Inklings

Where to Start with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: Guest Post by Wesley of Library Educated

(Welcome to Inklings Week 2021! You can find all the posts here. Be sure to also follow the International Inklings Instagram account here. Hope you enjoy!)

If you’re new to Jack and Tollers and aren’t sure which book to start with, Wesley of Library Educated has got you covered!

Happy Inklings Week everybody! If you’re new to the works of the Inklings crew (maybe you’ve seen some movies and now you want to read the source materials!) you might be thinking, “this is a fair amount of books, where do I start?” (I can relate dear reader, I’ve been having these thoughts about Graham Greene and John LeCarre for a long time, so if anyone has any advice on those two…) So I’ve made some suggestions about what books you could start with and a few books that would maybe be best to wait until you have a little more experience with the author.

Let’s start with C.S. Lewis!

Books to Start With:

Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe: Even if you have never read this book or seen the movie, I bet you would recognize some names and scenes just because it’s so engrained in pop culture. Four siblings in an unfamiliar country house stumble into a magical world that is in the grip of an evil queen but hope for the inhabitants is coming in the form of Aslan, a lion that isn’t safe, but he is good. Heroes, villains, a redemption arc that will make you cry, so buckle up. 

Screwtape Letters: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – one rookie demon tempter and his old pro tempter demon uncle write letters back and forth to each other about the best way to tempt a human into a life that will lead him away from eternal salvation. I know from that description the book sounds a little dark but it’s poignant, funny (someone gets so upset they turn into a centipede, can you imagine being that mad?) and a confirmation that there is endless red tape and bureaucracy in hell, which makes PERFECT SENSE.

Out of the Silent Planet: The first of “The Space Trilogy” we follow a man who is drugged, kidnapped, and thrown into a spaceship as a sacrifice to creatures on a distant planet. (Fun fact, Lewis said he would write a space travel story and Tolkien would write a time travel story, but Tolkien never finished his). Turns out the creatures don’t actually want to eat our hero, and we are faced with the philosophical questions that are so popular in space travel: how do we relate to these previously unknown creatures? What is our obligation to each other? How do we live in peace?

Books to Wait On:

The Abolition of Man: It seems pretty obvious from this book that CS Lewis did not always have a good time in school. The book gets deep into the weeds about what things are needed to have a well rounded education and there are references to ancient philosophers (and not like, the big ones that you’ve heard of) and all sorts of other deep cut references. You can feel his passion, but it’s tough to get worked up about the English education system in the early 1900s. 

The Pilgrim’s Regress: Did you ever have to read Pilgrim’s Progress in school? It’s a book heavy with allegory and deeper meaning and you have to use your whole brain the whole time you’re reading it. Pilgrim’s Regress is C.S. Lewis’ version of the Milton classic. It’s a heavy read and it’s not really a representative example of Lewis’ writing.

Alright, on to J.R.R. Tolkien!

Books to Start with:

The Hobbit: Wizards! Adventures! Strong friendships! The threat of getting eaten! DRAGONS! (Well, just one but he’s a good one). The Hobbit is a beloved classic for generations for a reason. It’s a great place to get introduced to the Baggins clan, steadfast Gandalf and the amazing world of Middle Earth. A great place to dip your toe into this expansive universe.

The Children of Hurin: If you want to dip into Middle Earth, but don’t want a trilogy start here. It takes place 6,000 years before some rings gets a bunch of short guys into trouble during a long journey. An unlikely hero and his band rise to greatness in troubled times, but can they handle everything that will come their way?

Books to Wait On:

The Silmarillion: This book is no.joke. One of Tolkein’s last book to be published and one very near and dear to his heart, but it is not designed to be read like a traditional novel. If you put yourself in that mind set it will be an easier read. I know Jamie loves this one, but when we read it for Inklings book club I was on the struggle bus in a very real way!

The Return of the King: What I mean to say with this is – if you’re doing the Lord of the Rings trilogy you need to read them in order. It’s not like other series’ where the stories are loosely connected to each other and the characters are the same so you can read them willy nilly. Order is important with this trilogy!

What would you add to the list?

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