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“The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams,” by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 656 pages, $35.00 (Hardcover)
The Inklings perhaps were the 20th century’s most influential literary circle. Three members, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Barfield legitimized fantasy as a literary genre, a field which has grown explosively over the last 40 years.
“The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams,” by husband and wife team Philip and Carol Zaleski, examines the men of the Inklings and their impact on literature.
The Inklings, a literary club which met regularly at Oxford, England was all male, Christian, and intellectual. Several were Oxford dons; all were writers. They met to encourage each other as writers.
The book follows the lives of the Inklings as well as their writings. The book looks at all of the Inklings, and even the women like Dorothy Sayers and Sister Penelope Lawson associated with the group. Its focus is sharpest on the four most influential Inklings: C.S. Lewis (best known for his Christian apologetics and the Narnia series), J.R.R. Tolkien (and his massive Middle Earth mythology), Charles Williams (who wrote supernatural shockers), and Owen Barfield (a philosopher who influenced novelist Saul Bellow).
It was a stellar combination of authors. Even members regarded today as minor members had impressive careers. Lewis’s older brother Warren, sometimes dismissed only as his brother’s shadow, was an acclaimed historian. He wrote seven impressive volumes about the court of Louis XIV.
There are many surprises. Lewis and Tolkien created the group, but Charles Williams, who joined late, provided a creative spark which seemed to have flickered out after his death in 1945. Great things followed, but something vanished with Williams. Individual Inklings pulled in different directions.
The Zaleskis trace the arc of the group, showing how it formed, the role Christianity played, the fruits of the collaboration, and the impact the members’ works had on the world.
They are shown as humans who always strove, but sometimes failed.
“The Fellowship” is a book which will delight readers of the Inklings’ books. It offers a fascinating view on a noteworthy constellation of authors.
This piece was originally published in the Daily News of Galveston County.Published in