I mean to respond more fully to OGIC’s lovely post about the children’s classics you first discover as an adult, occasioned by her reading of The Hobbit. For now, though, I just wanted to share an excerpt from a TLS article I recently came across which describes Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and their writing circle.
Tolkien and Lewis formed the spine of the Inklings, regularly convening to read and discuss one another’s work in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. There were nineteen members in all, and Glyer excels at depicting their world, with its petty rivalries, joshing honesty (“he is ugly as a chimpanzee”, wrote Lewis of fellow Inkling Charles Williams), its wit and learning and championship of scholarship for its own sake. The Inklings were often supportive and sympathetic (“the inexhaustible fertility of the man’s imagination amazes me”, wrote Lewis in 1949 on receipt of another instalment of The Lord of the Rings), but were capable of ferocious criticism if it was felt that a member had done anything less than his best (“You can do better than that. Better Tolkien, please!”). Tempers must surely have become frayed at times – as Tolkien became unyieldingly critical of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (“about as bad as can be”) or as the English don Hugo Dyson met the latest bulletin from Middle Earth by (according to Tolkien’s son Christopher) “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more Elves'”.
I read The Hobbit for a junior-high English class, but didn’t read The Lord of the Rings trilogy until college. It was summertime, and I was visiting my parents in Asheville. I have a vivid memory of finishing the first volume in the middle of the night and sitting in the parking lot outside the Little Professor Bookstore (at a soon-to-be-defunct location) the next morning, waiting for it to open so I could buy the next book in the series.