When I was teenager I had wished to have been a fly on the wall or a participant in the famed Algonquin Round Table that was composed of writers, critics, actors and other wits between 1919 and 1929. Obviously I was a weird kid, but hearing the wit of these people along with sharpening my own wit appealed to me when I first read of this celebrated group from various books on the Marx Brothers I absorbed.
After my conversion I switched this dream to the Inklings, the regular members including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Hugo Dyson, etc. How cool would it be to sit around the table of such men and hear their back and forth conversations. This time though I would be glad to just be a fly on the wall in either of their various haunts.
I thought of this dream when I first saw the book “Looking for the King: An Inkling’s Novel” by David C. Downing. I was obviously intrigued by a novel that included the Inklings in it.
In this novel which takes place in 1940, American Tom McCord goes to England to do research for a book he is doing on King Arthur and he hopes to prove the historicity of King Arthur. The novel starts with him preparing for a meeting with C.S. Lewis where he first runs into another American Laura Hartman. The plot quickly takes on a more ominous tone and heads into almost Indiana Jones territory.
The meeting of these two young Americans as part of the plot is a bit coincidental in how both of their quests are intertwined. But as someone who loves Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse I can handle coincidence in a plot even when it hits you over the head. They are aided in this intertwined quest by the knowledge and advice from various members of the Inklings who they mostly meet individually and once as a group.
I mostly enjoyed this novel and while the plot was a bit Indiana Jones’ish – that was fine with me. The interaction with the Inklings was quite interesting, but I felt it was the conversations with C.S. Lewis that had the most authenticity to them. Not surprising since the writer has written on Lewis. The plot has a spiritual dimension to it along with questions of belief and the interactions between Tom McCord and C.S. Lewis felt very real. The scenes with Tolkien and Williams gave you some idea of the personalities of these men, just not at the same level as C.S. Lewis in my opinion.
The novel being based in the 1940 also seemed to me to have a 1940’s flavor to it. The romantic elements fit this period, or at least the writing about relationships in this period and a kind of relationship innocence as in a P.G. Wodehouse novel.
So my verdict would be that this is an fun novel that at times is quite striking on a spiritual level with some interesting conversations while at other times the dialog is less fulfilling. Having the Inklings in a novel sets up a sort of threshold that even the finest writers could hardly pull off.
I listened to the audiobook version of this Ignatius Press release with Kevin O’Brien of Theater of the Word as the reader. Once again Kevin O’Brien impressed me with the range of voices he provided for the characters. His voices also gave the book a nice quality of taking you back to this era and I especially loved his C.S. Lewis. Once again Ignatius Press is selling their audiobooks at a very reasonable price (that is compared to other audiobooks).