If you’re a fan of Narnia or Middle Earth, you may want to know more about the Inklings, the group of writers who came together regularly in Oxford to share a pint and to discuss their latest literary creations, from The Hobbit to an allegory on creativity to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
There’s a new biography on the literary lives of the Inklings coming this summer, and it got me thinking about all the good books I’ve read about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their friends. They’re a fascinating group of people and I just can’t get enough. So while we wait for The Fellowship to come out in June (it looks good!), here are a few other books to read on The Inklings.
The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter
The Inklings is an engrossing group biography, complete with trips to the Eagle and Child to share a pint and evenings spent reading works-in-progress aloud to each other, as well as all the drama and personal complications that came with working in such close proximity with friends.
Humphrey Carpenter does a great job of examining these men’s lives in the context of their friendship with each other. Fascinating.
The Inklings of Oxford by Harry Lee Poe, photography by James Ray Veneman
A guide to Magdalen College, the Eagle and Child pub, Christ Church, and the other locations familiar to the Inklings.
Oxford was central to the lives of these men, and this book gives you a glimpse of the streets they walked and the lives they lived.
It even includes a walking path into Headington, where C.S. Lewis lived with his brother at The Kilns.
C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
I’ve read a lot of good biographies of C.S. Lewis – Lenten Lands by Douglas Gresham, The Magic Never Ends by John Ryan Duncan – but this one is my favorite. C.S. Lewis was kind of a complicated guy, and Alister McGrath does not avoid his oddities or mistakes. To me, seeing the whole picture just makes his story that much better.
Who was Jack Lewis? How did a midnight conversation with Tolkien in an Oxford garden change his whole life? What was his relationship with his brother really like? It’s a fascinating portrait of an eccentric and awesome man.
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
The story of the creator of Middle Earth – from a sad childhood, through World War I, into life as a professor of English in Oxford, where one day while marking essay papers, Tolkien found a blank sheet of paper and jotted down the line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
The creation of The Lord of the Rings was long and winding, and Humphrey Carpenter tells the story well.
The Oxford Inklings by Colin Duriez
This is a new one that just came out this month so I haven’t read it yet, but oh man, it looks good. Walter Hooper calls it “one of the best books on the Inklings I’ve ever read” and Harry Lee Poe says that Colin Duriez “makes us feel as though he has just come from a morning with [the Inklings] at the Eagle and Child.”
I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
So those are the best books I’ve read on the Inklings. And of course there are the many great books written by the Inklings themselves, from Narnia to The Lord of the Rings to Mere Christianity to Surprised by Joy. (If you want to know where to start, Rioter Kate Scott wrote a great beginners guide to C.S. Lewis.)
And a quick bonus round:
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
This book isn’t directly about the Inklings, but it’s written by a friend of C.S. Lewis and includes 18 letters from him. It’s a memoir about grief, love, and the journey to faith, and it’s sad but oh so good.
And if you want a bit more England and Oxfordshire, here’s our guide to literary Oxford.