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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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. They gathered weekly in a pub and in Lewis' rooms in Magdalen College to drink beer (a lot of beer - I am surprised they didn't all die of liver cirrhosis) and read to each other poems, stories and books that they were writing. Without the Inklings we might never have had the "Lord of the Rings", although we would probably have had the Chronicles of Narnia.
I found it a fascinating read and have only one or two quibbles. For example, Carpenter does not mention the Evacuees that Lewis and his brother hosted for several years during the Second World War and who provided at least one of the sparks that led on to the writing of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Then on pp 216/7 Carpenter describes the meeting of the Socratic Club in 1948 when Elizabeth Anscombe severely and effectively criticised one chapter of Lewis' latest book of Christian apologetics "Miracles". Carpenter says that Lewis was deeply disturbed and wrote no further books of Christian apologetics for ten years. This is somewhat misleading; Lewis revised the offending chapter in the light of Anscombe's critique and the book was republished (and is still in print).
A wonderful evocative biography of the "inklings". Today most people are familiar with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but thanks to this book I have discovered the interesting novels of Charles Williams on the theme of the mysterious workings of the universe and transdimensional phenomena.
`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. As stated on the older edition of this book, the Inklings were...
"A group of writers whose literary fantasies shall fire the imagination of all those who seek a truth beyond reality"
C.S Lewis, JRR 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 & Baby' and on a Thursday night they would meet in Lewis' Magdalen College rooms to read aloud from the books they were writing. Jokingly they called themselves "The Inklings". C.S Lewis and JRR Tolkien first introduced `The Screwtape Letters' and `The Lord of the Rings' to an audience in this company, with Charles Williams (poet and writer of supernatural thrillers) being another prominent member of this select group of individuals. Humphrey Carpenter (who also wrote the highly acclaimed biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, draws upon unpublished letters and diaries, to which he was given special access to create this thoroughly engrossing story.
This highly enjoyable read is a triumph of skill and tact, for it not only paints a clear and vivid picture of these iconic individuals but it doesn't contain one single dull or slack sentence. I am sure that when Humphrey Carpenter set about producing a biography of more than one person, (certainly not a small feat!) he was presented with difficulties such as capturing the atmosphere of a group of people. He however managed to overcome these challenges, as a skilled writer himself, for here we have an admirable example of a biography of not just one individual but many whom all contributed to a group known as `The Inklings'. Also included within are details relating to other members of this group, alongside the familiar C.S Lewis, Charles and Tolkien.
I would highly recommend this wonderful book as an informative, insightful read that delves deliciously into the past and presents us with a privileged glimpse of these memorable people who impacted so greatly on Literature. As an ardent admirer of JRR Tolkien and his works, I was initially keenly intrigued by those comments relating to him, on the other hand I have always loved C.S Lewis' `Narnia' creation and so these two prominent individuals certainly stood-out. But, it is additionally the other tales, stories and `fables' (not everything said about who was a member is true), that I found equally as entertaining to read about. This book highlights the value of friendship and the sharing of ideas, creative imaginings and concepts that are as dearly cherished today as they were many years ago...