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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Five: "The Tides of Fate Are Flowing"


The Fellowship of the Ink

In this excerpt from his correspondence with his son, J.R.R. Tolkien describes a typical meeting of the Inklings (Letter No. 90). When the author refers to "C.S.L." or "Jack," he means C. S. Lewis. "C.W." is the novelist Charles Williams. "O.B." is Owen Barfield. "The Red Admiral" is R. E. Havard, an Oxford doctor. "Warnie" is Lewis's brother, Major Warren Lewis. The Mitre was a pub. In issuing a series of "distinguo's," Barfield was evidently challenging Lewis to temper his assertions with more precise diction.

To Christopher Tolkien

24 November 1944
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

My dearest, there has been a splendid flow of letters from you, since I last wrote . . . . It cheered me a lot to see a bit of Anglo-Saxon, and I hope indeed that you'll soon be able to return and perfect your study of that noble idiom . . .

Yesterday 2 lectures, re-drafting findings of Committee on Emergency Exams . . . . and then a great event: an evening Inklings. I reached the Mitre at 8 where I was joined by C.W. and the Red Admiral. [These three then walked to Magdalen College and had dinner with C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield.] O.B. is the only man who can tackle C.S.L. making him define everything and interrupting his most dogmatic pronouncements with subtle distinguo's. The result was a most amusing and highly contentious evening, on which (had an outsider eavesdropped) he would have thought it a meeting of fell enemies hurling deadly insults before drawing their guns. Warnie was in excellent majoral form. On one occasion when the audience had flatly refused to hear Jack discourse on and define "Chance," Jack said: "Very well, some other time, but if you die tonight you'll be cut off knowing a great deal less about Chance than you might have." Warnie: "That only illustrates what I've always said: every cloud has a silver lining." But there was some quite interesting stuff. A short play on Jason and Medea by Barfield, 2 excellent sonnets sent by a young poet to C.S.L.; and some illuminating discussion of "ghosts," and of the special nature of Hymns (C.S.L. has been on the Committee revising the Ancient and Modern). I did not leave till 12:30, and reached my bed about 1 a.m. this morn . . .

Your own father

* * *

(from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, page 103)

Unit Five Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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