Through the 1930s and for nearly two decades, a group of writers and scholars called the Inklings gathered twice a month in a pub in Oxford, England, to read each other’s works and share ideas.
Some of the works produced by writers who are still considered extremely influential – including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – were among those discussed.
“Oxford was so different from what schools are like now,” said the Rev. Bernard Mason. “People would gather in these learning spaces and meet in these small group settings. It was more of a tutorial kind of experience.”
Mason and David Hutchison, the owner of The Book Tavern, have re-imagined the idea to form the Re-Inklings. Instead of studying the works of members, the book club, which will meet at The Book Tavern at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month, will study the works of the original Inklings, especially the writings of C.S. Lewis.
Mason said one day he and Hutchison, who share a love of Lewis’ work, started talking about creating a similar group where people can share ideas about spirituality, even if they don’t regularly attend church.
Mason, a member of the clergy who is currently serving at Mann Memorial United Methodist Church, studied the works of Lewis at Oxford in 1988. He has incorporated Lewis’ works and life in his ministry ever since.
“C.S. Lewis was not a Christian for a good part of his life. He was agnostic. But under the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien, he became more and more open to Christianity,” Mason said. “He always had in his background the sense of the mythic, the myths of history, not just classical but the Norse myths. And then Tolkien was just a door to a higher understanding of how all our lives are not just grounded in what we see.”
Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters will be the topic of discussion at the Re-Inklings’ first meeting Thursday.
“The letters are written from the point of view of the Devil and this one disciple, and the whole notion is of trying to make sure that their work is effective in undermining the faith that people have,” Mason said.
In its day, the writings were very controversial. The letters were published serially, and many people, especially ministers, objected.
“It’s funny, because when you really read through the letters themselves, you often think in a modern context,” Hutchison said. “It may be a little more difficult to appreciate what a slap in the face it might have been for some of these ministers, because they just didn’t have the approbation coming at them the way they do today. The church doesn’t have the kind of unified, ever-present effect in the community the way it did then.”
For Hutchison, The Re-Inklings stem from a vision he has for his store in which selling books is second to being a part of the community. He wanted to create a place where people could go to discuss ideas and mingle.
Mason sees it as another way to connect with people on a spiritual level.
“I think the church is in a prime opportunity now to be in mission beyond that sense of institution,” he said. “Let’s get out from behind these walls and be with people.”