Aspects of modernism in the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams
In recent years, the works of the Oxford Inklings C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Charles Williams have increasingly found academic acknowledgment. However, no real attempt has yet been made to evaluate their writings in terms of the literature of the twentieth century. The present thesis aims to remedy this omission by reading the works of the Inklings against those of their modernist contemporaries. Both modernist works and those of the Inklings are heavily influenced by the experience of the World Wars. The present study examines in particular how the topic of war is employed in modernism and the Inklings’ fantasy as a structuring agent, and how their works seek to contain war within the written work in an endeavour that is ultimately doomed to failure in the face of war’s reality. History plays a highly important role for both modernists and Inklings. Their works attempt to construct a coherent and authoritative (nationalist) history, while at the same time paradoxically acknowledging the impossibility of doing so. The works examined employ various forms of intertextuality to create authenticity and authority, and make extensive use of myth – which, according to Barthes, transforms an arbitrary history into self-evident (and thus authoritative) nature (cf. Roland Barthes, Mythologies. London: Vintage, 1992). Finally, it is the question of language that lies at the heart of the modernists’ and the Inklings’ projects. Both show a high degree of self-awareness and self-reflexivity, openly thematising that their respective worlds are constructed of words. They are also concerned with the perceived crisis of language, and with the necessity of discarding outworn traditions coupled with the difficulty of creating new ones.