The Inklings were a small mid-twentieth-century writers group from Oxford, England, who met socially, and to share their yet-unpublished works. Such informal meetings of authors are not uncommon, but they are seldom heard about beyond their fellowship.
It is not rare for people to want to know about the authors they have read. Writers as diverse as Shakespeare and J K Rowling have been written about. Devoted fans seem to want to know what “made them click,” and if there are parts of their life they can relate to. It does seem to be rare, however, when an informal club of authors such as the Inklings gets singled out as a group for a memoir.
It is natural for fans of JRR Tolkien and C S Lewis to seek out other authors who had some kind of commonality with them. Many relate to the morality and sensibilities of the two authors, and want more of the same. They are not necessarily looking for a sameness of style or theme, but authors who appreciate what T S Eliot referred to as the “permanent things.” Fans have been influenced to read books by such diverse authors are Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers because these associates of Tolkien and Lewis have been written about in connection with them. Readers’ horizons have been expanded a bit. And that is a good thing.
Colin Duriez has now added to the public knowledge of the Inklings with a new book. Duriez previously had written several books about Tolkien and Lewis, but this is his first thorough treatise about the group as a whole. “The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien and Their Circle” came out in January, and his accessible style makes this book very readable. There are many authors who have tried to jump on the popular bandwagon in conjunction with the blockbuster movies about Tolkien’s “The Lord of Rings” and “The Hobbit,” and C S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. But there are only a very small handful of biographers who have dug deep into the archives to provide insights those who merely borrow from others do not have.
Duriez uncovers the truth (and dispels some untruths) about the rift in the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien in their later years. He also helps to set straight the rumors about why Lewis seemed to turn from apologetics to fiction. It’s not as simple as some have tried to make it. This analysis alone is worth the price of the book, but you will also find details about the lesser-known Inklings and how the group came together… and helped change the world. For those interested in further and more intense study, the Bibliography and comprehensive Index are invaluable.
Novice or expert, if you are looking to find good reading about C S Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and their associates, Duriez’ book is a great place to start.