A few months ago, I reviewed a book by Philip and Carol Zaleski entitled The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings1, which details the lives of four members of the famous group. While numerous aspects of the book make it an interesting read, I was most struck by the Zaleskis’ attention to the depth of friendship that contributed to the creative and intellectual productivity of the Inklings. The group of academics held regular meetings in which works-in-progress were read and critiqued, but the bond of their fellowship and origins of many of their major contributions can be traced further back than those meetings. The Zaleskis write of one member of the Inklings, “[Owen] Barfield always insisted that the Inklings began, de facto if not de jure, in the late 1920s, long before the group received its formal appellation, in the walking tours and other gatherings of the early principals.”2 It seems that many of the great ideas and literary contributions that have shaped our lives from these now-famous men began as conversations over long walks in the woods!
Soon after reviewing The Fellowship, my family left for a sabbatical in the Netherlands. While the transition from life in the midwestern US to living in a village just outside of Amsterdam was certainly a process, we found ourselves quickly appreciating certain new cultural norms. Among those was the fact that people everywhere were always walking or biking—down the streets, on the sidewalks, in the grass…everywhere! And they often didn’t do it alone. Walking and talking was a common sight. We didn’t have a car, so we soon joined the masses and began walking and biking to most places within a 30 to 45-minute distance from where we were staying, finding our own family growing closer through conversation along our various commutes.
In October, we took a short trip from the Netherlands to Oxford, England, where the trend of commuting on foot continued. In fact, in Oxford, we retraced the steps of many an Inkling, traversing Port Meadow, walking the University parks, and strolling the streets of the city centre. We even had the privilege of visiting The Kilns, where C.S. Lewis lived and wrote in his later years. As we walked in the footsteps of literary giants, artists, and philosophers, I couldn’t help but recall the themes of intimate friendship that were so impressed on me when reading The Fellowship. I marveled at the meadow trails attached to most every college within Oxford and the conversations that must have taken place there, and I began to question whether or not my own intellectual and creative growth might benefit from more walking and talking.
This may seem like a silly question to some. Of course we know that healthy analysis and debate of each other’s ideas and arguments nearly always yields better output. But in a culture that so often spends most days indoors, under the fluorescent lights of a classroom or office, or inside of an automobile, are we losing the benefits of walking and talking? We often talk about the benefits of children “moving their bodies to move their minds”, even making dedicated time for that within the school day, but what about adults? If we take the lives of the Inklings as a case study, certainly we stand to benefit both ourselves and those around us from more walking and talking! I’m no social scientist, so I can only speak for myself at this point, but I’ve found a renewed sense of creativity and space for thought on short walks outdoors—particularly with another person, whenever possible. So…anyone up for a stroll?
1 Zaleski, P. and Zaleski, C. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015. 643 pages. $18.00, softcover.
2 Ibid, p. 195