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Book explores Lewis’, Tolkien’s Oxford


JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–The friendship between C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their contemporaries at Oxford University is explored through both text and photography in a book released by Zondervan.

“The Inklings of Oxford,” by Union University faculty members Harry Lee Poe and Jim Veneman, tells the story of the Oxford “Inklings,” a group of writers who met together every week to discuss their writing and other topics of interest. Lewis and Tolkien were the most notable members of the group, which met together for 30 years.

Poe provides the text for the book, while Veneman provides an array of photographs. Poe is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union; Veneman is assistant professor of communication arts as well as Union’s director of visual communications.

“This is a book that I always wanted someone to do so that I could have a copy of it to flip through,” Poe said. “I always expected someone else to do it. I suggested it to a number of people, who just never did it….

“I wanted to do a picture book,” Poe added. “I wanted people to get a sense of the town where the Inklings lived and worked, and as much as possible to get a sense of the feel of the place where they created Narnia and Middle Earth, and to see how the setting could have stimulated their imaginations.”

Poe said the book was intended primarily for those who have seen the “Lord of the Rings” or the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies and consequently taken an interest in the two authors. As such, The Inklings of Oxford is an introduction to Tolkien and Lewis, and not a critical text.

For those who are already familiar with the authors, Poe said the photography in the book would be the main attraction.

“This book includes pictures of a lot of places that have never been included in studies of Lewis and Tolkien before,” Poe said. “For someone who has actually been to Oxford, I think the book is a great souvenir. It’s a memory piece. It’s something that people would enjoy having to flip through over and over to remind them of the experiences they’ve had in Oxford.”

A subtext to the book is how and why Lewis became a Christian, and how the Christian faith of the Inklings influenced their writings and affected them on a day-to-day basis.

“So in that sense, the book is a form of apologetic for the Christian faith,” Poe added.

Veneman took the pictures for the book during a two-week visit to Oxford, where Poe already had visited numerous times.

Veneman, in a blog, recounted, “Not long at all into this endeavor I realized that Hal, one who possessed quite a knack for the visual, provided excellent counsel all along the way. Given my lack of knowledge of the various settings and their specific significance, I’m afraid my questions were relentless. I was completely captivated by the stories of where we were, and I am absolutely convinced there is no better storyteller…. Scene after scene, the partnership [with Poe] captured far more than I could have alone.”
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Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. “The Inklings of Oxford” is published by Zondervan and available from online booksellers.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth
    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.Read All by Tim Ellsworth ›