A book fan is a fan like anybody else. Some people will loudly shout their excitement at a concert of a recently successful rock band, others will try to get an autograph and a picture from their favourite actor. Book fans will be glad to stand in line for a signing of the latest novel by their beloved author. However, to some fans things will be a bit more difficult because they take an interest in writers who are no longer among us – and that is true for this amazing circle of friends called the ‘Inklings’ who met up in Oxford in the middle of the last century. Who would not want to shake hands with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams or maybe even go out for a pint at their preferred pub and talk about all and sundry? (And that is what the ‘Inklings’ did!)
David C. Downing offers an interesting solution to this problem with his novel »Looking for the King«: To him these brilliant academics turn into characters of his tale. The renowned Lewis expert brings the three best known ‘Inklings’ back to life, cleverly using quotes from these three professors in the course of the narration. He even finds time to list some of the nicer quirks they are known for, like Tolkien, who has this alarm clock going off when he has visitors (and by this he can easily pretend to have “other business to attend to.”) The tale is something of a detective story but in the end it serves as a great opportunity to show off the outstanding talents these men had to offer.
In the war-ridden year of 1940 a young American academic, Tom McCord, comes to England to do research on a book about King Arthur. He quickly tries to contact leading British colleagues and during his preparations for a meeting with C.S. Lewis in Oxford he gets to know charming Laura Hartmann, a fellow American, who has travelled to England to help her aunt – and who has recurring dreams about long deceased heroes and ancient battles and who is trying to find some answers to them in England.
Tom asks Laura to become his assistant as he realises there seem to be certain links between his research and Laura’s dreams. They soon realise they are not the only ones on a search for long lost relics; not the only ones who are trying to explain the mysteries of hidden places. After Lewis has given them a first hint he invites them to ask for the advice of two of his colleagues: Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien, distinguished experts of their field, who help them as good as they can. When they find out that a straightforward search for places relating to King Arthur has turned into a race for the ‘Holy Lance’ that is supposed to be in England they begin to grasp the immensity of their task. One of the oldest relics of Christendom with utmost importance not only to the Holy Roman Emperors is meant to bear a piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on – and it is meant to make its bearer invincible. Adolf Hitler wants to have it …
Whoever takes an interest in the ‘Inklings’, likes a good detective story and appreciates the worlds of legends surrounding King Arthur will not want to miss this book. An absolute delight and a must read to all Tolkien -and Inklings- fans!
If you want to know more about the book and its author: There is a splendid website to visit: http://www.lookingfortheking.com
The reviewer is one of Germany’s leading Tolkien experts. He is also the Founding Chairman of the German Tolkien Society, co-founder of Ring*Con (Europe’s largest fantasy convention) and member of the Board of Editors of the academic yearbook ‘Hither Shore.’ Since 2000 he has given more than a hundred talks on Tolkien and Middle-earth in Italy, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada and Switzerland. One of his special interests is the international Tolkien community. His translation of Henry Gee’s “The Science of Middle-earth” into German has been recently published.