Inklings at Oxford

Oxford is one of my favourite places in the world.

It is like stepping back in time – from the ancient buildings and grand architecture, Christ Church College, to the feel of an important sense of history and ancient traditions; time seems to slow down.

This visit, among many other things, I visited The Bear Inn and the Eagle and Child Pub, two of the oldest pubs in Oxford. The Eagle and Child Pub is famous as the pub that the Inklings came to discuss literature, writing and life during the 40’s and 50’s. Members of the Inklings included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and it is now lore that discussions at this pub contributed to the Lord of the Rings series and the Narnia books.

It is told that many hours were spent in the Eagle and Child smoking pipes, drinking pints, discussing, debating and reading each other’s unfinished works for the other members of the group to critique. A story told by a local we met named Chris, had C.S.Lewis, whilst listening to Tolkien read an unfinished work (Tolkien was a notoriously bad public speaker apparently), interrupt a reading and say, “Oh no, not another fucking elf!”

Needless to say, this story has probably questionable amounts of truth to it…

But I got to thinking about how the Inklings, as a literary group, actually publicly read each other their unfinished work, had it critiqued, and then held discussions and debates around the writing. In school, typically the process is that students write and then hand it in to the teacher for a grade – if they are lucky, the teacher may ask them to post it on a blog. This assessment is summative and depending on the circumstance, one could argue that the student learns very little about the process, irrespective of the depth of feedback obtained from their teacher.

Taking an Inklings approach, and having students read each other unfinished pieces of creative writing, creates a culture of informal formative assessment and invokes many other skills other than just banging out a piece of writing and handing it into the teacher. It invokes higher-order thinking skills, listening, critical analysis and exposes students of all ability to different writing styles and capabilities. Just a thought…

I was recommended the book The Inklings of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their Friends. Below is the Trailer.

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