On the evening of March 20th, it was my (rather, my dad and I’s) pleasure and honor to attend a conference hosted by my very own St. Louis Community College featuring Mr. Colin Havard, the son of Dr. Robert Havard who was one of the most faithful members of a group called the Inklings, which included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Serving as interlocutor was Professor Michael Foster, the North American representative to the International Tolkien Society (also a member of the Mythopoeic Society). The conference was opened up and sponsored by my very own Professor of History and Mythopoeic Studies, Dr. Paul Nygard (not shown), founder of the college’s Tolkien Adventure Community (also associated with Mythgard Institute).
About the Doctor
After introductions we jumped right into business. Colin Havard told us his father, Dr. Robert (Humphrey) Havard was the physician of both the Lewis brothers. CS Lewis would later introduced Dr. Havard to Professor Tolkien, and they would spend hours talking about philosophy and writing. He would join the Inklings after 1937. Most of Dr. Havard’s writings were scientific, but he occasionally wrote poetry (which Colin Havard was kind enough to share with us that evening).
Dr. Robert Havard would become the butt of all the Inklings’ jokes, and had many nicknames. Hugo Dyson could never remember Havard’s name and called him “Humphrey.” He was also known as the “Red Admiral” because of his red beard and his service as a military doctor in the Navy during World War II. Then there was the nickname “Dull Bear,” which was half a name of a nearby chemist shop in Oxford, and finally the “Useless Quack.” The story behind the last one is that Dr. Havard was one of the only Inklings to possess his own car (Lewis and Tolkien didn’t like cars, and JRRT actually drove his into a ditch by mistake), so they relied on the good doctor for transportation. When he didn’t arrive on time, they would call him the “Useless Quack.” And now you know. Both the names “Humphrey” and “Dull Bear” would be used in CSL’s writings, and Dr. Havard was also used as a source for his book The Problem of Pain.
The Inklings’ Meetings
Colin Havard proceeded to tell us his father invited him to the Inklings’ meetings when he was fifteen years of age–this was in the 1950s. He remembers it being mostly discussion and not so much the reading of each other’s work–that apparently took place in the privacy of their homes. He felt very shy and out of place among such a company of intellectuals, but CS Lewis would go out of his way to try and include him. He was not a fan of beer though at his tender age–whenever he was given a pint, he would slowly pour it into a nearby potted plant when no one else was looking. Mr. Havard recalled Lewis being an untidy dresser with a great, booming voice. In contrast, Tolkien was neat and dressy, choosing to wear bright colored waistcoat vests (like his hobbits!). He was very quiet and difficult to understand; you really had to be paying attention to catch all his remarks. Another remark he made was he thought Charles Williams was, and I quote, “weird.”
Mr. Havard didn’t remember much of any of the Inklings’ conversations except for one topic: Christianity and suicide. He remembers Lewis directing it at Tolkien in a goading manner like he was trying to start an argument. Lewis loved to argue, thinking it was the best way to get men talking.
Life Outside the “Bird & Baby”
Colin Havard recalled Tolkien living just six houses down from his own, but they never really socialized as families. Tolkien’s children were much older. He did however, grow up with The Hobbit and would pester Tolkien about the sequel, to which the Oxford professor would reply, “It’s coming, it’s coming!” When The Lord of the Rings was published, Mr. Havard laughed as he recalled skipping several chapters on his first read-through and not really remembering what happened in the story.
From the way it sounded, Mr. Havard was on much more social terms with the Lewis brothers. CSL had Colin and his sister house-sit at the Kilns for him when he was fifteen or sixteen. Mr. Havard recalls the house being dirty. The carpet was grey with cigarette ash (Lewis believed it was good for the carpet) and the windows hadn’t been cleaned in some time (this all changed when Joy married CS). He remembers looking at the bookshelf and seeing it stuffed with children’s literature, English literature, and the Classics (Aristotle, Plato, etc.). There was an ancient stove with which the heat was regulated via vents. Colin and his sister typically snacked while they were there, but one day they actually tried to prepare a meal of lamb chops, peas, and potatoes on the old stove, and ended up ruining the food.
Mr. Havard then spoke of the wives of Lewis and Tolkien. Edith T. was quiet, but very musical. She could sing, play the piano and dance. He then talked about Joy, and how intelligent she was. When playing Scrabble with “Jack” Lewis, the two of them would use any word in any language.
This was the majority of the evening’s discussion. There was also, of course, some talk about the writings of the authors. Tolkien was not fond of Lewis’s writings because he felt they weren’t well thought out, while the Inklings gave him a hard time about publishing The Lord of the Rings. There was also the plan for Lewis and Tolkien to each write their own science-fiction stories about space-travel and time-travel. CSL’s Out of the Silent Planet was not only published, but became the first in a trilogy of books. Tolkien’s time-travel story, The Notion Club Papers, was never completed however.
Other miscellaneous things included Mr. Havard’s observation on the labeling of generations today (Gen. X and Y) as opposed to back in his day when it was related to the world wars. Mr. Havard told us his wife is a writer, but not so much he. The idea of writing a book has been entertained, but he claims trouble with “chronic writer’s block” (which I can certainly identify with).
There was even mention of the upcoming movie about CS Lewis, The Lion Awakes.
Afterward there was a short Q&A session. There weren’t many questions, but I unfortunately only remember two: My dad asked if the Inklings ever talked about, or were influenced by, pacifist writers and poets of WWI, to which Havard answered yes, stating he believed there was some influence, but Lewis and Tolkien also believed that war was sometimes necessary to halt the “Saurons” and “Sarumans.” The second was if Havard had read any of the modern fantasy authors after Tolkien like Harry Potter or the Inheritance Cycle, to which he replied that he read some of Harry Potter and enjoyed it, but not enough to read all the books or see all the films.
Afterwards, I got to thank Mr. Havard and shake his hand. I always imagined he would be much more stand-offish, but he was quite friendly, and ready to talk once you got him going. He’s not a reclusive man, so much as he is private.
So yeah, cool night. It was an amazing opportunity and I’m so glad my dad and I got to be a part of it.
So on that note, Happy Tolkien Reading Day!