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Cheez Whiz and The Inklings


Cheez Whiz and The Inklings

Joy and Matthew Steem


It’s been said that Cheez Whiz is one molecule away from being plastic, and I actually don’t like it at all, but the song is catchy right?

Cheez Whiz has nothing to do with the Inklings because I am certain none of them would have deigned to touch it with a ten-foot pole. “Not authentic enough,” perhaps Tolkien might say. Or he might have been suspicious that it was made with a machine. (George Sayer relates, “[J.R.R. Tolkien] said whimsically that he ought to cast out any devil that might be in [a recorder] by recording … the Lord’s Prayer.” Tolkien hardly even used a typewriter and Lewis wrote everything by hand.) However, while Cheez Whiz might add personality, the Inklings most assuredly had personality. And happy ones at that! And it’s something that might be overlooked when reading their works. This is notable because it’s relevant to recognize that these literary heroes were also people.

It’s easy to assume that since a C.S. Lewis or a Charles Williams wrote such serious material, they were serious people. (i.e. seriously un-humorous.) Just crack open Lewis’ The Discarded Image or English Literature in the Sixteenth Century and let me know if too many smiles slip past your cheeks. Similarly, for Williams’ The Image of the City and Other Essays. Others associated with the Inklings like Dorothy Sayers etc., don’t often come across as overly mirthful either. They are serious. They deal with serious topics. Terry Lindvall, writing on Lewis, comments on a deleterious approach to levity,

When reading religious writing (or, what is often worse, writing by a religious person), the last thing we expect to discover is laughter. We expect the religious writer to handle truth, ethics, and other serious concerns with appropriate decorum. Treating issues of ultimate reality with levity is the habit of the fool, the mocker, the jester, the idiot.

This is all rot. (By the way, Lindvall’s book is most excellent.)

Consider that Charles Williams not only had a cockney accent (very different from C.S Lewis’ and Tolkien’s prim and proper intonation) he had a hilarious side to him that often burst out in theatrics. (He also loved the theatre.) Similarly, Lewis after settling down with a pipe and pint, had no problem with guffaw. Lewis mentioned in The Four Loves that “In a perfect Friendship … each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest… each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.” I was so pleased to see that “funniest” was included in the best.

I try to keep reminding myself when I read other important authors that the hefty ideas and concepts are not the only connections with such people—they had humor as well. Theirs was a personality not limited to just the serious, but also the seriously humorous, because a good personality will most likely include humor. G.K. Chesterton—you will remember that he played an important role in Lewis’ conversion—ysaid “being serious is much easier than being frivolous and light.” He also asserted that “seriousness is a vice … It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. … For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”