Monday, September 17, 2012

Tolkien Week: J.R.R. Tolkien, the Inklings, and Writing Groups

In honor of Tolkien Week and in celebration of my new book, the Sword of Six Worlds, we're having guest posts about Tolkien all this week. Today's post comes from Cat Rambo, a science fiction and fantasy writer and editor who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She was co-editor of Fantasy Magazine from 2007-2011, which earned her a 2012 World Fantasy Special Award: Non-Professional nomination. Her latest book, which just released this week, is Near + Far, a double collection of science fiction and fantasy stories. It also has two covers, which I think is really cool. She has some thoughts to share about J.R.R. Tolkien and how he introduced her to the idea of literary societies and writing groups. 

Every four or five years I go back to the Lord of the Rings and go all the way through, from the first pages of the Hobbit through Sam's final return to the Shire. I first read the book in the second grade, when my babysitter Bernie started reading the Hobbit to me and I got interested enough to start sneaking chapters on the side. I read it for a theology class at St. Joe High School and again while at Notre Dame. I read it in grad school as an antidote to Derrida and Lacan and Slavoj Zizek. I read it when I started trying to write my own fantasy novel, in order to figure out what worked.

But to me, the book never stands alone. In the background stand the rest of the Inklings, the Thursday evening literary society Tolkein was part of, a group which included C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, and which was sometimes visited by the likes of Enid Blyton and E.R. Eddison. When I came across Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkein, the idea that so many of the Inklings' books were in conversation with each other was a fascinating one, and it's one that's made me feel freer about entering into the great conversation of novels, a slow and long-lasting discussion that is still only getting started. 

It's one of the reasons I love the writing group I work with, Horrific Miscue, because I'll see an idea from one story bounce into another, even while we're all drawing fast and furiously from the other works we've read. To me, Middle Earth, as well as Narnia and Perelandra and sundry other fantasy realms, are all richer for the glimpses into their mundane backgrounds and the themes those writers, as well as anyone writing today, continue to explore.

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