But were Lewis and Tolkien really outside the mainstream? Consider:
- Each of them was a fellow of an ancient and prestigious college in one of England’s two elite universities
- They were the two leading authors of the English curriculum at that university (a curriculum that lasted longer than they did)
- Each of them published books for that university’s prestigious press
- One of them (Tolkien) shared a publisher with Bertrand Russell
- One of them (Lewis) gave immensely popular radio talks for the BBC
Even Owen Barfield, in some ways the most culturally marginal of the major Inklings, early in his career wrote articles for the New Statesman and had a book (Poetic Diction) published by Faber. (After that he was largely self-exiled from the mainstream by his commitment to Anthroposophy.)
To be sure, there were important ways that both Lewis and Tolkien were, in the eyes of some, not quite the right thing at Oxford: neither of them attended an elite public school; Lewis was Irish; Tolkien was Catholic; each of them stood for ideas about literature that were palpably old-fashioned; and Lewis was (in addition to being generally assertive, sometimes to the point of bullying) vocal about being a Christian in ways that struck many of his colleagues as being ill-bred at best. But considering such impediments to insider status, they did amazingly well at finding their way into the midst of things, and they did so before either of them had written anything for which they’re now famous.