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The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter

The Inklings (1978)

by Humphrey Carpenter

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Fascinating. I am learning a lot that I did not know.
  drjwsimmons | Jun 5, 2018 |
Lovely biographical study of a circle of friends oh God I'm in too much pain after dancing like a lunatic at my sister's wedding, I'll review this anon. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Really liked it.

It is a biography of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams and it dabbles into the story of the people that joined them for their Inkling meetings.

Lewis was the person that really pulled the group together so the book does focus on him in the beginning and end. I grew to like Williams more towards the end of the book but his beliefs were an odd mix of mysticism and Christianity. It was pointed out that some of life was walled off from the Inklings so the reader gets a fuller opportunity to judge him than Lewis and Tolkien did. Tolkien did not care much for Williams and this led to a cooling of friendship between Lewis and Tolkien. Which was a shame.

It's worth noting that Tolkien said that Lewis's gift of encouragement was the only thing that kept him writing for years. Without Lewis it is possible we never would have had the Lord of the Rings.

Lewis and Tolkein did have different views on some subjects within their faith. But, this did not stop them from seeing the value in the good each followed.

The best and most attractive thing about this book was the story of friendship and how the group met frequently and celebrated their shared passions in their own community around story, good food and drink, tobacco, and friendship. It's a wonderful life. ( )
1 vote Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
Carpenter states that this "book is largely concerned with C.S. Lewis; for, as I have argued in it, the Inklings owned their existence as a group almost entirely to him." It's a reasonable argument to make: The Inklings' Thursday meetings were held in Lewis' rooms at Magdelen College, and Lewis was responsible for the inclusion of several other regular Inklings: his brother Warnie, for one, and Charles Williams for another.
Tolkien and Williams are both mentioned in the book's subtitle, but Carpenter had already written about Tolkien's life in J.R.R. Tolkien: A biography, and as Williams was only in Oxford during WWII, his involvement and influence was more limited. Therefore The Inklings is framed by Lewis' life; it begins with Lewis as a young boy and ends with his death.

Nonetheless, it is also a biography of a group of friends. Carpenter looks at the other labels one might give the Inklings and shows that "friends" is the only one which fits perfectly. (They had things in common - Oxford, Christianity, attitudes to literature - but even then, these things defined each of them in different ways. And they were not all academics or even writers.) Both of these focuses, Lewis and friendship, go hand-in-hand; Lewis valued his friendships very highly and they had a huge influence on his life.

I like the approach Carpenter takes - it is intelligent, informative and carefully researched. He constantly quotes the Inklings themselves - mostly things they wrote in letters or diaries (and provides an appendix of sources. After the internet's relaxed attitude to providing formal citations, I found this refreshing). He also writes about the Inklings as if they were real people: they have prejudices and inconsistencies and mysteries which even a careful biographer cannot conclusively answer.
By the time Carpenter spends a chapter imagining the conversation at an Thursday night meeting of the Inklings, it is clear that Carpenter knows his subjects - their relationships, their opinions and the sorts of conversations they had - very well. "Thursday evenings" is delightfully plausible and ultimately does not pretend to be anything more than what it is: an artificial reconstruction which attempts to catch "the flavour of those Thursday evenings" rather than provide an completely factual account.

I found the The Inklings to be absolutely fascinating. And then I had to read J.R.R. Tolkien: a biography.

(I wrote a longer version of this review, which includes quotes, here.) ( )
  Herenya | Oct 6, 2014 |
A group biography, of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien and others who made up the informal Oxford group known as the Inklings. Carpenter is also the biographer of Tolkien, and he runs a gentle touch over each of these. Between the lines, they seem a very atypical bunch – highly conservative, loudly Christian and women-hating, or at least women-ignoring bunch. C. S. Lewis comes across as repressedly gay, but maybe he was just tormented by his upbringing, which included being dumped, as a young boy, as a boarder in a British ‘public’ school. An informative book, in the end, somehow dissatisfying. Read November 2008 ( )
1 vote mbmackay | Aug 30, 2009 |
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Humphrey Carpenterprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ruggerini, Maria ElenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedicated to the memory of the late W.H. Lewis ('Warnie')
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From the nursery window of the big house there could be seen a line of long, low mountains.
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