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The Inklings

[The Inklings] The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends
by Humphrey Carpenter
Published by George Allen and Unwin, 1978
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback, audio cassette
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Suggested by: Greg Slade

This work is unusual in that it is like a biography, but covers a group, rather than an individual. Thus, there is biographical material on several people: C.S. Lewis, his brother Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Joy Davidman, whom Lewis married towards the end of his life. There is significantly less coverage of the other Inklings, who are less well known, but a number of whom were still alive when this book was being written. Thus, if you have already studied up on the better known Inklings, and want to learn more about the others, you will probably find this work quite frustrating. Then, too, the work tends to focus on the individuals, and says remarkably little about the group's meetings. (For example, how did the Thursday meetings in the Eagle and Child pub differ from the Thursday night meetings in Lewis' rooms in Magdalen College?) In fact, what the book mostly does is whet the reader's appetite to do further research in order to answer those questions which the book doesn't address. (Although I suppose you could argue that encouraging readers to dig deeper is an admirable goal in and of itself.)

Another factor which I found a little odd is Carpenter's perspective. Perhaps because he had already written a biography of Tolkien, whenever Tolkien and Lewis disagreed on a subject, he tends to take Tolkien's side in the argument, sometimes a bit uncritically. Thus, there are passages where Carpenter is making excuses for Lewis' behaviour or positions, which he apparently sees as unacceptable, but he does not provide enough evidence to convince the reader that Lewis was in the wrong in the first place. (And, because he had already covered Tolkien in his earlier work, he attempts to avoid repeating himself here, so we have the interesting spectacle of a work with a pro-Tolkien bias which which doesn't actually say much about Tolkien himself.)

Having said all that, I should say that I do appreciate having an extended treatment on the Inklings, since the group tends to be mentioned in passing in biographies of the various members. And, not having found any biographies of Williams, I found much of the material on Williams to be new to me. Thus, this work should be included on the bookshelf of any serious fan of Lewis, Tolkien, or any of the Inklings (not to mention those who are interested in the group itself.) However, I do have to say that this cannot be considered to be the definitive work on the subject. (December, 2007)


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