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Letter 298

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 298
RecipientWilliam Luther White
DateSeptember 11 1967
Subject(s)Origins of the Inklings

Letter 298 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


Tolkien gave White a brief account of the name Inklings from memory since the group had no recorder. The name's origin was an undergraduate jest. It had been founded in the mid-thirties by then undergraduate Tangye-Lean, whose ambition was to found a club that would prove lasting. To that end he invited some "dons". C.S. Lewis was Tangye-Lean’s mentor; both he and Tolkien joined. They met in Tangye-Lean's rooms in University College and at each meeting members were to read aloud unpublished compositions. There would be immediate criticism and if thought fit, contributions could be voted into a Record Book that Tolkien kept.

That club soon died but its name transferred to a circle of C.S. Lewis’ friends who met in his room in Magdalen. Had the first club never existed C.S. Lewis would have created it, for he had a passion for out-loud readings and a facility for extempore criticism beyond the others.

The name was a "jest", said Tolkien, because it was an ingenious pun suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations who dabbled in ink. C.S. Lewis never claimed to have invented this name.