More Than an Inkling

“Every great man nowadays has his disciples,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “and it is always Judas who writes the biography.”  Even conceding that Wilde was writing for effect, it is nonetheless true that biographers often betray their subjects with either a kiss or a curse, and that the kiss is sometimes more deadly than the curse.  Wilde himself suffered abominably at the hands of Richard Ellmann, whose sympathetic portrayal poisoned every fact it touched with the cynicism of deconstructed meaning.  In similar fashion, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have often been ill served by their biographers.  One thinks of Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien (1977) and A.N. Wilson’s life of Lewis (1990).  It is especially irksome that Carpenter’s book on the Inklings (1978) has straddled the decades since its publication as the generally perceived definitive work on the subject, whereas, in fact, it is anything but a full and fair treatment of the most important literary group of the 20th century.  It is, therefore, entirely gratifying to find that this year has seen the publication of not one but two books on the Inklings, both of which deserve to eclipse Carpenter’s deficient and defective prototype.

The Oxford Inklings (Oxford: Lion Hudson) by veteran Lewis and Tolkien scholar Colin Duriez, is a delightful book that will warm the hearts of those who share...

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