As the cerulean sky bleeds into water-coloured grey storm clouds, my thoughts are somewhere between Middle Earth and Pluto. Ringing in my head is a stunning symphonic melody about Saturn—its strength in Beauty has captured my memory. Reverberating in my ears is the sound of Tolkien’s prose—read aloud to hear the simultaneously earthy and heraldic tones played in his words.
Treading the paths of my thoughts are an interesting pair, hand-in-hand. The first is a comment made by John Wain, an English novelist, about the Inklings being a “circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life.”1 The second is the thought I have been mulling over in recent days: one individual’s creativity often leads others to create. Or more succinctly, creativity begets creativity. Creativity in something well-crafted and beautiful breathes life into our souls in a way that makes us want to create, too.
This creativity is what spread from one Inkling to the next and the next—and back again. The inspiration, the life-breath, from Tolkien stirred the heart and mind of Lewis. The adamant Lewis argued and challenged the other Inklings—and when an idea is challenged, one must think long on it to see if it is true and worth fighting for or not. Charles Williams himself was inspiring to Lewis, enough to model Ransom after him in That Hideous Strength. These men were each “playing the potter to see what shapes [they could] make of another.”2 Even as they moulded one another’s thoughts and imaginations, they shaped the minds of men for generations to come.
Living in the wake of these men (and Dorothy L Sayers, often mentioned amongst this set), I find my own views of valour, honour, camaraderie, theology, and of God Himself shaped by the essays and stories of various Inklings. My picture of true friendship is painted by Frodo and Samwise. The image of honour, integrity, and discernment strides forth in the form of Faramir. My heart broke over the death of Aslan, helping me to connect with the death of Jesus in a much deeper way. The Voice in the fog* reminds me that God tells us no story but our own from His perspective. My rich, layered view of Heaven is painted with such real grass that it spears one’s feet, and light so real that it crushes one from the shadowlands. Dorothy L Sayers’ robust explanation of the Trinity in The Mind of the Maker made such a vivid impression upon me that, though I have only read the book once, much of it sticks with me still. So, I am fashioned by these long-dead hands—much for the better, I think.
Creativity shot through with Beauty has made its impression on me; has breathed its very life into me. I find I am most shaped by images and stories, more than by essays. The essays have moulded my thoughts, certainly, but they are more abstract and intangible. Essay ideas are like trying to grasp a handful of smoke or filling our probing fingers with a bit of soul. But stories are gloriously real—even when fanciful and fantastic. Friendship becomes more than an idea, it is embodied in Samwise carrying the ring for Frodo—by carrying Frodo himself—when he had no more strength to walk toward Mount Doom. Hope is not just letters stacked together, it is Sam seeing a single star through the clouds and realising that the world is bigger than just his or Frodo’s bit in the story; bigger and grander than Mordor and him-who-shall-remain-nameless. There was still Beauty outside that transcended, it brought Sam’s mind to the meta-story in which he and Frodo were but small characters. Beauty would outshine and outlive the world of Middle Earth, even if the quest failed.
Creativity begets. Creativity inspires. Creativity gives us a tangible understanding of intangible ideas. Creativity changes cultures—moulds minds.
I write with a score of good thinkers, theologians, historians, fathers, mothers, friends, and fellow Believers. I firmly believe that many of them are shaping, and will shape, the minds of the next generation(s). Yet I posit that those who will shape hearts, imaginations, and minds in this and future generations are the prophetic poets. These are the story-weavers and song-writers who both let us feel and give us the embodiment of ideas and ideals. They intertwine Truth and Beauty naturally, artfully. The story is the main thing and Goodness drips out, unforced. The creativity of past poets, painters, and musicians is still life-breathing into us. Let us create in whatever way our hands and minds find to do so. Who can tell what story we will encourage or inspire in someone else…
2. Bradbury, Ray, Something Wicked this Way Comes (New York: Harper Collins, 2013) 18
* Aslan in The Horse and His Boy