The Other Inklings | Nevill Coghill

Last week, I started introducing you to the Inklings of Oxford. Why? Because the Inklings was a legendary writer’s group that gave birth to such masterpieces as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

But there were more people in the Inklings than just C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Let’s take some time and meet a few of the lesser-known Inklings.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When I think of the Inklings, I think of stalwart men who express themselves through high fantasy or high academic interests. I do not think of someone who worked with stars of the stage and screen, and yet Nevill Coghill was just such an Inkling.

Coghill was born in 1899, saw action in World War I as a second lieutenant in the trench mortar division of the Royal Artillery, then went on to an education at Exeter College in Oxford, earning a first-class degree in English in 1923.

It was during his time at Exeter that Coghill befriended C. S. Lewis. Lewis, an atheist at the time, viewed Coghill’s Christian faith as an archaic value system.

Coghill became a fellow of Exeter in 1925, demonstrating his talents as a dramatic producer in his leadership of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Among the actors whom Coghill directed in those years was the young Richard Jenkins, who later earned worldwide fame under the name of Richard Burton. In 1957, Coghill was elected the Merton Professor of English Literature.

Nevill Coghill is best known for modern translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canturbury Tales, which was originally translated for BBC radio production, though now is a standard text for students of English Literature.His translation took on a second life by being transformed into a West-End and Broadway musical with Martin Starkie. This production earned one Tony Award for Best Costume Design in 1969, and was nominated in four other categories as well.

Coghill was married, fathered a daughter, and divorced. According to a memoir by Reynolds Price, Neville “lived a quietly homosexual life thereafter.”

He was Merton Professor of English Literature of the University of Oxford from 1957 to 1966. He died in November 1980.

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