Read The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter Online


During the 1930s at Oxford, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams met regularly to discuss philosophy and read aloud from their works. Carpenter's account brings to life those warm and enchanting evenings where their imaginations ran wild....

Title : The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends
Author :
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ISBN : 9780395276280
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 287 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends Reviews

  • Margaret
    2019-04-25 03:30

    Humphrey Carpenter seems to have a penchant for group biographies. I recently read his excellent book on Evelyn Waugh and his friends, The Brideshead Generation, and now I've finally managed to track down a copy of The Inklings. As with The Brideshead Generation, Carpenter does focus more on one member of the group, C.S. Lewis, than on the others, for, as he argues, "the Inklings owed their existence as a group almost entirely to him." He gives some details about the life of Tolkien (of whom he has written a separate biography) and more about Charles Williams, but it's in the depiction of the Inklings as a group that Carpenter really shines.The pivotal chapters of the book present Carpenter's description of an imaginary meeting of the Inklings and his analysis of what drew the group together. I usually don't approve of too much dialogue in a nonfiction book, as it tends to sound made-up and inauthentic, but Carpenter does an excellent job. It helps knowing that the dialogue is taken from the Inklings' actual writings (in fact, I recognized a lot of what Tolkien had to say from his letters). These chapters are compelling and convincing reading; the heady atmosphere of debate and discussion is brilliantly portrayed, making this essential reading for anyone interested in Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings. (I came out of it wanting to read more by and about Williams, myself.)

  • Jana
    2019-05-08 01:30

    This was really interesting, though I feel it focused a lot more on C.S. Lewis than on the others and I would have liked a little more balance. But it still made for a great read.

  • Katie Marquette
    2019-05-19 21:24

    Absolutely superb. Carpenter has written a fascinating biography of a very misunderstood literary group. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and many others (including Lewis's brother, Warnie, and Tolkien's son, Christopher in later years) met regularly in Lewis's Magdalen rooms in Oxford to discuss philosophy and theology, as well as to read aloud their most recent literary endeavors. In one chapter, Carpenter draws from diaries and letters in order to recreate what might have been a 'typical' Inklings meeting. This chapter seemingly brings these men back from the dead - so alive and real were these people to me... So invested was I in the conversation that many times I wanted to chime in and add my own opinion. I have learned so much from this book. C.S. Lewis (who was known to friends as 'Jack') was, for me, merely the author of the Narnia series - books I had read and cherished as a child. Jack Lewis, however, was a deeply conflicted man - a sworn atheist turned dogmatic Christian. Although much of his philosophy is vastly unappealing to me, Carpenter gives one the sense that Lewis, above all else, was a fierce and loyal friend. Afterall, Lewis was the man who brought many of these seemingly disparate authors together. Charles Williams, a man I had honestly never heard of, was greatly admired and loved by Lewis, if not by Tolkien. Williams, whose fame never reached great heights, lived a fascinating life - made all the much more interesting by his involvement with the Golden Dawn (the same society Yeats was a part of) and his compassionate philosophy. Tolkien's ideas regarding myth and dedication to what he deemed the 'holy task of subcreation' spurned the writing of the Lord of the Rings - a series which took him over ten years to finish. If not for Lewis's enthusiastic praise and criticism, it is doubtful whether Tolkien would have even finished the series. I am now more excited than ever to take a class in the fall revolving around this iconic Oxford group. I am greatly looking forward to reading their works with the new knowledge this book has bestowed on me.

  • Nicholas Kotar
    2019-05-06 02:42

    A slightly rambling account of the Inklings, focusing mainly on C. S. Lewis, with Tolkien and Charles Williams as supporting actors. It's always pleasant to spend time with these people (even if Charles Williams was certifiably insane). The only issue I have with this book is the strangely detached and critical attitude Humphrey Carpenter takes with respect to C. S. Lewis's writing. This happens in the last quarter of the book, completely unexpectedly, and it cost this book its five star rating. Honestly, I'm not that interested in what Humphrey Carpenter says about Lewis's writing. I've read most of it, and I have my own opinions, thank you very much. Not as good as his biography of Tolkien, which is definitive.

  • Nicole
    2019-05-20 00:28

    I can't believe more of my friends haven't read this book. The friendship and encouragement in art between the Inklings is inspiring.I've never had an interest in reading The Lord of the Rings, but now I must.

  • Dianne
    2019-05-10 02:14

    The Inklings were a "circle of friends who gathered about C.S. Lewis and met in his rooms at Magdalen". This interesting biography tries to tell the stories of several of them at once and it does a pretty good job. I was mostly interested in Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, but enjoyed reading about Charles Williams and the others as well. It does focus more heavily on Lewis and that's fine with me. I tend to romanticize Lewis's life because being a professor at Oxford and meeting regularly with other literary notables sounds like the perfect life to me. Of course the reality was different than my romantic fantasizing and the nitty-gritty everyday of their lives wasn't perfect by any means. Still, I loved being immersed in that atmosphere for the time it took to read the book. This is a biography worth reading if you're a fan of these authors.

  • Lucinda
    2019-05-01 02:33

    A fascinating insight into a group of extraordinary individuals whose sheer creative vision inspired many ‘The Inklings’ were just a group of friends who let their imaginations ‘run wild’ and spent many a happy hour discussing all things remarkable, inexplicable and simply wonderful. As stated on the older edition of this book, the Inklings were…“A group of writers whose literary fantasies shall fire the imagination of all those who seek a truth beyond reality”C.S Lewis, JRR Tolkien and their friends were a regular feature of the Oxford scenery in the years during, and after the Second World War. They drank beer on Tuesdays at the ‘Bird & Baby’ and on a Thursday night they would meet in Lewis’ Magdalen College rooms to read aloud from the books they were writing. Jokingly they called themselves “The Inklings”. C.S Lewis and JRR Tolkien first introduced ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to an audience in this company, with Charles Williams (poet and writer of supernatural thrillers) being another prominent member of this select group of individuals. Humphrey Carpenter (who also wrote the highly acclaimed biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, draws upon unpublished letters and diaries, to which he was given special access to create this thoroughly engrossing story. This highly enjoyable read is a triumph of skill and tact, for it not only paints a clear and vivid picture of these iconic individuals but it doesn’t contain one single dull or slack sentence. I am sure that when Humphrey Carpenter set about producing a biography of more than one person, (certainly not a small feat!) he was presented with difficulties such as capturing the atmosphere of a group of people. He however managed to overcome these challenges, as a skilled writer himself, for here we have an admirable example of a biography of not just one individual but many whom all contributed to a group known as ‘The Inklings’. Also included within are details relating to other members of this group, alongside the familiar C.S Lewis, Charles and Tolkien. I would highly recommend this wonderful book as an informative, insightful read that delves deliciously into the past and presents us with a privileged glimpse of these memorable people who impacted so greatly on Literature. As an ardent admirer of JRR Tolkien and his works, I was initially keenly intrigued by those comments relating to him, on the other hand I have always loved C.S Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ creation and so these two prominent individuals certainly stood-out. But, it is additionally the other tales, stories and ‘fables’ (not everything said about who was a member is true), that I found equally as entertaining to read about. This book highlights the value of friendship and the sharing of ideas, creative imaginings and concepts that are as dearly cherished today as they were many years ago… ‘Oh for the people who speak one’s own language!’

  • Chris J
    2019-04-21 04:20

    First with the positive: Carpenter is a gifted biographer. I feel like I have read my fair share of biographies of subjects from diverse walks of life - popular music, artists, athletes, political figures, etc. The lion's share of those biographies have been absolutely horrendous. In fact, some of the worst books I have ever read were biographies. It obviously is a skill to portray the life and times of someone in a fair yet captivating way. Carpenter has that gift. His Tolkien biography, for instance, is a fantastic read. When reading it I often had the sense that he had written that book with all my questions and curiosities in mind. The Inklings contains similar moments. It never falls into the trivial or the sophomoric. However, with The Inklings Carpenter attempted a tricky subject as he often strays away from the subject of the Inklings proper to the specifics of just one individual - mostly Lewis. While he does make the persuasive case that the Inklings was, in large part, C.S. Lewis, the book suffers from too much attention given to just him and his personal life away from his peers. One reads this book to know how these men lived life together. There are already too many Lewis biographies as it is. Carpenter's editor failed him in not focusing his efforts more to his topic. Still, there is a great deal of wonderfulness to the book and it is a must for any devotee to either Tolkien, Lewis or their inner ring.

  • Kim
    2019-05-17 21:40

    I never heard of Charles Williams but he's nearing the top of the if-i-could-meet-anyone-in-the-world-list...the most fascinating biography(ies) i've read, ever! but i haven't read too many. made me laugh to the point where i had to put the book down! i think the thing i'm learning from the book and it wasn't meant to teach this: one must not be afraid to be wholly passionate. perhaps one will find himself feeling quite alone, but that shouldn't determine one's love for something because whatever it is, it may be fully deserving of such a passion.finished. and took a lot longer than i thought because, like the critic said: every sentence is packed with meaning! loved the part of how the author makes up a scene on a typical Inklings Thursday night! also, didn't know Lewis could brandish a sword and that he did so freely with his students! one time even drawing blood!this book made me laugh and cry. I think one of the only non-fiction books to make me do both so easily.

  • Cynamonka
    2019-05-01 20:37

    Na swój sposób lubię takie książki, które poświęcone są grupie pisarzy. W ten sposób mogę się bliżej przyjrzeć sytuacji, w jakiej się znaleźli, temu, jakie więzi łączyły poszczególne osoby i poczuć, że to nie była tylko "grupa osób", ale przyjaciele, których łączyły naprawdę bliskie relacje, którzy czerpali od siebie, wpływali na siebie i tworzyli wspólnie jakąś części historii literatury. I właśnie taką książką jest zbiorowa biografia Inklingów. Bo chociaż nie była to formalna grupa, a znani są głównie za sprawą Tolkiena i Lewisa, to jednak był to mały kawałek literackiego świata, który od jakiegoś czasu bardzo mnie intrygował, i który poznałam z radością. Jedyne, co nieco mnie irytowało, to zbytnie skupienie się na postaci Jacka, chociaż jest to zrozumiałe: w końcu to on stanowił centrum grupy i to on napędzał jej działanie.Dzięki książce Carpentera można prawie poczuć się częścią tej grupy, śmiać z żartów i płakać nad osobistymi tragediami każdego Inklinga tak, jak dzieje się w przypadku dobrych przyjaciół, których spotykamy na swojej drodze.

  • Sistermagpie
    2019-05-10 00:28

    Interesting overview of the shifting group of friends calling themselves The Inklings and including CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. It really captures what I've always suspected about the group, that their imaginations were huge but their values and beliefs were pretty narrow. I especially couldn't help but think, what with the backdrop of a sort of assumed air of male superiority, how much their relationships with each other had in common with the social life of junior high girls. There was a lot of jealousy and resentment, and Lewis, especially, seemed like a fascinating but very flawed social magnet, easily hypocritical and rewriting the rules around his own whims and prejudices.Definitely want to track down the work of Charles Williams now, though it seems hard to come by.

  • Tim
    2019-05-10 23:21

    Not enough about Tolkien, and way too much about Charles Williams.

  • Nigel
    2019-05-04 04:28

    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.

  • Eric Orchard
    2019-05-08 23:33

    Excellent, entertaining group biography.

  • Christine Morse
    2019-04-22 23:28

    After visiting England, Oxford University and The Eagle and Child pub in England these authors, Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers and other Inklings authors mean so much more to me.

  • Macpudel
    2019-05-05 23:25

    This book should be called Grumpy Old Men. I should know better by now than to want to peek behind the curtain. I think I read this book in high school (besides recently) at the height of my Tolkien mania but apparently I am a different person now. I'm not sure if the writer is misogynistic or all the characters are. Lewis takes on a sort of foster mother who is portrayed as only dragging him down, Tolkien's marriage is sour, and Williams renamed his wife, then had an emotional affair with a colleague that he never got over. Let's not even discuss their reactionary politics or prejudices. I still love their work (Charles Williams excepted) but really regret digging deeper.

  • Robert Stewart
    2019-05-19 03:19

    I first read Tolkien's biography in 1986 and was determined to read The Inklings too. But it took me 31 years to get round to it. However, it was worth the wait. Humphrey Carpenter knows how to write a biography, and in The Inklings he gives us an in-depth look at the lives of the most important members of this select literary group. This is no hagiography. It is an honest and clear assessment of these men's lives and the impact they had on each other's work and their careers at Oxford and Cambridge. But it also touches on some of their downsides and petty jealousies. Well worth reading.

  • Yaaresse
    2019-04-29 00:29

    I read this shortly after it was published as background for a research project. I remember enjoying it overall, although I felt it had too much emphasis on C. S. Lewis compared to the others. (Yes, I know Lewis sort of spearheaded the group, but I simply was never that interested in him.) The whole group bio concept could have dissolved into a complete mess but for the excellent writing of Carpenter. This book was the one that led me to his bio of JRRT, which was actually the book I'd been hoping for at the time I read this.

  • Julie
    2019-04-28 21:29

    I am sure I would have enjoyed this more if I had read more of the works of Tolkien and Charles Williams. I was mainly interested in C.S. Lewis. and appreciated the content about him and his life and work.

  • Jill Wittkopp
    2019-05-07 02:38

    I give this 3/5 not because its poorly written or poorly researched, both are done exceptionally well, but because sections of the book are set aside for specific members of the inklings group. I found it less interesting to read in depth about Charles Williams or Lewis' brother, Warnie, than the sections about C.S. Lewis & Tolkein. For a biography, a lot of the scenes and conversations of inklings meetings are able to be told in great detail, that at points, almost reads like a novel. This is owed to the fact that many of these men kept detailed correspondence or journals that make sure these debates aren't lost to us. The most fascinating parts to me are about how Tolkein's thoughts on ideation and how some of his came to him, as well as how C.S. Lewis was really the glue that held them all together.

  • Alan Huyton
    2019-05-09 21:32

    A fascinating account of the lives, writing and interaction of these three writers. C S Lewis is portrayed sympathetically. Obviously a man given to thought and reflection on the one hand and a taste for virulent debate on the other. Charles Williams is an odd character, with his fusion of black magic and christianity. He seemed to write long and probably tedious spiritual thrillers, for modern day readers at least. I am not tempted to try them. Tolkien was far and away the greatest writer of them all, but in the book comes across as a bit of an intellectual snob. I suppose that with his background, surviving the Somme for example, and knowledge (Norse, Icelandic, Old English etc) he had a right to be. A final thought. Tolkien lived much of his life facing financial pressures. How ironic for the author of one of the best selling books ever, and that in many languages. Today, like JK Rowling, he would be famed and facing a life like one of his dragons, sitting on a hoard of gold.Anyway, there are probably modern accounts of the Inklings, but this is the classic and I enjoyed it immensely.

  • Tomavalon
    2019-05-07 03:35

    for book club on Mar 28.

  • Michael
    2019-05-15 03:23

    Not as good as his biography on Tolkien. But a fairly intimate and no-holds barred look into the lives of some of Christianity's greatest twentieth century heroes—deficiencies, idiosyncrasies, and failings along with their successes and faith.

  • Melissa
    2019-05-17 04:16

    If you are thinking about reading this book, skip ahead to Part 1, Chapter 2, and then to Part 3, Chapter 3, and read from there onward. There is some unnecessary background info. I didn't care for the author's "spin" on things, and the most interesting material begins over halfway through the book.Part 3, Chapter 3 is fascinating and well-written. The chapter portrays a typical meeting of The Inklings. Humphrey Carpenter compiled material from correspondence and diaries in a seemless way.Food for thought from The Inklings:"…romantic love may lead to the truly selfless love of God." - Charles Williams, paraphrase Tolkien and Lewis shared a belief that a myth could teach truth better than explanation or dogmatic statement.Quotes:"...I wanted to make a big story out of it, so it had got to be the Ring, not just any magic ring. (I invented that little rhyme about One Ring to rule them all, I remember, in my bath one day.)" - Tolkein on his inspiration to write Lord of the Rings"I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. The Black Riders were compeltely unpremeditated - I remember the first one, the one that Frodo and the hobbits hide from on the road, just turned up withoug any forethought... I'd never been to Bree. And then in the inn at Bree, Trotter [Strider]sitting in the corner of the bar parlour was a real shock - totally unexpected - and I had no more idea who he was that Frodo." - Tolkein on writing Lord of the Rings"Lewis retorted with the theory that, since the Creator had seen fit to build a universe and set it in motion, it was the duty of the human artist to create as lavishly as possible in his turn."- John Wain, quoting Lewis on Tolkein's stories being called escapist“All this flashy rhetoric about loving you.I never had a selfless thought since I was born.I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.Peace, re-assurance, pleasure are the goals I seek,I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek –But, self-imprisoned always end where I begin.Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.I see the chasm. And everything you are was makingMy heart into a bridge by which I might get backFrom exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking."-By Lewis, as his wife was dying

  • Ryan Reeves
    2019-05-08 04:14

    A solid book, though more informative than anything, and lacking the verve of "Jack" by George Sayer. I found the book's approach of dealing with the interplay between the Inklings a better fit than the tendency to write on Tolkien or Lewis in isolation, and then only reveling in their friendship as a backdrop to their fiction. Carpenter at least knew the context and several of the Inklings personally, and his prose is lacking in the fawning praise so common in American biographical works on these men. A few things can be noted as particularly noteworthy:1) Charles Williams was a demonically-fetished member of occult and neo-Gnostic covens. The chapter on Williams was actually quite disturbing. The account of his association with black magic were not merely quirky; they were horrifying. Carpenter describes not only his fascination with these occult movements, but shows their clear influence in his writing, shown most alarmingly in his habit of doing incantations and ritualistic diabolism on his students (all of them female students). This raised a whole new line of questioning in my mind as to how this influence can be measured in C.S. Lewis, who was known to be a great fan of Williams. Perhaps there is no connection at all--the crazy juju of Williams religious life were not necessarily visible to his immediate colleagues. 2) Carpenter does a fabulous job reconciling the personal friendship and literary differences between Tolkien and Lewis. So clear was the picture after the first several chapters: Lewis is the rich thinker who is quick with the pen (though perhaps slower to let his narratives mature), while Tolkien is of the same mind as Lewis in terms of the importance of myth, but he is also fussy about his prose and the narrative backdrop of his stories. Carpenter manages to show them as essentially one in spirit, driven apart ultimately by a difference in temperament. (One can take as Exhibit A the pictures of Tolkien and Lewis around the time of their early friendship: Tolkien is clearly the retentive-type, without a hair or thread out of place, while Lewis looks like an unwashed hobo with a 1970s flair collar. Everything about these two mens' appearance lays emphasis on the fact that their outward lives have nothing in common, and it was only the inward Sehnsucht of their souls that drew them close together.)

  • Lisa Rector
    2019-04-25 23:40

    This was the first book I'd read, by an author I've come to love, for his enjoyable explorations on various subjects, such as this innovative group of writers. I'm more familiar with Lewis and Tolkien, so it was gratifying to read about the other individuals in their circle.

  • Karla
    2019-05-04 20:37

    I cannot recommend this book for every reader, but if you have enjoyed ‘The Chronicles or Narnia’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, I believe you will find this biography of the authors interesting. Particularly as it discusses, in detail, their journeys to get those books written. The author spends the most time on C.S. Lewis. Lewis comes across as the lynchpin of these various teachers and scholars at Oxford in the early 20th century, who was the magnet for others to join their non-official group, the Inklings. He liked the name as ‘a pleasantly ingenious pun in its way suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.’ They met a few times a week to discuss literature and often read the latest chapters of their writings. I was jealous of Lewis and his brother, as they were the first to hear the initial chapters of both ‘The Hobbit’ and LOTR, read aloud by Tolkien in a pub before a roaring fire. One of the most interesting facts to me was that Lewis (known for his tale of Christ in a reimagined world of Narnia) was an atheist until he was in his late 20’s. I found his transition a bit illogical, as explained by Carpenter, though he insists it was done with logic. I also was surprised to read that Lewis’s good friend, Tolkien, vehemently disliked the Narnia series. Somewhat understandably, he didn’t think Lewis took the world of Narnia seriously, as he wrote the books quickly with many glaring errors with regards to the canon. In comparison, Tolkien took painstaking care and time to define his world of Middle Earth. He did not like anyone taking a mythology casually. I wish there had been more on Tolkien in this book – as he is one of my favorite authors - but I did start a list of ‘to-read’ books written by Lewis, Williams and others based on the interesting discussions of their books.

  • Octavia Cade
    2019-05-12 04:44

    Interesting and highly readable account of the Inklings group, albeit one heavily weighted towards Lewis. There's always a risk, I think, in reading about authors whose work I admire (The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite books) - I want to think well of them, if only to reinforce my own prejudices and taste - and mostly I leave this book thinking well of the Inklings, both as a group and as individuals. There are bits where I feel much less sympathy for them than others, but I suppose that is the case with anyone. Mostly, though, I'm left with the feeling of how extraordinary it must have been sometimes, in their meetings. Tolkien and Lewis alone would have been worth the price of admission... not that I ever would have been admitted, of course, having had the bad manners to be female, but still. I seem to have gotten LOTR out of it, and that is plenty for anyone.

  • Relstuart
    2019-05-09 00:15

    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.

  • Daniel
    2019-05-01 00:28

    Carpenter's book seems as effortless as it is deep, with rarely a contrived passage or useless tangent. C.S. Lewis comes out as the center in the book, since according to Carpenter he was the real center of the Inklings. Carpenter shows how the Inklings, at its core, was nothing more than a group of friends with similar interests. Friendship came first for C.S. Lewis, his brother Warnie, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others. That these men produced some of the most memorable literature of the 20th century over a wide range of topics is incidental to, or perhaps dependent on their deep friendship.It's typical to treat the Inklings with some sort of romantic ideal concerning a group of Christian writers, but Carpenter avoids the temptation and gives us real characters, so real that we may finally posit that figures like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien actually existed. Lewis' gifts have their dark sides, and Williams' unique brand of religion has its moments of sentimentalism. Only Tolkien appears to escape unscathed, if only for his regimented character.And finally, the last 15 pages of the book warrant its reading. Rarely do studies like this approach any kind of compelling emotion, let alone the apprehension and sadness when reading about the sufferings and death of Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis' wife, and finally those of C.S. Lewis himself.