The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams

By Radloff, Nancy Saultz | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2017 | Go to article overview

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams


Radloff, Nancy Saultz, Anglican and Episcopal History


The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, Pp 645. $35.00.)

The Inklings officially started in 1932 as a small literary society of students and dons at Oxford University (194). Members discussed religion, politics, and ideas, and they read aloud from their "works in progress" at every meeting, which were then immediately discussed by the group (195). Members included doctors, lawyers, soldiers, and authors. They were all men, they all wrote, and they were, or became, friends. C. S. Lewis said they were "kindred souls" (199).

This is not a book about the organization. Instead, Philip and Carol Zaleski offer extensive biographies of four of the members, chosen because they were "the most original, as writers and as thinkers, and thus most likely to be read and studied by future generations. They make the perfect compass rose of faith: Tolkien the Catholic, Lewis the "mere Christian," Williams the Anglican (and magus), Barfield the esotericist" (12). Family lineage, childhood experiences, and education and career choices are presented in a clear, interesting style that makes reading delightful as well as educational. It is fascinating to discover how their families, childhood, and experiences created the authors they became; it is equally interesting to learn more about their lives as famous authors. Tolkien's greatest ambition was to create English myths, fairy tales, and heroic legends such as those of Iceland, Finland, and Germany (125). C. S. Lewis, for example, complained of having to grade papers during World War II to support himself, but believed in following God's call to heroism or the ordinary. (285-86) His faith and willingness to preach are well-known, but it was a fear that he would evangelize from the lectern that prevented his selection as the new professor of English literature at Merton in 1946 (355). The Zaleskis tell the entire story of each man fairly, presenting both their admirable and their less-than-commendable traits respectfully, never resorting to tawdry speculation or gossip. …

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