Sunday, December 12, 2010

Q&A with David Downing, author of "Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel"

I was delighted to get the opportunity to interview David Downing, as his new novel, Looking for the King is one of my book recommendations in my Catholic Post column this month.  For any fans of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Arthurian Legend, this book is intriguing and a fun read.

(For some reason, Blogger is only sporadically allowing me to upload photos lately, so I don't have a photo of the author.   You can see one here.)

We're having a book giveaway of this novel, thanks the generosity of publisher Ignatius Press.  You can enter by commenting on this post, or by leaving a comment on tomorrow's giveaway-specific post.  Don't forget you still have one more day to enter the giveaway for The Father Brown Reader II.

Q.  I really enjoyed the book and the characters.   How did you get the idea for the novel, and including the “Inklings” authors as characters?

My wife and I visited Somerset and Cornwall in 2005, and we were fascinated by all the Arthurian sites, the stories that Joseph of Arimathea came to England, perhaps bringing with him the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus. Around Glastonbury, one meets people who talk about "Old Joe" or "Big Joe" as if they just spoken with Joseph of Arimathea in a pub last week!

The following year I read Matthew Pearl's literary detective novel THE DANTE CLUB, in which a circle of American poets and scholars (Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell) help the local police solve a series of Dante-esque murders occurring in 19th century Boston. I enjoyed the unusual combination of mystery and literary biography, and I thought the Inklings would make an even livelier group to help some young adventurers on their elusive quest.

Q.  Is this your first work of fiction?  Can you tell me about your other books?

I have published short fiction before, but this is my first novel. Most of my other books are about C. S. Lewis:
  • PLANETS IN PERIL: A CRITICAL STUDY OF C. S. LEWIS'S RANSOM TRILOGY (University of Massachusetts Press, 1992)
Just to keep from getting into too much of a rut, I have also written a book on misconceptions and misquotations concerning the Bible (WHAT YOU KNOW MIGHT NOT BE SO) and a book on the Civil War (A SOUTH DIVIDED).

Q.  What is your favorite of the three “Inklings” in this book & why?

I am going to have to beg off this question; I’m afraid it is a little like asking parents which one is their favorite child!

I will say that what I admire most about Tolkien is his epic imagination, as well as his equal devotion to work and to family, as he was very much involved in raising his three sons and daughter.

What I admire about Lewis is his versatility—not just his classic Narnia stories, but also his renowned literary scholarship, his Christian apologetics, science fiction, and even poetry. Yet in Lewis all these diverse literary interests and talents are united in service to his Christian faith and values.

 For Williams, I am impressed by his intellectual energy and earnestness, his ability to combine intellect with Spirit, so much so that some of his friends considered him to be almost a living saint. Lewis said that Williams looked something like a monkey when you first met him; but when he began speaking, his face radiated so much joy and love, you felt as if you were listening to an angel.

Q.  I’ve only recently learned about author Charles Williams (when our family made a trip to the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College).  What would you recommend for the first thing to read by this author?

Williams was a prolific writer, producing nearly a book a year—novels, plays, poem cycles, histories, biographies, and books on theology. I think he is most remembered for his “supernatural thrillers,” novels in which characters come to learn that their everyday world is surrounded by a whole other dimension—what Williams like to call the “Arch-natural” world. Williams’ two best novels, or at least the easiest to understand, are probably War in Heaven (1930) and  Descent into Hell (1937). Personally, my two favorite books of his are his short introductions to Christian theology and church history: He Came Down from Heaven (1938) and The Descent of the Dove (1939).

Q.  What is your favorite work of the other two authors, and why? (C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien)

This question is easier to answer for Tolkien. His great masterpiece is his epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. I don’t think any of his other works compare to the project to which he devoted almost twenty years of his life. I think Tolkien’s most under-read and under-rated story is “Leaf by Niggle,” a charming self-portrait with allegorical overtones that suggests most directly Tolkien’s devotion to his Catholic faith.

For Lewis, I’m afraid I am going to have to “plead the Fifth.” He was such a gifted and versatile writer that asking me to pick out one favorite is like asking me whether I prefer chocolate or springtime. How does one compare?

I would once again like to nominate a book as under-rated and under-read, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. This was the last book Lewis wrote before his death, and so it is his “last word” on many of the topics he touched upon so often in his writings—grief and hope, faith and doubt, and, above all, love.  The book also explores the role of prayer in shaping our lives in this world and preparing us for the next.

Q.  What do you think of the movies made of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and currently the Chronicles of Narnia series? (with the newest one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, due out this Friday)

I was skeptical about both projects, as earlier attempts to adapt Tolkien and Lewis for films and television have been consistently disappointing. But I was pleasantly surprised by Peter’s Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. He has an amazing knack for casting characters and portraying scenes as if they are projections from our own imaginations as we read The Lord of the Rings.

So far I have enjoyed the Narnia films, but I don’t think they have become classics in their own right, apart from the books that inspired them, the way Peter Jackson’s movies have. But I have faith in Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, as guardian of Lewis’s literary legacy.  So I am hoping that the Narnia films will just keep getting better and better.

Q.  Do you plan a sequel or another “Inklings” novel of any kind?

Yes, I am already at work on a sequel. If you look at the end of LOOKING OF THE KING, you will notice that Tom McCord thinks he might be returning to England in uniform. And Laura Hartman wishes she could enroll in one of the women's colleges at Oxford. So, yes, I believe Tom and Laura will be reunited in a sequel, facing new dangers and again needing to call upon Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams for assistance!

I just discovered recently that female students were sometimes allowed to attend Thursday evening Inklings meetings to hear Tolkien read his unfolding Lord of the Rings epic. I am very optimistic that Laura will be granted that privilege!

Q.  Anything else you would like to add?

I just wanted to mention the novel website,, which goes into more depth about the Inklings. It also includes a video trailer about the novel which is a work of art in itself!

There is a Facebook page, Looking for the King, with more articles and features about Lewis, Tolkien, and their friends. This site will also provide a forum for me to interact


  1. I'm so glad David wrote this book--Lewis, Tolkien, and Inkling fans rejoice!

  2. What a great way to get to know Lewis, Tolkien and Williams. I can't wait to read it.

  3. I'm so looking forward to reading this book! Love C.S. Lewis and Tolkien!

  4. Looking forward to hearing more about this book

  5. Can't wait to read it AND love the thought of Laura getting to attend the meetings in the future!

  6. Thank you. Enjoyed the interview and also the interview the author had with Gus Lloyd on Seize the Day. Looking forward to this book since I am a Lewis fan. Have yet to read Tolkien, except for The Hobbit.