By Colin Redemer
Last summer in Oxford England in a pub The Inklings Symposium was conceived. I was an attendee at a conference on C. S. Lewis which shall remain nameless. It was a conference I later came to learn that my friend and fellow Lewis scholar, Jason Lepojarvi, has called a prime example of “Jacksploitation.”
That word, a portmanteau of C.S. Lewis’ nickname, Jack, and “exploitation,” refers to the process whereby the popularity of the Christian writer and apologist gets used for economic gain. Partially in an effort to take refuge from this conference two fellow attendees and I found ourselves retreating into a corner of the pub that the Inklings used to meet in, complaining into our pints that not only was this conference not making the grade, but also that there’s something highly limiting in having a conference on Lewis at all. There’s even a distinct possibility that nothing could have pleased Lewis less or surprised him more; after all he famously predicted no one would even know his name five years after he was dead. As we finished that pint and ordered another round we moved on from complaining and began asking the question: what would a good conference on Lewis be like?
We talked that question over seriously. As anyone who reads the Inklings knows there’s a whole cottage industry around not only the scholarship of these men, but also dedicated to reproducing their work or reintroducing it to new audiences. In fact, “cottage industry” is probably modest considering the price Amazon.com just shelled out for the TV rights to the Lord of the Rings. The Inklings are, like it or not, big business. And this business aspect has resulted in a plethora of events, conferences, tours and experiences of all sorts. It isn’t just that Lewis would have disapproved, it is probable that the whole group would as well.
The conference no one is running is the conference that says to hell with scholarship about the Inklings. We don’t need more people talking about the memory of the Inklings; we need people willing to carry on the work of the inklings. So what was that work?
Well the Inklings, briefly, were a group of writers who read their work out loud and offered one another feedback. Lewis was once asked what was the common project, beyond this, and he told the reporter that in asking that question they were “hunting for a fox that isn’t there.” But in hindsight we can see there’s a bit more than that.
The Inklings were all Christians of one sort or another, they all held modernity with a fair bit of disdain, and they all liked and saw value in poesis, in the generating of new imaginative works even while they also valued philosophy. Further they all felt deeply a sense that something was at stake intellectually, they had real questions that they were helping one another answer, and they had hope that the work they were doing would bless the Church and the world. And of course they enjoyed one another. These men were friends and they cultivated their friendship knowing it was the fertile ground from which their life’s work grew.
That’s the conference we dreamt of; it’s the conference we set out to run this summer and we ran it to the best of our abilities.
The Inklings were an intellectual A Team of their day. Whether the Church has such a thing today I can’t say, but I’m sure it isn’t me. Still The Inklings Symposium exists to continue the work of the Inklings to the best of our abilities. We ate together, read manuscripts of unfinished work, brought tough questions that we were sincerely wrestling with, and recognize the sovereignty of Christ over all that we did. And hopefully, we became friends.