Monday, September 30, 2013

The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends: Book Review

One place I've not yet visited, and would very much like to, is England. I'm certain I'll get there in good time. But I that the England of real life will look nothing like the England of my imagination, which is a curious jumble of images drawn from Mary Poppins, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Masterpiece Theatre. Until it's time to burst that idealistic bubble, I'm enjoying armchair travel via books and films.

To that end, one of my recent favorite volumes is The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends, a glossy, photo-rich feast written by Harry Lee Poe with photography by James Ray Veneman. Lewis, of course, wrote the beloved Chronicles of Narnia series (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, et al) as well as many nonfiction books. Tolkien was the brilliant mind behind Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. The "and friends" of the title include such literary lights as Dorothy Sayers, Lord David Cecil, and Hugo Dyson.

From the book jacket: "The famed Inklings literary circle met in Oxford from the early 1930s until the early 1960s and included two of the brightest lights of twentieth-century literature--C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk this medieval city's narrow, winding lanes in the company of such giants of Christian literature? To visit Magdalen College, where the Inklings read aloud their works-in-progress to their friends, or the Eagle and Child pub, their favorite gathering place?"

Photo of Keble College, taken by James Ray Veneman
I've dreamed about walking such walks, and after spending time in this book, I almost feel as if I've done it. The photographs taken in and around contemporary Oxford are interspersed with vintage photos from the Inklings' day, as well as stories, anecdotes, memories, and insights into how the authors' Christian faith influenced their writing. The book even includes thoughtfully organized walking tours that will surely come in handy if and when I cross the pond. Highly recommended.

Are you a Lewis and/or Tolkien fan? Have you visited England, and specifically Oxford? I'd love to hear your impressions!

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

One of the best experiences for me in traveling is thinking "I am looking at the Avon River just like Shakespeare did" or "I am standing where Marie Antoinette was guillotined." I definitely feel the sense of history by traveling and the settings of history in books. Visiting Oxford was no exception. So much has happened there and I loved being a part of it decades or centuries later. I don't travel to shop but to experience the countries via historical and literary references. Thanks for bringing back good memories and reminding us one reason we read and write.