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The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Their Friends [Paperback]

Humphrey Carpenter
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

2 Jan 2006

Critically acclaimed, award-winning biography of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and the brilliant group of writers to come out of Oxford during the Second World War.

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends were a regular feature of the Oxford scenery in the years during and after the Second World War. They drank beer on Tuesdays at the ‘Bird and Baby’, and on Thursday nights they met in Lewis’ Magdalen College rooms to read aloud from the books they were writing; jokingly they called themselves ‘The Inklings’.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien first introduced The Screwtape Letters and The Lord of the Rings to an audience in this company and Charles Williams, poet and writer of supernatural thrillers, was another prominent member of the group.

Humphrey Carpenter, who wrote the acclaimed biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, draws upon unpublished letters and diaries, to which he was given special access, in this engrossing story.

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The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Their Friends + J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography + The Road to Middle-earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (2 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007748698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007748693
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 276,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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‘A constantly enjoyable volume’ John Carey, Sunday Times

‘A triumph of skill and tact… not one dull or slack sentence’ Kingsley Amis, New Statesman

‘It must be technically very difficult to write a biography of more than one person at a time: it is still more difficult to capture the atmosphere of a group… Mr Carpenter has managed both things admirably’ Mary Warnock, Sunday Telegraph

Book Description

Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for Best Biography

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Human (and Inspiring) Tale 17 Jun 2010
Through the years, I've had numerous friends who've been fascinated/inspired by the life and works of C.S. Lewis. Due to that, I read both Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity while in college, though I didn't really enjoy them until I reread these works in 2009. I also enjoyed the 1993 film Shadowlands, but didn't have a great interest into learning about Lewis' life until more recently. Two issues of Christian History whet my appetite, and I eventually read The Narnian earlier this year. C.S. Lewis not only had a voluminous literary output, but his life itself proved a strong example of Christian faith in action. Yet, how did his books come together?

The Inklings, Humphrey Carpenter's engaging work from 1978, sets out to answer that question. It shows how Lewis benefited greatly from the feedback of others, and how the creator of Narnia conversely aided fellow authors with their respective works. This text also gives the reader helpful insight into how Lewis and Tolkien's philosophical and theological differences led to their regrettable estrangement. It further demonstrates how lesser-known characters, such as Charles Williams, played a role in Lewis' intellectual journey and social life.

If one is looking for an extensive biography on Tolkien, this is probably not the best place to go. Humphrey Carpenter wrote a much-praised volume about him one year before The Inklings, so Tolkien's interactions with fellow Inklings are a primary focus here. As part of that, the reader does get the feeling that C.S. Lewis helped to make the Lord of the Rings a reality through his constant encouragement. At the end of The Inklings, it's obvious that Tolkien never forgot Lewis' personal and professional contributions to his own life story.

This work is full of other "nuggets" as well, including one chapter devoted to creating a hypothetical Inklings meeting. If you're in the market for a Lewis-related biography, you won't go wrong here.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lewis, Tolkien, Williams and others. 9 Nov 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Humphrey Carpenter's "The Inklings" charts the lives of the Inklings, and the lifetime of the group itself.

It begins with potted biographies of CS Lewis, and Charles Williams. Tolkien's life is alluded to throughout the book, but he doesn't get this level of attention, apparently because Carpenter wrote a more detailed biography of him. This is the one disappointment of the book.

We get to see Lewis in a different light. Less the dusty academic and more doing jobs around the house for the older woman he had a complex relationship with. We don't usually associate him with DIY.

For me, the potted biography of Williams was really informative. This Inkling is someone we all tend to know much less about. I am reading some of his "supernatural thrillers" and can't help feeling he's been unfairly forgotten.

The book then goes on to explain the Inkling meetings at the zenith of their activity, in Oxford in the 1940s. It even goes as far as to "reconstruct" a typical Inklings meeting - featuring reported conversations but fictionalised. This is very illuminating. This is how "Lord of the Rings", "All Hallow's Eve" and much of Lewis's output got developed.

Just one word of warning about the book itself - the print is very small and difficult on the eyes. Admittedly I read this book a little too late at night, but the print is still too small for very intense reading.

But on the whole, this is a fascinating read.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Having read this book just prior to working on my own commission - a biography of folk singer Bert Jansch within the context of the British folk and blues scenes of the early 60s (published as 'Dazzling stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival', bloomsbury 2000) - I found it immensely inspirational. The content, of course, had no bearing on my own work but Carpenter's book gave me confidence that complex interweaving of what are effectively multiple biographies within one book and within a single, binding and (most importantly) eminently readable narrative thrust COULD be done. Further, Carpenter's lean and accessible writing style belies the comprehensiveness of his research. True, one can find more detailed biography on Tolkien and Lewis as individuals elsewhere but Carpenter paints a particularly intriguing portrait of the relatively obscure Charles Williams and builds up a compelling portrait of these writers' interactions from minimal documentary sources but filling the gaps of formal knowledge with great insight and convincing conjecture. His recreation in one chapter, for example, of a typical Inklings meeting in Lewis' rooms is brilliantly done through recreating as conversation views known to have been held by all the participants and, as far as possible, by importing actual sentences and arguments from the various letters and writings of each one. This kind of work is rarely successful in my judgement, but Carpenter pulls it off wonderfully. This book is both a good read for those casually interested in the main protagonists, and - in my view - an inspirational work of research and realisation for other biographical writers. Brilliant!
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars VERY VERY READABLE 10 April 2006
By cname
I'm currently doing a research paper on the Inklings and I found Carpenter's biography extremely useful, easy to read, and exciting. He has an incredible way of taking you back to the past and making it come alive.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody interested in Lewis or Tolkien can afford to miss this book
If you'd gone into an Oxford pub on a Tuesday during the Second World War, you might have seen three tweedy, middle-aged men laughing uproariously over their beer and baccy - C. S. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nat Whilk
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating insight into a group of extraordinary individuals whose...
`The Inklings' were just a group of friends who let their imaginations `run wild' and spent many a happy hour discussing all things remarkable, inexplicable and simply wonderful. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Lucinda
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Anyone who has enjoyed the books of CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien should read this book. It is an account of the group of friends who gathered around these two for many years in Oxford. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mr. J. Hastings
4.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing story of literary friendship
A very atmospheric book, great writing about Oxford, literary criticism and literature of ideas. The Inklings themselves come across as surprisingly odd and unlikeable to this... Read more
Published 20 months ago by 86erbooks
5.0 out of 5 stars Deleted my previous review as it was off topic
Dear 86erbooks,

Your critical comment on my review of "The Inklings" was justified and I have therefore deleted it completely. Read more
Published on 8 Sep 2011 by Post enlightenment
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
This book is absolutely great if you want to discover more about Tolkien and Lewis. But what if found the best part is that you discover loads about their friends whom you almost... Read more
Published on 17 Feb 2006 by Reto Steffen
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