Book Review: The Inklings Handbook

The Inklines Handbook:  The Lives, Thoughts, And Writings Of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, And Their Friends, by Colin Duriez and David Porter

Many people reading this book will enter it already being familiar with the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien as well as C.S. Lewis.  One of the authors at least (Colin Duriez) has made somewhat of a career of writing about the Inklings and this is certainly a worthy effort in preserving the gravy train of book royalties in writing about some of the most important writers of the 20th century.  I am less familiar with the other writer, but suffice it to say that this book does a really good job in bringing attention to the lesser known members of the Inklings whose works have not been read.  It is an easy thing to know something about the Chronicles of Narnia or Middle Earth, and virtually all of the people reading this book will be familiar with those, but there are a lot of works written by other members of the Inklings that are less well known, and I would like to be more familiar with some of it despite it being hard to find, or else I likely would know some of these works better.

This book is a relatively short one at a bit more than 200 pages.  The book is divided into two unequal parts.  The first part of the book is short, at less than 50 pages, and discusses the life and times of the Inklings (1), a chronology of their lives and writings (2), a discussion on the making of Narnia (3), a glimpse into Tolkien’s Middle Earth (4), a discussion of the relationship between Arthur, Logres, and the Empire in Charles Williams’ writings (5), and a discussion of the relationship between theology and fantasy in the writings of the Inklings (6).  The second part of the book, which takes up almost 200 pages, is a detailed A-Z list of matters relating to the Inklings and their thinking.  This includes the books written by the Inklings as well as their subjects of interest (like Natural Law and Natural Theology) and contains a great deal of obscure information about the writings and thinking of the Inklings that will likely be unfamiliar to most of the book’s readers, and may inspire more research so that it becomes more familiar in the future.  After this the book ends with a bibliography as well as a selection of writings about the Inklings.

If this book does anything, it is putting the works of the Inklings into a perspective where one can see the influence that the various members had on each other.  Likewise, the book does a great job at pointing out the writings of those members of the Inklings who are less familiar to readers today.  Owen Barfield’s thinking on poetry as written about in Poetic Diction had a massive influence on the thinking and writing of Tolkien and Lewis, and even if his religious beliefs were a bit different, he still contributed mightily to the thinking of his friends.  Similarly, Charles Williams, if an obscure writer these days, was once very well regarded even if Tolkien disliked him and even if certain aspects of his thinking and life were at least a little bit creepy.  Perhaps the most surprising case of all is that of C.S. Lewis’ brother Warnie, who turns out to have been an accomplished historian of ancien regime France in a way that I would like to become familiar with.  If a book like this can help the writings of these forgotten and obscure Inklings to be more familiar with an audience who already appreciates Lewis and Tolkien, that would be a good thing.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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