"Looking for the King" – Review

What would it be like to share a drink with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the rest of the Inklings? How would you like to talk with some of the most imaginative men of the twentieth century?

Looking for the King (Ignatius Press, hardcover, 250 pages), a new book by Lewis-expert David Downing, is your ticket to these experiences. The book follows a young man, Tom, as he treks through twentieth-century England while researching Arthurian legend. Aware of Lewis’ expertise in the field, Tom arranges to meet with the Oxford don, and ends up being invited to meet with the rest of the Inklings.

The group guides Tom on his journey, which quickly turns into a full-blown adventure as his research intersects with an even more alluring quest: the search for the legendary Spear of Destiny, the spear that pierced the side of Christ. The Inklings, as Tom’s archaeological and spiritual advisers, eventually help Tom find both of the ancient Kings he is searching for, the one of ancient legend and the one of faith.

Downing’s book shares its plot with the popular DaVinci Code: an exciting quest for legendary relics and spiritual answers. But Downing’s book differs from Dan Brown’s bestseller in two major ways.

First, Downing’s book is historically accurate and honest, true to the sights, sounds, people, and events he records. Unlike Brown, Downing clearly acknowledges his rare points of deviation at the end of his book. Though Downing deals with legend and even visions and dreams, he never proposes fictional creations as fact.

Second, Downing’s book is spiritually uplifting, not degrading. At one point, Tom shares a profound religious discussion with Lewis, one that changes his own spiritual outlook. Religion is generally seen by all of the protagonists as good, not evil. Unlike The DaVinci Code, Looking for the King provides strength to Christians instead of scandal.

Though the adventure story is exciting, the Inkling conversations are really the highlight of the book. As a lover of Lewis and Tolkien in particular, I’ve never experienced these men quite like I did through Looking for the King. Downing primarily uses excerpts from the letters and writings of each man in their conversations, giving authenticity to each dialogue. He even includes mannerisms and nicknames shared among the great thinkers, making the interactions even more believable. Numerous Inkling experts have marveled at how Downing brings these men to life, and I share their enthusiasm.

There are many good biographies of Lewis, Tolkien, and the rest of the Inklings, but Looking for the King is unique. Introducing these men through informal dialogue reveals a facet of these men not seen anywhere else. If you ever hoped to meet the Inklings, Looking for the King is as close as you can get.

(P.S. Since I have an extra copy of  Looking for the King, the book will be featured as the next Weekly Giveaway, so check back this Friday for a chance to win!)

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