Criticism and Laughter
Not formally a club – as one of the Inklings, Warren Lewis, explained, “There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections,” – the discussions had their lighter side. One of the regular pastimes was for members to read aloud the work of Irish writer Amanda McKittrick Ros, infamous for her flowery prose. The challenge was to see who could read for longest without bursting into laughter. An example from McKittrick’s first novel, Helen Huddleson, shows what they were up against:
“She had a swell staff of sweet-faced helpers swathed in stratagem, whose members and garments glowed with the lust of the loose, sparkled with the tears of the tortured, shone with the sunlight of bribery, dangled with the diamonds of distrust, slashed with sapphires of scandals… “
Sensitive readers considering it poor form for writers of the Inklings’ stature to mock a less gifted author should be reassured that McKittrick herself was immune to criticism. She believed that her detractors were afraid of her daring attempts to disclose the corruption of the ruling classes, and confidently imagined hordes of readers “who thirst for aught that drops from my pen”.
As for the members, anyone reading their own work at a meeting of the Inklings could expect incisive – and often uncomfortably frank – observations. One of the Inklings, the academic Hugo Dyson, was known to dislike Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and was once recorded as “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more elves'”. In a lesson for all writing groups on the importance of constructive criticism, the negative reception meant that Tolkien eventually gave up reading his stories there altogether.