The Inklings and Science Fiction

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

Of the various men in the writer’s group the Inklings who met in Oxford primarily during the 1930s and 1940s, two achieved world renown with their writings: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Each had a strong interest in the developing field of science fiction (the term itself was coined in 1926). Lewis hand published more of what could be called science fiction than any other member—including Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1946); Tolkien left some aborted efforts that only appeared posthumously. Other members (like Owen Barfield and Charles Williams) tried their hand at some kind of science fictional narratives, or were (like Lewis’s brother Warnie) lifelong devotees of the genre. In the 1950s and 1960s, both Lewis and Tolkien were meeting up or corresponding with other now well-known writers of science fiction like Arthur C. Clarke, John Christopher, Brian Aldiss, and others. This course covers the Inklings’ creative and personal encounters with science fiction.

Course Schedule

Week 1 – Who were the Inklings, and the slippery definition of science fiction

  • “The Notion Club Papers” by J.R.R. Tolkien, from Sauron Defeated
  • “On Stories” and “On Science Fiction” by C.S. Lewis (both in On Stories)
  • Additional Reading: The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter

Week 2 – Early Science Fiction: H.G. Wells and David Lindsay

  • First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells
  • A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay
  • Additional Readings:
    • “Plattner’s Story” by H.G. Wells
    • The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells

Week 3 – Science Fiction in the 1930s

  • Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
  • Selections from Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
  • Selection from Land Under England by Joseph O’Neill
  • Additional Reading: “The Dream of X” by William Hope Hodgson

Week 4 – Perelandra and Screwtape

  • Perelandra by C. S. Lewis
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  • Additional Readings:
    • “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” by C.S. Lewis
    • “Preface” (1962) by C.S. Lewis

Week 5 – George Macdonald and The Great Divorce

  • Extract from Phantastes by George Macdonald
  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
  • Additional Reading: “The Man Who Lived Backwards” by C. F. Hall

Week 6 – Charles Williams and That Hideous Strength

  • “Et in Sempiternam Pereant” by Charles Williams
  • “The Noises That Weren’t There” by Charles Williams
  • That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
  • “The Novels of Charles Williams” by C.S. Lewis (in On Stories)

Week 7 – J.W. Dunne, The Dark Tower and The Lost Road

  • “The Dark Tower” by C.S. Lewis
  • “The Lost Road” by J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Lost Road
  • Additional Reading: Extract from An Experiment with Time, by J.W. Dunne

Week 8 – Reviews and Reactions

  • J.B. S. Haldane “The Last Judgment” in Possible Worlds
  • “Night Operation” by Owen Barfield
  • “The Flinties” by I.O. Evans
  • Additional Readings:
    • Extract from Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield
    • The beginning of The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

Week 9 – The White Horse, Joy Davidman and William Lindsay Gresham

  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Death of Grass by John Christopher
  • Additional Reading: Extracts from Tales from Gavagan’s Bar, by Arthur C. Clarke

Week 10 – Lewis & F&SF; Tolkien and Fandom

  • “The Shoddy Lands”, “Ministering Angels” and “Forms of Things Unknown” by C.S. Lewis (all in The Dark Tower and Other Stories)
  • “Island of Fear” by William Sambrot
  • “The Dream Dust Factory” by William Lindsay Gresham
  • Additional Reading: “The Day after We Land on Mars” by Robert S. Richardson

Week 11 – The 1960s

  • Hothouse by Brian Aldiss
  • “Unreal Estates” by C.S. Lewis (in On Stories)

Week 12 – Inklings and Their Influence

  • James Blish, A Case of Conscience (Book One, i.e., half of the book)
  • Additional Reading: Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time


The links below go to the Amazon page where you can purchase each specific text. Purchasing the books through these links helps Signum University at no additional cost to you. Selections from other readings and articles will be provided in class.


Additional Readings

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Summer 2016Kris Swank

Course Artwork

Course artwork was created by Alicia Fox-Lenz.

This course covers the Inklings’ creative and personal encounters with science fiction.

START: May 2, 2016

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITB 5308