I am a rapid writer, someone who works in fits and starts. I benefit from binges of work, closeted away to get down what’s been rolling around my chest for hours or days. It took a decade for me to figure this out—and another half-decade to be okay with it—but I know how I work best.
Still, even when my confidence is highest, I admire that slow and steady scholar, the artist who paints leaf by leaf, the writer who writes bird by bird.
Diana Pavlac Glyer is one of the latter kind of wordsmiths. I don’t know how long her The Company They Keep took to write from concept to cover, but it was at least a couple of decades. The painstaking investment of time, the careful scouring of archives and texts over years and years led to one of those rare scholarly achievements: a book that changes the way we think about the authors we love to read. A lot of the work I do is in dialogue with Glyer’s—including the work I did before I read The Company They Keep.
Now, seven years after releasing her award-winning The Company They Keep in 2009, Glyer has taken the core ideas and original research for scholars and found a way to share it with everyone. The result is Bandernatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings.
This intriguing little book restates the central argument of her previous work. Glyer argues that the Inklings were not original geniuses who worked alone to create books that changed the shape of fantasy literature. Instead, they were subcreators with flexible and expansive imaginations who worked together as critics, encouragers, and co-creators. We have Narnia and Middle Earth because the Inklings were there for each other, providing support from the moment of a story’s inception to the creation of their friend’s legacy, at every step of the creative process
Glyer does not merely restate the arguments from The Company They Keep, but creates in Bandersnatch a resource not only to understand what the Inklings did, but to reproduce the experiment in our own hometowns and online chat groups. This happens not just in handy little dialogue boxes like “Doing What the Inklings Did,” but in focusing biographies and stories toward the creative process. Moreover, Glyer models collaborative creation by speaking throughout Bandersnatch of the ways she received and gave help in the years the book came together.
- Fans of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings: If you love the Inklings you will relish the insider look you get of how these creative minds made the worlds we love. Bandersnatch moves us past to the biographies to the interior processes of Lewis, Tolkien, and their friends.
- Writers and Artists: Key indicators of this book are that it is inexpensive and yet beautifully done. Glyer is an artisan, a craftswoman, and she wants to draw other creative souls in to the liberating power of shared experience. Writers don’t have to work alone—and, if Glyer is right about the Inklings, most of them shouldn’t even try.
- Emerging and Young Scholars: If you are just beginning to do your work on Lewis and Tolkien—or to think in new ways about the creative process and intertextuality—this is a good book to get you established. Glyer leaves enough trails for your to find your way to her dialogue partners, and ultimately to her scholarly work.
- Readers of The Company They Keep: Academic texts are not always great texts for rereading. Though I found her first book pretty accessible, Bandersnatch is like the bedside table version. If you are looking to update your reading and recover the train of her arguments, Bandersnatch is a great way to get back in to the discussion.
Inevitably there are. Occasionally, Glyer presses her point more than the casual reader will need. We must remember, though, that she is responding to deeply entrenched critical schools. Glyer applies a respectful but powerful critique of the otherwise invaluable work of Humphrey Carpenter (biographer of Tolkien and the Inklings) and Walter Hooper (literary curator of C.S. Lewis’ work). On the critical thesis at the centre of her work—that Lewis and Tolkien were not lone geniuses but men working within complex networks of influence and support—Glyer feels the need to establish her claim fully. I suspect most readers of Bandersnatch are willing to go with her, and are simply pleased to dispel with the myth of the solo writer before the bright screen or blank page.
My other criticism is that the book is too short. I may not be the best judge of this since I relished in the detail of her academic work, but I would have loved more examples and stories from the Inklings. I know there is wisdom in brevity and leaving the reader wanting more. Still, it is a trend in publishing that I would like to resist a little bit.
You can see that I am stretching to find something critical to say. Really, I think this is a book you should invest in—the beautiful softcover out now, or the audiobook soon to be released featuring the voice of C.S. Lewis scholar, Michael Ward. It isn’t just that you’ll benefit as a reader, but you can see how this review itself is a kind of performance of the book, that this review is part of the process of creative collaboration. This is one of the genius aspects of blogging. Writers are always trading manuscripts and scratching notes in margins. It is in social media worlds like this that we can be the kinds of “resonators” that the Inklings were for one another.
Pretty clever, actually.