Editor's Note: This is a the first in a series of posts by Harry Lee Poe (and later by James Ray Veneman) about their experience with creating and publishing The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends. Enjoy.
Do we really need another book about the Inklings? We have Humphrey Carpenter’s fine book published in 1978. Since then Colin Duriez and Diana Glyer have written two fine books. I suppose I wanted to do this book for the same reason that Lewis wrote children’s stories. He wanted the kind of stories he wanted to read, and I wanted a book that evoked the town where the Inklings lived. I wanted a book that I could flip through on a cold winter’s night and travel again to a place I had known and loved.
I wanted a book that I could not do by myself. I wanted a picture book that compelled the reading of the story. I wanted a book that would introduce the casual reader to a group of fascinating people who had an important impact on culture and who were bound together by friendship. I wanted a book that might encourage the casual reader to pursue the books by the Inklings after seeing the movies. I wanted a book that might influence a few people to move on to Carpenter, Duriez, and Glyer.
On the other hand, I wanted a book for all those people who have read The Lord of the Rings over and over. I wanted a book for all those people who learned to read by way of The Chronicles of Narnia. I wanted a book for all those people who learned how to explore critical questions of faith by reading the apologetic works of C. S. Lewis. I wanted a book that would give all the Tolkien and Lewis fans a glimpse into the world where they lived and worked. I wanted them to see where it all happened: a landscape every bit as magical as Narnia and Middle Earth.
If the book has an inspiration, it would be C. S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby. Published in 1973, the book includes text by Kilby and photography by Gilbert. When I first saw the book in 1975, before I knew who C. S. Lewis was, I wanted to find out more about Lewis because of the images of Oxford that filled half the book. I suppose I became aware for the first time of how powerful images can be in disposing a person to draw aside and attend to something. I decided to learn more about Lewis because of the pictures. That may sound shallow, but I am a human. Shallow is what we do.
I urged a number of different friends to do this book over a ten year period, but no one seemed to want to do it. I would never have ventured it, except I wanted to do a project with Jim Veneman, the professor of photo-journalism at Union University where I teach. I had marveled at Jim’s skill as a photographer for many years. Then one day we fell into conversation about Tolkien and Lewis whom he also admired. By the end of the conversation, we had talked each other into proposing the project to Zondervan where we found the enthusiastic support of Bob Hudson and David Frees.
Harry Lee Poe, author of The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends, holds the Charles Colson Chair of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. The author of many books and articles on how the gospel intersects culture, Poe has written numerous articles on C. S. Lewis and co-edited C. S. Lewis Remembered.