As we’ve said elsewhere, Thinklings Books is named in honor of the Inklings, the writing group that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were members of. Not only were the two of them colleagues—as professors and as authors—but they were also good friends. Although in their later years, they had a falling-out over a personal matter, “Tollers” (Tolkien) and “Jack” (Lewis) both shared the same passion and vision throughout their life: a deep love for fantasy writing, as well as a standard of quality above all in literature.
(For a moving glimpse into their relationship and how they reconciled shortly before Lewis died, watch the play “Of Wardrobes and Rings,” which is set in the Eagle & Child pub, where the Inklings met.)
It is no surprise that two such strong personalities occasionally rubbed each other the wrong way. After all, iron sharpens iron. And readers around the world, as well as Jack and Tollers, reaped the benefits: Tolkien’s works would not be what they are if not for Lewis’s criticism and encouragement. Vice versa—Lewis’s books were shaped and critiqued by Tolkien, along with the other Inklings. The honesty and professional guidance of friends in the industry has also proven invaluable to us—Jeannie, Deborah, and Sarah. First with our Thinklings writing group, and now as publishers, we know that we are much stronger together. Even Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy, didn’t earn that epithet on his own!
Tolkien was a slow, meticulous, perfectionistic writer (very much like Sarah). He would often get discouraged or have writer’s block; and if it weren’t for the other Inklings, especially Lewis, the Lord of the Rings trilogy might never have been finished. The Inklings peppered Tollers with questions about Middle-earth and its inhabitants, and their urging spurred him on to complete the three volumes. For whatever reason, some writers (like Sarah, too) absolutely need that catalyst of others’ interest. When Deborah started editing Sarah’s manuscript, giving advice and showing that she cared about Melanie and the other characters in Hunter’s Moon, Sarah’s motivation and writing skill grew by leaps and bounds. Deborah herself is as assiduous about her craft as Tolkien was.
Jeannie describes herself as more like Lewis (or Hemingway). Direct, no frills, telling things as they are. Her imagination is just as vivid: she created her own world called Irem, which, like Lewis’s Narnia, is visited by people from our world—through a plane crash, rather than a wardrobe. Deborah helped develop the richness of that world, and Sarah polished up the grammar. Despite living hundreds of miles away from each other, we’ve bonded over our love of fantasy . . . just like Lewis and Tolkien did.
The impact those two Inklings’ friendship has had on the world is immeasurable. They exploded the popularity of fantasy literature and made it okay for adults to read “fairy stories”—and to run around wearing wizard, elf, or hobbit costumes. Their influence can be seen in countless books, like the Harry Potter series (which we love!), as well as movies, video games, RPGs, music, LARPing, conventions, etc., etc. Tollers and Jack understood that not only does fantasy provide us with an escape when reality becomes overwhelming, but imaginary characters and storylines can also teach us deeper truths about the real world. Those reasons, among others, are why fantasy in its many forms is so widespread and enduring.
Another key aspect of Tolkien and Lewis’s long-lasting legacy is quality. You can rush through writing a novel and maybe still have a decent plot, setting, and characters, and entertain some readers for a while. But books that touch people deeply and stand the test of time have had a lot of just that—time—put into them. Not to mention careful editing, feedback, beta reading, and other support. The Inklings show us that quality can’t be achieved overnight or all on one’s own. They sharpened each other’s books like the finest of elven blades: a process that’s arduous but well worth it. Lewis, Tolkien, and the rest have been dead for decades, but their works are very much alive and continue to inspire.
They do so because the Inklings chose to put quality first, instead of running around gathering fans. Social media platforms have their place, but what truly matters is the product. It’s great to have admirers and followers, but far better is the fellowship of friends with a common vision who edify each other.
Inspired by the Inklings, and driven by a desire for quality to regain the place it should have, we Thinklings aim to revolutionize the publishing industry. We can’t wait to see what our impact will be. (And we wouldn’t be where we are without each other!)
What are your “writer origins”? What author(s) do you admire and/or have you been influenced by?
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