The Inklings: One Friendship to Bind Them

When it comes to famous friendships, the one that first comes to mind is the bond between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Their friendship developed through their writing group, The Inklings, which met in a pub called The Eagle and Child, or as they affectionately called it, The Bird and Baby. Over years of critiquing and beers, a number of the Inklings went on to be published, as well as become some of the most respected authors in history.

In college, I was fortunate enough to take a J.R.R. Tolkien class from one of the most renowned C.S. Lewis scholars in the world, Diana Glyer. Naturally her studies of Lewis led her to the study of Tolkien as well. Diana Glyer recently released the book Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, which focuses on the relationships, successes, and pitfalls of the group. No one else that I know of, save for Christopher Tolkien, knows The Inklings like my former professor Diana Glyer. She’s devoted much of her life to passionately researching them.

Thanks to her book, I gathered some important points that you may want to keep in mind when it comes to your own career and the company you keep.

  1. There were 19 Inklings total, and they met for 17 years!
  2. The Inklings greatly encouraged one another, even going so far as writing publishers to encourage the publishers to publish one another’s books.
  3. While they encouraged one another, the group members fought and criticized just as easily and often.
  4. Tolkien didn’t like The Chronicles of Narnia when Lewis brought in the first pages to The Eagle and Child. Not even a little.
  5. However, not everyone was crazy about The Lord of the Rings either, namely Hugo Dyson.

These points stood out to me because of the group’s commitment to one another, even though they did not always agree. They fought for one another, encouraged one another, and did what they could for the others.

Sometimes we may get a little tired of our writing groups and wonder what the point of it all is. But just remember: a few men would meet in a pub not so long ago, and some of them might’ve had the same thoughts. But their commitment to their craft and commitment to the group didn’t waver.

Throughout the book, Diana also observes how the reader can shape their writing group to be successful. She outlines what was successful in the Inkling collective, and how to make your group dynamically your own while avoiding some of The Inklings’ nasty pitfalls.

I’d highly recommend picking up the book if you’re in a writing group and you’d like to learn lessons from some of the most well-known authors in history.

You’ve Got to Have Friends

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

While the point of view character is the individual we root for throughout the story, it is often their best friend or side kick that makes the story real to me. Take a look at all the movies or books that have stuck with you throughout time and I bet you will find that part of the solid foundation was built on friendship. In fact, it is that friendship that helped make, or even sometimes, break the main character. Yes, the main character tends to be dynamic, interesting, or flawed in a way that draws the reader in; mainly the person every reader wishes they could be, to some degree. But it is the friend who truly makes the story feel complex, real, and believable.

For one, friends can be solidifiers for a group. Consider Han Solo, he is not the main character in the original Star Wars trilogy; the story is about Luke and Leia, growing up separately, learning who they truly are, and finding the strength from within. But it is Han who brings the humor, the quirky friendship, the tenacity, the fantastic one-liners, and the spunk. He is flawed, but he is fabulous. And, with his background in smuggling, he provides an alternative perspective and solutions way “outside the box”.

Because the friend often resides on the outskirts of the main plot, they also have a tendency to be the counter balance for our hero/heroine. Even though I adore Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables) with her love of literature, he r wild imagination, and her spirit, it is Diana Barry that makes the story whole. She is the putty in Anne’s hands; she is the Dean Martin straight man, to Anne’s Jerry Lewis hilarity. Diana is guided into mischief by her friend, which helps the scene come alive, because we’ve all been that friend who is going to get into trouble because as a direct result of their BFF’s actions. Diana also is Anne’s safety net, and listens to her woes, providing counterpoints and possible solutions to Anne’s difficulties with the exasperating, but delectable, Gilbert Blythe.

Then there are the friends who find courage within themselves, strengthen the hero, and if need be fight their friend when the hero goes astray. For that . . . I give you Ronald Weasley. In both the books and the movies it was Ron who won my heart as a character way more than Harry Potter (I know, sacrilege). Yes, he is flawed, but he had the most growth out of the main trio in my book. He felt second rate, awkward, and lost in a crowd in the beginning (believe me, been there done that). And yet by the end, he created his own solutions, found his own strength, and helped fully defeat Voldemort. To me he had the best combination of Han Solo and Diana Barry in any character ever.

He had outstanding one-liners.

Think Sorcerer’s Stone when our intrepid trio return from their first experience with Fluffy, the three-headed dog, where Hermione states (movie):

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.” Before stomping off to bed.

Ronald tells Harry the classic line, ”She needs to sort out her priorities!”

Need a say anything about spiders:

“Why’d it have to be spiders? Why couldn’t he have said, ‘Follow the butterflies.’?”

Or later, after meeting Aragog he says, “Can we panic now?”

Ron also had his own mishaps, mistakes, and misdemeanors that he grew from, and he provided the perfect counterbalance of growing up in a magic world, to Harry’s life in the Muggle world. It may have been Hermione who was the walking encyclopedia, but it was Ron who firmed up what it meant to live in the magic world. He made the magic feel real, especially when faced with the consequences of shoddy magical mishaps (don’t get me started on the whole vomiting slugs thing).

What all this boils down to is, that if you are creating a story, a world you want your readers to be sucked into so much that they will make the return trip time and time again, then make sure that you give due diligence to your point of view character’s BFF. By so doing you will add dimension, flavor, balance and believability to your story. Believe me, if you do, your readers/watchers/fans will come back to your work time and time again, in all its many formats. If you don’t, you have wasted a golden-snitch of an opportunity.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

The Best Beer I’ve Ever Had

Three years ago tomorrow, I enjoyed the best beer I’ve ever had. I’ve always liked finding a good beer and sampling them responsibly. One stands far and above the others.

In 2014, as Saint Patrick’s Day rolled ever closer, I was depressed and with great reason. In late February of that year, I contracted a necrotizing fasciitis – a skin eating infection – that nearly killed me. When I was discharged from the hospital at the end of February, I was a mess. Sitting in our basement on the reclining couch, I spent hours staring out the window. The couch was the only place I could sleep without being completely flat on my back – which was a “no-go” and despite all the things we’d done to finish the basement and make it part of our home, it wasn’t. I was in another world down there – visited by family several times a day as I alternately slept and pondered why I hadn’t died. I was starting to find myself in a bad place, and two things happened that both pulled me out of depression and set the course for my writing career.

They were completely unrelated.

The first I’ve written about one of them before. I owe a substantial part of my recovery to my friend Neil Clarke. Neil is the editor of Clarkesworld Magazine and the editor of the SFWA Bulletin. I met him on an airplane to San Antonio for WorldCon a few years back. He’s also my celebrity stalker – but that’s an entirely different story. Neil also survived a life threatening event a few years before my episode. So, one dreary March night, I did something I never dreamed I would have done. I wrote an email to Neil and asked him how he’d been able to come back from his massive heart attack. I needed some kind of touchstone to help light a path from where I was. In the months prior to my illness I’d written the first drafts of TWO novels in the space of about six months. My productivity levels had been amazing. Yet, sitting there on my ass with nothing to do but let my skin recover, I found I could barely watch TV or play video games much less write. So I emailed Neil.

And he wrote me back. His words, very simply, lit the tiny little flame that became my lantern out of depression. I saw Neil at WorldCon in Kansas City last year for the first time since my illness. We both held back tears. I am forever grateful to him for simply saying “it will be okay.”

As I recovered at home, I had a wonderful nurse named Paula who came by every day, and then every other day, and then a couple of days a week as things stabilized. I found out she was a retired Army nurse, and we got along swimmingly. On St. Patrick’s Day, I joked that I’d love to have a beer. I was on intravenous antibiotics at this point (2X per day) and they were very potent. Paula looked at me and winked – “I think you could split one today, as long as you get outside and walk.”

That day, I took my wife’s arm and walked to our mailbox and back. It’s only about 300 meters roundtrip, and it was hell, but we took it slow and I walked. When we got home, I texted my friend Scott and told him I’d walked outside and was feeling better. And I told him that Paula had said I could split a beer.

His response? “I’ll be right there.”

And he was – carrying a couple of bottles of Boulevard Brewing Company’s Double-Wide IPA. My wife got the glasses out and we poured it out and shared a beer – sitting on the very same couch where I’d doubted my very existence in late nights of little sleep. It was the best beer I’ve ever had in my life. From there, things came around quickly. Having been an active duty Army officer, I knew that when my medical situation hit the Army’s system there would be chaos, but it took more than a year for my infectious disease specialist to release me from treatment. I relapsed and spent another agonizing night in the hospital. I took antibiotics for more than eleven months. As I recovered, I was promoted a final time. I sold my debut novel to a very strong small press. Most importantly, I kept digging out and the light was just as bright as I remembered.

I came away from my experience valuing a lot of things, and friendship is right near the top. My writing buddy Amity Green came to my hospital room with other friends in tow and then showed up one day to sit on that basement couch and write with me. We really didn’t write much – crying a little was the order of the day. My writing group, Fiction Foundry, came to our house and crowded around me on the couch to do our critiques. My writing friends help to save my life, including a man I call my brother, James A. Owen.

James has a penchant for sending out positive memes and quotes on a daily (hourly sometimes!) basis. He sent one in particular that essentially slapped me in the face and said – “Get back to it.” I’ve included it below:


I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of friends in the writing world and every single one of them are a vibrant part of my life. We’re not alone on this writing journey and the more Tribe you can build, the better it will be.

The BFF in Fiction

I’ve often found that my favorite characters in stories are the trusty side-kick. Let’s face it Batman is a little crazy, while Robin gets the luxury of being a little more relaxed. Funny even, in the latest installment of Lego Batman. I prefer Ostin to Michael Vey. In my own Jagged Scars Series Wendy is amazing, but Kev is secretly my favorite. Do NOT tell the others.

Since seeing the topic for this month’s blog posts, I’ve been wondering why I’m drawn to the side characters. Why they make a story great for me? And after some pondering, I think I’ve come up with my answer.

The protagonist (main character) of the story has a few specific jobs. One of them is to go through the most pain and make the most changes in their lives. Often against their will. That’s why we read stories, to see characters fight their own tendencies and eventually rise above their limitations to a new level of “them.” Which can make them stressed out.

The side characters, often the best friend, doesn’t need to go through quite as much. A good story will give them a character arc, but it’s not usually as drastic. Which gives them the chance to be more fun. They’re there to provide comic relief and/or to be a confidant for the protagonist. Or to call the protagonist out when they’re off the deep end.

For instance, who tries to warn Frodo about Gollum in the long trek to Mordor? Who hasn’t been blinded by pain or regret or the ring? Who carries Frodo when Frodo can’t take another step? Sam. That’s who. And while Sam goes through quite a bit, his journey is more relatable in many ways than Frodo’s. He’s concerned about his friend, like many of us would be, and is only trying to help.

In the newest Spiderman: Homecoming trailer, we see Peter Parker beating up bad guys. It looks like he’s having a great time, but Tony Stark warns him to back off. But Peter doesn’t want to. He thinks he’s ready. He says:

“I’m sick of him (Tony Stark) treating me like a kid all the time!”

Ned, who we’ve already seen is Peter’s best friend (because who doesn’t kill a man when he drops your Lego Death Star?), says, “But you are a kid.”

Ned sees what we can see as the audience, that Peter is reckless, and probably in over his head. Ned tries to talk him off the ledge. He isn’t blinded by the situation like Peter. He can still think clearly, because he’s not the one with super powers who wants to save the world.

A hero needs that. Someone to ground them. Someone to make smart remarks when the moment gets too tense. Someone who will come back after the hero pushes them away.

That’s why we need friends in fiction.