My friend Joseph Pearce came by yesterday to record some podcasts and have some lunch. I was reminded of these words I put down a few months ago.

They form the beginning of the introduction to another new book that will come out soon. Reluctant Allies – Essays on Eliot and the Inklings is a collection of pieces I have written for various outlets over the years.

The way this book came about was Joseph’s request that I write a column for the literary magazine he edits–the St Austin Review.

Why not write a regular piece on The Inklings, Joseph suggested?

The Inklings were that group of literary men surrounding C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien who gathered in various places and pubs in Oxford to drink beer, smoke pipes and discuss literature.

Joseph and I were sure that fans of the Inklings must have started similar groups around the world. Admittedly, having done a bit of drinking, Joseph and I began to muse aloud about some other Inkling type groups that may have been formed.

Did I know about the Winklings? Joseph asked — formed North of the border, these Scotsmen were devoted to sly linguistic jokes–always delivered with a wink while sipping scotch and eating winkles.

I suggested that the Shrinklings were a literary club especially devoted to all forms of fantasy literature involving small creatures. Not only fond of books about hobbits, dwarves and elves, the Shrinklings read aloud The Borrowers, Stuart Little, and Alice in Wonderland. The Shrinklings met regularly in the Lilliput Pub and would only drink spirits poured into shot glasses from the tiny bottles called “miniatures”.

We imagined that a group called the Twinklings met to read unpublished science fiction manuscripts solely devoted to travel amongst the various star systems. The Twinklings welcomed astrologers to their meetings, and rather than drinking, they consumed vast amounts of sweets–any were permitted as long as they had astral names: Starburst, Galaxy, Mars, Milky Way being among the favorites.

It got worse. The Stinklings were devoted solely to a collection of unpublished stories about skunks and dung beetles written in a manner blending Watership Down and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Meanwhile The Drinklings met briefly to drink beer and discuss literature, but forgot to discuss literature and The Tinklings were an obscure cabaret duet piano act specializing in ragtime music. Enough.

“Inklings” seemed an adequate title to the regular column as it both denoted the authors in question, and suggested that I had some vague idea or “inkling” what I was writing about. In fact, I did, as the writings of the Inklings changed my life and I’ve been reading and re-reading their works for many years.

I came across C. S. Lewis as a college student at Bob Jones University. His writings touched me as George MacDonald had touched him. In his introduction to MacDonald’s work Lewis described the effect MacDonald’s book Phantastes had on him as baptizing his imagination…