Rub elbows and ideas with worthy peers

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 2/6/19

As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens another … Proverbs 27 I am working through a really remarkable book right now. Or, to be more precise, I am working through a very good book right now about …

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Rub elbows and ideas with worthy peers

Posted

As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens another … Proverbs 27

I am working through a really remarkable book right now. Or, to be more precise, I am working through a very good book right now about a remarkable group of friends who dubbed themselves “The Inklings.” You may have heard of a couple of them: they included Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Warren Lewis, and a couple fellows named J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

These friends worked together at Oxford for a period in the 1920s and 30s, and met regularly in some form or another for decades after that. They were linguists, and historians, a lawyer, scholars and poets. But, above all else, they were writers, who would meet together to work on ideas, thoughts, and their writing.

They would regularly grace each other with early drafts of what they were working on, and sit for hours giving each other feedback — often, brutally honest feedback.

And it wasn’t all congenial or like-minded. For a time, Lewis and Barfield carried on a debate that the others dubbed “The Great War”. Keep in mind that these men had all served in or around World War I, so for them to grant to an intellectual debate the moniker “Great War,” it must have truly been a wild argument.

But, through this great friendship, these men produced some of the most interesting and lasting fiction of the 20th century. The works of Williams and Barfield are mostly relegated to the halls of academia, but, of course, “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings” are among the most beloved and well-known works of fantasy the world has ever known.

As an aside, can you imagine how extraordinary it would have been to have been present the first time Tolkien — before he was Tolkien — started to read excerpts from “The Hobbit” to C.S. Lewis — before he was C.S. Lewis! I have a handful of historical moments that I would love to go back and be present for. That meeting is now at the top of that list!

At any rate, it was through their critiques, and their challenging of each other, and their extraordinary friendships, that these men pushed each other to become who they became and to create what they did. The giant intellects sharpened and polished the giant works of imaginations of the men in that room.

Everybody needs people like that in their lives. I believe that there is truth in the throwaway line from the needlessly violent movie “Man on Fire,” that “every man is an artist in their own way.” Some with food, some with words, some with music, some with their teaching, some with how they perform athletically. To do anything at a high level is to touch on the ability to be creative and to operate on an instinctive level. In other words, to be artistic. But, I also believe it is true that, to ever touch on that level, one needs people around who challenge them, who push them, who disagree with them, and who see things just a little bit differently than they do.

It’s part of what worries me so much about our current culture, and, in particular, the culture around our institutions of higher learning. They are becoming echo chambers, afraid to let contrary opinions be expressed, and so terrified of being proved wrong that they would rather insulate themselves from any countervailing thoughts that they become rigid and dogmatic. And that, at a time when their clientele should be exposed to every thought, and challenged to defend every opinion.

If you have a group of friends who challenges you, who are your equals or betters, and whom you trust to be forthright, consider yourself blessed. You will be better for it. And if you don’t, seek out a group like that. It will be worth the effort.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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