The Original Inklings: Tolkien¬â„s Tea Club and Barrovian Society

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The Original Inklings
Tolkien’s Tea Club and Barrovian Society

1904
Tolkien attends King Edward’s School in Birmingham and already demonstrates a remarkable aptitude for languages. He made a number of close friends at the school including Robert Gilson, the son of the Headmaster (who was encouraging the young Tolkien to study the classical languages). Whilst there Tolkien formed a society called the Tea Club and when they were forced to move premises to the Barrow Stores in Birmingham they became the TCBS (Tea Club, Barrovian Society). The members of the group became very close friends with a wide variety of interests all of which rubbed off on the others. Tolkien was studying languages, Robert Gilson was interested in the physical sciences and Renaissance art. Christopher Wiseman’s interests included natural science, mathematics and music, whilst a late recruit to the TCBS was Geoffrey Smith, who was instrumental in introducing them to modern English literature. Smith and Tolkien became firm friends and it is probable that it was Smith’s influence that prompted Tolkien to start writing poetry.

1916
Tolkien marries Edith. June, Tolkien is sent to France; Battle of the Somme. November, Tolkien returns to England suffering from trench fever. But his two dear friends, Rob Gilson and Geoffrey B. Smith, from the reading club T.C.B.S.(Tea Club and Barrovian Society) are killed in action. On July 15, 1916, Smith wrote to Tolkien of Gilson’s death:

My dear John Ronald,
I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was.
O my dear John Ronald what ever are we going to do?
Yours ever.

G. B. S.

5 months later, Tolkien was informed by Wiseman that Smith had also died in a mission. Smith wrote his last letter to Tolkien just before setting out:

My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.
Yours ever,
G. B. S.

The tragedy put an end to the circle of the four and left a deep wound in the hearts of the remaining two. And Tolkien, awakened by Smith’s echoing words, may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, starts to write his mythology on a notebook that he titled “The Book of Lost Tales.” The tales are later known as The Silmarillion.

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