Diana Glyer Talks About New Book, Bandersnatch

by Evan R. Cain

Diana Pavlac Glyer, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of English and a leading expert on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. She is the author of Clay in the Potter’s Hands and The Company They Keep, as well as co-author of The Liberal Arts in Higher Education. Glyer released her newest book, Bandersnatch, on November 25, 2015.

You spent 20 years researching books by and about Tolkien and Lewis. What led to the undertaking of such an immense project?

I discovered the writings of Lewis and Tolkien in high school and was astonished to learn that they were friends. Lewis, the greatest apologist of the last century, and Tolkien, the greatest novelist of the last century, were buddies. As I read through their letters and manuscripts, I found mutual threads of influence from their conversations. I drew evidence that their discussions directly shaped and developed their books. In a discussion prompted by Tolkien, who had become discouraged about finishing The Lord of The Rings, he told Lewis that he was considering entirely abandoning the project. Lewis thoughtfully replied to Tolkien, “I know what the problem is. Hobbits are only interesting when they are in non-Hobbit-like situations.” The next day, the Dark Riders appeared in the manuscripts. Tolkien’s whole story turned in a richer and darker direction. The Lord of the Rings would not be the story we know and love had he not risked sharing his creative world with Lewis.

I continued searching and found hundreds of examples of peer editing between Lewis and Tolkien. It took me more than 20 years because the evidence of their collaboration had not yet been documented. It was exhilarating to go to the library and dig through old manuscripts. After all these years, there is one truth that keeps me going. The more we understand about the creative processes of these illustrious authors, the more we can engage in the same behaviors and adjust our approaches to creativity.

For those who have read The Company They Keep, what does Bandersnatch do to reintroduce the collaboration of the Inklings?

The inspiration for Bandersnatch came from an APU student. While teaching a C.S. Lewis class, one of my students approached me. “Professor Glyer,” she started, “you wrote The Company They Keep as if you are fascinated by every detail of what these authors wrote to each other.” And I said to her, “Yes, of course.” And she replied, “Well I don’t know how to tell you this, but not everybody cares that much.”

At first, her comment devastated me. After a short while, I collected my thoughts and began to wonder if the stories of Lewis and Tolkien’s collaboration could be retold in a simpler and practical way. So I developed a plan. Every week, I invited students over to my house for dinner and they worked for me as research assistants. We discussed ways to make this material more interesting, engaging, and accessible. As a final product, Bandersnatch is abridged and adapted from The Company They Keep. It outlines how we can learn to be more creative by following the example of the Inklings.

What common misconception about creative writing does Bandersnatch hope to eliminate?

This is a good opportunity to explain how Bandersnatch got its title. In a written exchange with Lewis an interviewer asked, “What influence have you had on Tolkien?” He responded, “No one ver influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.” (A bandersnatch is a mythical animal with a fierce disposition created by author Lewis Carroll.) Many researchers argued that Tolkien and Lewis must, therefore, have worked independently. In the very same letter, however, Lewis goes on to explain that Tolkien either ignores suggestions all together, or completely redoes his work.

The idea of the solitary genius is extremely popular, especially in the United States. Many people imagine the creative process this way: Someone struck with inspiration, sits alone with a typewriter and completes an entire book in one sitting. This could not be more off base. The world’s most influential creators are those embedded in a web of collaboration. They communicate deeply with other people about their ideas, and immerse themselves in groups of influence. When we work among others, our own productivity flourishes. We need people not only to work with us, but to do small things like encourage us along the way.

How do you think these observations about the creative process speak to the power of community?

It takes humility and kindness for us to appreciate community. It takes humility to realize that we need help, and it takes kindness to alert us to the needs of others. A community focus transforms us into more selfless and Christ-like individuals. When we bear one another’s burdens, they are so much lighter than when we try to bear them alone; we are capable of doing so much more than we could do by ourselves.

A small group with a single cause often makes remarkable progress with extreme efficiency. The truth about community is that somewhere between everyone and just one, there is the potential in a small group of creative individuals to change the world.

Evan R. Cain '18 is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a biblical studies and humanities major in the Honors College.