture in many ways since it burst on the American scene in the mid 1960s. Anyone who has used a “gandalf box” or taken part in a Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game has been touched by the influence of Tolkien’s work and imagination. One reason for the continued interest in this group of friends and writers is the influence they have had on writers and readers up to the present. In this exhibition we explore some of the influences on this group, their own writings and some authors who have been influenced in turn by them.

Prepared by Sandra Ballasch and Mary Hubbard with Pam Spitzmueller.