Tuesday, November 30, 2010


So, today's mail brought David Downing's new novel, LOOKING FOR THE KING -- a book which I'd tried to find in the local Borders but eventually wound up ordering from Amazon. I'd first found out about this from a post on the MythSoc list a few weeks back; now that it's arrived it goes in the read-this-soon pile, right behind the two books I'm currently reading concurrently, one of which has to go back to the Univ. Libr. soon. Downing himself is a Lewis scholar, author of a well-received book on the space trilogy: this book is one of a growing few which treat the Inklings as ficitional characters (indeed, its subtitle is AN INKLINGS NOVEL). That is, in the course of their adventures the main characters meet J. R. R. Tolkien and various other Inklings, even attending a session at the Eagle & Child.

This places it among some fairly rocky precedents, from J. I. M. Stewart's caricature of JRRT as 'J. B. Timbermill' in his Oxford quintet (e.g., A MEMORIAL SERVICE [1976]) through James Owens' bizarre take on the Inklings in THE SEARCH FOR THE RED DRAGON [2008] (in which Tolkien is a linguistic dunce who tries to hide the fact he can't read anything but modern English).*

Somewhat less egregiously, there's been the wish-fulfillment of Xian fiction by Jeschke (e.g., EXPECTATIONS [2005]), and the graphic novel about Charles Wms, HEAVEN'S WAR by Micah Harris [2003], which is rather interesting, despite the author's near-total ignorance about JRRT. In a somewhat different category is Rbt Velarde's CONVERSATIONS WITH C. S. LEWIS, which isn't quite a novel; I've only skimmed Velarde's book, but I suspect it might turn out to be the pick of the lot.

Here's hoping that Downing's can rise above the (low) standard set by his precursors in the field of Inklings-as-Fictional-Characters*


P.S.: One odd thing I noticed; as soon as I ordered this, Amazon started lobbing recommendations for random Catholic books at me. So far as I can tell, there's nothing particularly Catholic about Downing's book; I guess we'll see.

*shades of the bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping of Th. Wheeler's THE ARCANUM [2005]-- one of those books which features characters based on real-life people (H.P. Lovecraft, Conan Doyle, Houdini) whose fictional counterparts turn out to be nothing like the real peope whose names they've been given.


N.E. Brigand said...

David Bratman gave a delightful talk about how the Inklings have been portrayed in fiction (other than their own) at the 2009 Mythcon in Los Angeles, and mentioned Stewart and Owens (who was in attendance) as well as many others; a list of the works he discussed appeared in a subsequent issue of Mythprint.

David Bratman said...

Yes, and now it looks like he's going to have to update it before he publishes it. Oh well, if your research topics aren't completely dead this is likely to happen.

John D. Rateliff said...

I remember David's piece, though I don't have a reference to it handy (what issue of MYTHPRINT was it in?). As I recall, he pointed out that this all began with the Inklings themselves -- e.g. THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS but also in Lewis's Space Trilogy (in which Lewis, Barfield, and Havard all either appear or are referenced, not to mention the possibility that Ransome is based on first Tolkien & then Williams). And of course there's the mystery novel in which CSL makes a cameo appearance, which I finally got around to reading last time I was in Oxford (it's not v. good).

I do wonder whether Downing's is the first in a series. For that matter, I'm not sure if Owens' & Jeschke's series have wrapped up or are still ongoing.

I still think Velarde gets kudos for making Tolkien & Lewis et all recognizably talk and act true-to-life, though again his is a fictional framework for philosophical discussions rather than a fiction per se (though far superior to Schakel).


David Bratman said...

The corrected version of my bibliography was in Mythprint 330, January 2010, the first electronic issue, page 11.

What's the work by Schakel you refer to?

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David.
Thanks for the specific reference to yr Mythprint piece, wh. I fd v. informative.

"What's the work by Schakel you refer to?"

My mistake: I meant Kreeft, not Schakel. The intended reference was to Kreeft's 'socratic dialogue' BETWEEN HEAVEN & HELL, in wh. he uses the fact that Lewis, Kennedy, and Huxley died on the same day to allow the three to meet up in an antechamber of the afterlife & chat about what comes next. As Kreeft portrays them, Kennedy is ignorant and naive, Lewis is right about everything, and Huxley is wrong about everything. Not v. satisfactory, but it does cluster somewhere in the neighborhood of using an Inking as a fictional character.

--John R.