Editor's Note: This is a the second 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.
When Jim Veneman agreed to work with me on The Inklings of Oxford, he said I would have to give him a list of every photograph I needed for the book. Not only that, he wanted to know which photographs were interior shots and which were exterior shots. Not only that, he wanted to know which shots would be taken from the east, the west, the north, and the south. He asked several other things, but by then my eyes had glazed over. This fellow had obviously never heard of the Kodak instamatic camera: point and shoot! Didn’t he own a flash? Finally, he wanted the completed text of the book before we went on our photo shoot to Oxford.
The most important resources for me in writing the book were the diaries of C. S. Lewis and his brother W. H. Lewis, and the letters of C. S. Lewis only recently edited by Walter Hooper. Most of what we know about the Inklings as a group comes from these sources with the occasional letter of Tolkien also giving light. The chatty letters and diaries tell us the places where the Inklings liked to spend time or had to spend time. They also tell us how they felt about these places and how they felt in these places. The list of the places to include in the book came primarily from these sources. So many other places could have been included, and Inklings scholars will wonder why certain places were neglected. In the end, a choice to include one place meant a choice to exclude another place.
We have included a number of places in this book that Lewis and Tolkien fans will have read about but never seen. As difficult as our selection process was, the other books had even greater limitations on them because they were not intended to share equal billing of text and images. Among my favorite spots that are included here are the air raid shelter at the Kilns, Cuckoo Lane, all of Tolkien’s houses in Oxford, the houses where Lewis lived with Mrs. Moore before they bought the Kilns, the Eastgate and Mitre hotels that shared equal status with the Eagle and Child as a favorite haunt of the Inklings. Beyond the usual places associated with Lewis, I wanted to include more about the other Inklings. We show the places associated with Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, Gervase Mathew, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, and Christopher Tolkien, as well as the Lewis brothers and Tolkien. I did not think the book would be complete, however, without some mention of some friends who were close at hand but never Inklings; such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Ruth Pitter, Sister Penelope, Austin Farer, and Joy Davidman.
I wrote the text in a little over a month. It flowed easily. I had rehearsed the narrative for years. For some time I had collected first editions, letters, and other ephemera related to the Inklings, and when Prince Caspian was released to theaters, I began exhibiting my collection at public libraries and universities. In developing the collection for exhibition to a broad public with no particular knowledge of Lewis and the Inklings, I had developed the narrative for the book.
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.