Read The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski Carol Zaleski Online

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A stirring group biography of the Inklings, the Oxford writing club featuring J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis C.S. Lewis is the twentieth century’s most widely read Christian writer and J.R.R. Tolkien its most beloved mythmaker. For three decades, they and their closest associates formed a literary club known as the Inklings, which met weekly in Lewis’s Oxford rooms and inA stirring group biography of the Inklings, the Oxford writing club featuring J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis C.S. Lewis is the twentieth century’s most widely read Christian writer and J.R.R. Tolkien its most beloved mythmaker. For three decades, they and their closest associates formed a literary club known as the Inklings, which met weekly in Lewis’s Oxford rooms and in nearby pubs. They discussed literature, religion, and ideas; read aloud from works in progress; took philosophical rambles in woods and fields; gave one another companionship and criticism; and, in the process, rewrote the cultural history of modern times.In The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski offer the first complete rendering of the Inklings’ lives and works. C. S. Lewis accepts Jesus Christ while riding in the sidecar of his brother's motorcycle, maps the medieval and Renaissance mind, becomes a world-famous evangelist and moral satirist, and creates new forms of religiously attuned fiction while wrestling with personal crises. J.R.R. Tolkien transmutes an invented mythology into gripping story in The Lord of the Rings, while conducting groundbreaking Old English scholarship and elucidating, for family and friends, the Catholic teachings at the heart of his vision. Owen Barfield, a philosopher for whom language is the key to all mysteries, becomes Lewis's favorite sparring partner, and, for a time, Saul Bellow's chosen guru. And Charles Williams, poet, author of "supernatural shockers," and strange acolyte of romantic love, turns his everyday life into a mystical pageant.Romantics who scorned rebellion, fantasists who prized reality, wartime writers who believed in hope, Christians with cosmic reach, the Inklings sought to revitalize literature and faith in the twentieth century's darkest years--and did so in dazzling style....

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

  • Book Riot Community
    2019-04-29 09:25

    For decades, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their group of merry literary men met every week in Oxford to eat, drink, debate, and critique each other’s work, and they called the group The Inklings. This new biography of four of the most famous of its members (Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams) does more than pull the reader through the lives of these men (and yeah, they’re all men)- it follows their intellectual evolution and the importance and impact their thoughts had on literature, philosophy, and culture in the pre-and post-war era. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien changed the course of children’s and adult literature, but why? What were they trying to accomplish? Where did their obsessions with fairy stories come from? What was the contemporary critical backlash like? Why are modern readers still so loyal to their stories? This isn’t just a biography of four literary greats- it’s a biography of the life of their minds, one that reveals just how genius (though certainly not flawless) The Inklings were, and it’s one I couldn’t put down. — Amanda NelsonFrom The Best Books We Read In March: https://bookriot.com/2015/04/01/riot-...

  • Cindy Rollins
    2019-05-05 08:10

    If you love Lewis and Tolkien and the idea of The Inklings, then this is the book for you. I especially enjoyed learning the timeline and content of most of their published works. We see their works being published in the context of their relationships and it is fascinating. Turns out Charles Williams is weirder than I thought and Owen Barfield more interesting. I love Lewis with a greater love than I did before, in fact, I cried when he died, as I always do. My friend, my friend! It is why I always keep a conversation going with him through his works. This time I think I will read his book on the Psalms. The Fellowship is a long book and not always easy to read but it in the end it satisfies.

  • Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
    2019-05-03 12:10

    About 1/2 C.S. Lewis, 1/3 Tolkien, most of the rest Owen Barfield & Charles Williams.Quite a lot of time and space devoted to their religious views, from Barfield's Anthroposophy and Williams' Rosicrucianism to Tolkien's Catholicism and Lewis' "mere Christianity."From the vast amount of time spent on Lewis, a bizarre (but I think accurate) picture is built of an extremely bright man, a good scholar and devoted friend, who was also the sometime academic bully, misogynist, and casual anti-Semite. Tolkien is as I would have expected (I learned little, as I have read a good bit about JRRT). Barfield and Williams were a pair of very odd ducks, but interesting ones.

  • Bob
    2019-05-24 05:23

    Summary: This traces the literary lives of the four principle Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams) the literary club they formed and its impact on literature, faith, and culture.This is a magnificent book for any Inklings lover! It serves at one and the same time as a quadruple biography of the four principle Inklings and traces the formation, life and impact of this literary gathering of scholars (all men) and their wider impact on many others, including women like Dorothy L. Sayers.As biography, it brings to life these four figures as well as biographies I’ve read on any individual Inkling. Lewis has been written on the most, and yet I thought the Zaleskis teased out more about his relationship with Warnie (who submerged his own career to a certain degree for that of his brother, and who in turn was cared for by Lewis as he struggled with alcoholism), as well as Lewis’s relationship with Mrs. Moore. We see Tolkien as a deeply devout Catholic often concerned over the spiritual lives of his sons, and his lifelong struggle to bring forth the tale of Middle Earth. We learn of Owen Barfield’s obsession with anthroposophy, and the often affectionate, sometimes not relationship with Lewis as his most significant sparring partner (he later, for a time, had an influence on the American writer, Saul Bellow). And last, we learn of the mystical romantic Charles Williams, the Oxford University Press editor who wrote “supernatural shockers” and had “interesting” though chaste relationships with a number of women attracted to his romantic vision, and whose early death in 1945 was deeply grieved by Lewis.We also learn of the formation and inner life of this all-male discussion group. Serious discussions occurred on Thursday evenings, usually in Lewis’s rooms in Oxford. Often these consisted of the reading and critique of works in progress. It was here that Barfield’s works on language, Lewis’s Space Trilogy and Tolkien’s Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring first made the light of day. If it weren’t for the encouragement of this group, as well as Tolkien’s publisher, this latter work may never have been published during Tolkien’s lifetime. More informal conversations took place on Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child (the “Bird and Baby” as it was known) and was marked by rollicking male laughter and repartee. It was also fascinating to see the critical role Williams, one of the later to join, had on the vitality of this group. When he died, something died among them as well and the gatherings began to dwindle.We also have briefer portraits of other Inkling members: theatrical producer and Chaucer scholar Nevill Coghill, biographer Lord David Cecil, poet and scholar Adam Fox, the classicist Colin Hardie, and the scholar, who along with Tolkien labored for Lewis’s return to Christian faith, Hugo Dyson. There are others as well, like novelist John Wain, and those not in the circle, but who contributed and were inspired as well, like Dorothy L. Sayers and Sister Penelope Lawson.The Zaleskis also explore key episodes in the lives of these different figures. Perhaps most striking was Lewis’s debate with Elizabeth Anscombe. The Zaleskis are more nuanced than some, seeing this both as a serious challenge to Lewis’s ideas on Miracles (he later re-wrote portions in response) and yet not as the utterly devastating setback to his apologetics that turned him to writing children’s stories. They observe that he continued to publish numerous articles on apologetic themes and that the greater concern for Lewis was the effect of apologetic argument on the soul of the apologist.What was most significant to me was the tale of how this informal gathering sparked literary scholarship, literature in a variety of genre, and for Lewis to a greater extent, and others to a lesser, a Christian intellectual presence at Oxford. This did not so much seem by design, but rather the recognition of these men in each other a vision for such things that they fueled and refined through their weekly discussions. I think of other such groups, like the “Clapham Sect” who gathered around William Wilberforce and brought about both religious renewal and social reforms including the abolition of slavery in early nineteenth century England. What particularly marked the Inklings, it seems to me, was a combination of intellectual rigor and personal affection (sometimes tried and tested) that contributed both significant scholarly work (such as Lewis’s preface to Paradise Lost, or Barfield’s work on language and poetic diction) and works of great popular impact.This is a book to be savored both by Inklings lovers and a newer generation that may wonder about the world that gave us the likes of Lewis and Tolkien. It is sympathetic without indulging in hagiography. It is real about the shortcomings of the principle Inklings without descending into a hatchet job on their lives. In it we see mere humans (and some mere Christians) whose fellowship birthed an ethos and enduring works that have touched the lives of many.

  • David
    2019-05-18 12:02

    If you're a fan of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, this book is a must read. I already knew a good bit of their stories, having read biographies of both as well as many of their works. This book covers a lot of ground, covering the stories of Charles Williams and Owen Barfield as well, with mentions of other Inklings. I appreciated learning about Williams, since I knew he was in the Inklings but I've never read any of his works. Honestly though, I can't say this book has made me want to read any of his works. He appears last and exits first and his greatest impact was on Lewis.Lewis and Tolkien tower over this story. Rather than wanting to read Williams, I want to read more Lewis (On Stories, his Letters, reread the Space Trilogy) and Tolkien (his Beowulf and Sir Gawain and Green Knight translations). There were also lots of interesting things I never knew. Apparently Orwell was not a fan of Lewis' fiction. I did not realize TS Eliot was a borderline member of the Inklings, never attending meetings but knowing many members. Same with Dorothy Sayers. Heck, this book even reminded me of the impact Chesterton and George MacDonald had on the Inklings and now I want to read more of them.That's not a knock at Williams. Just based on the title I thought I'd come away wanting to read his work and I don't. Then there's Barfield. He was the first Inkling and the last to die. I read his book Saving the Appearances and loved it, finding it challenging and wanting to reread it. I was surprised that Barfield lived in the shadow of the others and his lasting fame mostly came after Tolkien and Lewis died. It was in America where his star took off, which was also surprising. I may not be interested in Williams, but I want to read more Barfield.Overall, if you like Lewis and Tolkien, read this book. They are two authors whose thought has shaped me more than almost any other and this is a book that sheds further light into their circle of friends. Highly recommended.

  • Laurel Hicks
    2019-05-17 08:04

    My cup of tea, brewed nearly to perfection.

  • Brian
    2019-04-30 10:58

    When I first heard about this book, I thought, "Is there anything new to be said about these guys?" Apparently the answer is yes. As well as investigating their interactions with one another, and the genesis and development of their literary works, the Zaleskis do a great job placing these four in the intellectual context of their times. Their thesis is twofold. First that this group were some of the most influential writers of the 20th century, on a par with TS Eliot (who appears briefly in the book). Second, that their interest in what's now called "fantasy" (a genre that JRRT, CSL, and CW basically invented), to a large degree came out of the experience of the First World War. In this, they resembled the modernists; unlike the modernists, they wanted to re-enchant the world--or at least the imagination. This book reminded me a little of _The Triumph of the Moon_, which is also about an intellectual and literary movement reacting against modernity, and which overlaps with the Inklings. (CW belonged to an esoteric group called the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.) There's also a lot about the Inklings personal lives, their interactions with each other, and their various professional successes and setbacks. The Zaleskis' lively writing keeps it interesting. CSL, JRRT, and OB are all flawed but sympathetic in their eyes. CW comes across like somebody from another planet, and the authors have less use for him. (CSL loved him, JRRT quietly disapproved, and the authors clearly are on Tolkien's side.) CSL probably had the broadest intellectual interests (he was a formally-trained philosopher before he switched to Renaissance literature) and he was by far the most successful getting his writings into print. He read and read and read and wrote and wrote and wrote. I didn't really realize that he was an international celebrity even before the Narnia books appeared. (I've heard that some people feel CSL is trying to sneak Christianity in through the back door of children's lit with these books, but anyone who bought a CSL book in 1950 knew exactly what they were getting.) He made quite a lot of money and gave most of it away. JRRT, meanwhile, never met a deadline in his life. One scholarly work gets published over twenty years after it was commissioned! The _Lord of the Rings_, in this sense, is classic Tolkien: his publisher wants "another book about hobbits" in 1938; Tolkien promises them something in a year or two. Sixteen years later, he hands them over a thousand pages.

  • Luke
    2019-05-19 04:58

    The Zaleski's have done a very good job on this. There a few nice touches such as paralleling the liberal, modernist Bloomsbury Group with the conservative fantasist Inklings, although one does get the feeling that this is very much the CS Lewis and Tolkien show. Poor Charles Williams is introduced at around the 200 page mark only to die within a further 100 pages and Barfield gets a few brief mentions.But of course, I am forgetting myself. For the uninitiated, the Inklings were a group of academics based in and around Oxford united by a common literary interest. Lewis wrote the "Narnia" books and Tolkien "The Lord of the Rings", Williams some scholcky horror and Barfield the odd novel. All of them had a rather conservative outlook and liked to meet up at their local pub "The Eagle and Child" to discuss literature and religion. No women were allowed, but there was beer, lots of it in fact. From Lewis' famous boom which influenced the voice of Treebeard to an Charles Williams' ritual magic, lots of interesting anecdotes came out of the Inklings.In terms of what this book offers beyond a sort of combined Tolkien-Lewis biography, I think a difference is the focus on religion. Both the authors are from Christian backgrounds and choose to focus on a common Christian theme. I think this is rather a mistake- some one like Charles Williams who practiced ritual magic is a very different kettle of fish to Lewis or Tolkien and linking their beliefs in can only be done at best tenuously. This also leads to long discussions about Barfield's views on Steiner's Anthroposophy. No one who is not a semi-serious philosopher will be able to make head or tale of Anthroposophy and a serious philosopher would realize what utter bunk it is. Ploughing through those pages was a chore. The book would read much better without Barfield as a focus- indeed, Lewis' brother Warnie, who seems to be a favourite of the authors, would have made an excellent focus replacement.The work is meticulously researched with over 100 pages of notes, and is also very readable. This book will not tell you what happened to the Entwives, but if you want to know how Lewis was surprised by Joy (twice), where Tolkien got his inspiration for Luthien from and how the creepy Williams exerted a hypnotic influence over his acolytes, it will provide answers.

  • Melora
    2019-05-01 11:20

    Brilliant! I enjoyed this greatly. I started it early this summer, had to set it aside at around page 130 due to life things, and just got back to it a few days ago, at which point I devoured it. I came to this knowing practically nothing of Williams or Barfield, but found them very interesting, if also very strange. I've read other books on Tolkien and Lewis, but there was still much here that was new to me, and that deepened my appreciation of their work (and added several things to my "to read" list!).

  • Lisa
    2019-04-24 10:00

    Stumbled onto this on the 'new books' section of the local library and had to try it as I've been on a Tolkien kick lately. Came away impressed with the effort, but less impressed with the end product.First, the authors annoyed me at the very outset by going on for a page about a photo of Tolkien's family that was not in the photo insert. I absolutely detest it when authors talk about a picture but do not include it in the book. (The only exception is if the picture in question is very well known, like the Mona Lisa or the image of the sailor kissing the Nurse in Times Square on VJ Day.) I should not need to turn to the internet to tell me what you're talking about.Second, I am not quite convinced that this is truly a book about all four men whose names are on the cover. Barfield and Williams don't even get a look in until over 200 pages in, and thereafter are more or less afterthoughts until after Lewis' death. While the authors do make a good case that they were part of the Inklings circle, and possibly even important catalysts in that circle, this is primarily a book about Lewis and Tolkien and it seems a bit silly to pretend otherwise. Also, the sections on Lewis are quite heavy on philosophy, to the point where I considered giving up as I did not have the background to follow it all. Third, while it is true that not all readers will be familiar with the Inklings' works, the extensive literary summaries were a bit too much. Some had almost the air of a grade school book report. Unlike Googling for images, I would not mind having to Google the outline of a well known literary work (Narnia, Hobbit, etc.) There was simply too much space given to this authorial tic. I am afraid this book suffered from being read almost immediately after I had just read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which the authors quote extensively. While the background to some of the letters was enlightening, the large chunks of quotes felt repetitive. (I suspect this would not be the case had I not read Letters immediately prior.) I also find it troubling when authors do not properly cite their sources (they refer to Christopher Tolkien's 2012 interview with Le Monde, which they quote extensively, simply as 'an interview with Le Monde' in the text and do not source it in their notes) I start to wonder if they have played fast and loose elsewhere as well. All in all, I feel as though I learned a bit about Lewis, Tolkien, and their circle, and there were some gems of humor and wit, but to do so was a bit of a slog.

  • Jana Light
    2019-05-09 12:11

    A searching history and literary analysis of four members of The Inklings -- JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams -- driven by their literary output and intellectual engagements. The biographical framework was well-chosen (and enjoyable!) considering its subject is men whose lives were so notably internal, cerebral, and spiritual. Highly recommend to Inklings enthusiasts.

  • Briana
    2019-05-07 13:08

    The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings gives readers an in-depth look at the four men generally considered the most influential and successful of the writers’ group known as the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. The book, at a hearty 644 pages (about 100 which are bibliographic references) combines biography, religious studies, and literary studies to look at the lives of these four men and explain how their academic training and their Christian (though not always orthodox) faith influenced their writing, from poetry to novels to straight apologetics. Expect more than four overlapping biographies; Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski give a full overview of all of the men’s writing, from the influential to the unknown, summarizing it and explaining how it fit into their ever-evolving worldviews.Despite the promise of four Inklings, the focus is truly on Lewis and Tolkien. Charles Williams does not even appear in the book until after page 200, and 100 pages later, he’s dead. (Not his fault he died fist, though, I suppose.) Owen Barfield is a little more present, but he never gets as much attention as the two other authors. This spotlight on Lewis and Tolkien is, on one hand, understandable; they’re the two most famous Inklings, and readers who pick up the book are likely to have the greatest interest in them. However, one would assume part of the appeal of a book about “the Inklings” more generally would be that it would tell readers about the Inklings they don’t already know much about. (As a bonus, readers do get to learn a lot about Lewis’s brother Warnie, also an Inkling and a respected academic in his own right, but perhaps doomed to be always known as “C.S. Lewis’s brother.”)My real frustration with the book, however, is that the authors consistently impose their personal opinions and interpretations. There are numerous offhand comments about people’s characters, without much backing evidence, as well as blithe declarations that, for example, a certain work is obviously the author’s weakest novel. There could be reasonable explanation for these judgments. Perhaps literary scholars in general think x is author y’s weakest novel. However, the Zaleskis’ failure to back up many of their claims is a recurring issue in the book.I also think it worth mentioning that the book could be a bit of a slog for readers without some knowledge of literary theory, religion, and philosophy. It is, admittedly, unclear who the target audience of this book might be. It seems to be marketed to a general audience, but one assumes anyone who actually picks up a 600+ page tome classified as “biography/religion/literary criticism” is going to have some background knowledge on the subject matter and not be a complete novice. However, the authors frequently refer to theories, scholars, and other movements in various academic fields without any explanation of what they are or why they are important. I did alright reading the book, but I credit that with having a graduate degree in English literature; I admit to being somewhat lost when it came to some of the religious studies references. The book is not impossible to read, but some readers may do well to have Google handy.These flaws aside, the book does offer an immensely thorough look at how these four men influenced each other’s writing and how their faith and their scholarly interests pervade all of their writing. Readers may already be aware that Tolkien was an active Roman Catholic or that Lewis became known for his Christian apologetics work. However, what the Zaleskis clearly show is how each of the four men’s faith changed over time and how certain movements, beliefs, and struggles might have colored their work over their entire lifetime—how Lewis moved from essentially pagan views in his early poetry to become the Christian voice of a nation, for instance.I would warn off readers who feel the need to idolize their authors. Personally, I think Tolkien’s private life is the only one that comes across as admirable here, even though he himself felt he may never have devoted as much time to his family as he would have wished. However, the contradictions add a layer of interest to the work, as readers must ponder how Lewis could espouse Christian teaching while living with an older, married woman for the majority of his life (critics are unclear whether the relationship was sexual), or how Williams could justify his ideas of pure love leading to virtue while engaging in multiple affairs (never sexual, as though that excused them). But the point is that these were all real men, all struggling to refine their beliefs and their own behavior, even as they sought to illuminate some type of truth through their writing. They were never perfect, but they all thought deeply about what perfection might look like.Despite my issues with The Fellowship, I did find it a worthwhile read. I learned a number of new things about all four of the authors, and the intersections drawn between them were immensely helpful. I recommend it to Inklings fans serious about learning more about their lives and work.

  • Abigail Hartman
    2019-05-01 13:08

    Having grown up in circles where "the Inklings" (but -- who are we kidding? -- basically just Lewis and Tolkien) were adored perhaps beyond reasonable measure, and having adored them beyond reasonable measure myself, I've become a little jaded about them in general. Not that Lewis and Tolkien's works are not very good: they are, and it's not their "fault" that they're so enduringly popular. Still, it can get tiresome to always hear folks talking about Lewis/Tolkien, almost to the exclusion of other writers. All that to say that The Fellowship gave me a new perspective on some of the key members of this group, in some ways renewing my appreciation for them (but -- still not kidding anyone -- basically Lewis and Tolkien and really mostly Lewis) and in other ways offering up rather unpleasant surprises. I didn't have a very full picture of their lives beforehand, and Philip and Carol Zaleski work hard to set them in their post-World Wars social, religious, intellectual, and to some extent even technological context; one of the most fascinating, if also more basic, thoughts that this book left me with was the realization that these men operated in the same world as the Bloomsbury Group that was in many ways their total opposite. The ideals that suffused the work of various Inklings members are traced throughout the book, and that exploration proved quite fascinating.Some reviewers have, I think, already pointed out that this is primarily a book about Lewis and Tolkien with Barfield and Williams "tacked on." I can't disagree: Williams didn't seem to command much page time to me, and while Barfield comes to greater prominence at the end, I didn't see him as clearly as the first two men. But, a) Lewis and Tolkien seem to have dominated the Inklings in their own lives, too, so perhaps that's only fitting, and b) I honestly found Williams and Barfield really bizarre and was quite happy not to spend any more time on them. In fact, in the end probably the greatest question I was left with was in what way the Zaleskis determined that all four of these members were Christian. Obviously that's not a question whose answer is to be determined by man; reading this book, though, I came away merely with the impression that Williams and Barfield were engaged in esoteric, occultic, (probably?) heretical teachings, not that they were believers in Christ. I saw a general sympathy for some "Christian" values, and some (rather strange) incorporations of the person of Jesus, but no evidence of a lively belief in Christ as Lord and Savior. It must be noted that I've never read works by either fellow; my impressions are thus formed entirely by this book. Given that the prologue insists that the Inklings were "Christians one and all" (7) who "make a perfect compass rose of faith" (12), and given that the chapters on Williams and Barfield typically revealed to me only very disturbing and esoteric beliefs, it would perhaps have been useful to have a fuller discussion of the authors' definition of "Christian." Yet it was nevertheless interesting to see how the different thinkers played off of, and often rejected the ideas of, their compatriots while maintaining friendships and dialogues. One of the more interesting elements of the book, honestly, was how cranky everyone seemed to be. There was much more sniping than I anticipated, to the point where it's difficult to see how the Inklings meetings/friendships could have been so rewarding to the participants. I mean, just get Tolkien going. Was he ever not a crotchety old man? Just wondering...

  • Todd Stockslager
    2019-04-30 08:09

    Review Title: Living in The FellowshipThe Zaleskis have written a fascinating intertwined biography of four of the main lights of "the Inklings", the loose-knit Oxford literary group that grew up around Tolkien and Lewis in the years between the World Wars. Never a formal organization, the casual meetings and shifting membership shared common bonds of the love of reading, writing, and arguing around a table with food, beer, and tobacco, as each brought his (they were all men) work in progress to the group for oral reading, instant feedback, and heartfelt criticism.The other shared bonds were memories of the sacrifices endured during the first World War, a love and respect for myths and legends, and a Christian worldview. Although they came at that viewpoint from different levels of orthodoxy, and in Lewis's case a trenchant materialist atheism famously shattered by his later conversion, these four writers all delved into language and literature from a spiritual starting point and usually with a spiritual destination in mind. Lewis's Narnia and Tolkien's Middle-earth incorporate the best of these bonds in fully-developed other worlds where organized religion may be nonexistent; the Zaleskis point out that in final pre-publication edits of the Lord of the Rings Tolkien, a notoriously fastidious writer, removed references that might be seen as religious rites to focus on the spirituality of the story.Why were these mature literary minds so serious about the value of myths, legends, and fairy stories? They believed these stories represent the purest form of "what Lewis called the 'discarded image' of a universe created, ordered, and shot through with meaning." (p. 510). These stories, said Tolkien in his published lecture "On Fairy-stories," offer recovery (regaining the ability to see clearly again), escape (flight from the broken world around us), and consolation (satisfaction of our desire for a world of "wonder and enchantment") (p. 245). They offer to a sin-wrecked world and its sinful inhabitants the recognition of the Fall but the hope of a merciful redemption by a glorious redeemer. These stories give us, in short, an inkling (the group's name a double pun on that meaning and the colloquialism for an ink-stained writer) of the gospel message of Christianity.From both a biographical and literary perspective, Barlow and Williams are the lesser lights in the public perception, but not within the communal spirit and composition of the Inklings, and the Zaleskis give them their full due here. Barlow's participation in the group, and his literary output, were limited by the economic necessity of his law career in London, but his impact was huge as his "Great War" with Lewis drove the atheist Lewis toward his eventual conversion. Similarly, Lewis credited Williams with being a great influence in his writing, even though his obsessions with mysticism veered off into the occult and the just plain weird (he gave his family, friends and coworkers alternative names and personae that he expected them to use). The personal and group dynamics between all the Inklings is a fascinating story in itself, and one that can only be imperfectly told; as a loose-knit community of like-minded scholars, they kept few notes and records of meetings and jealously and zealously protected the privacy of what were clearly sincere and deeply felt friendships. It was those friendships and privacy that enabled the free, honest, and vociferous exchange of comments and criticism that made the Inklings so valuable and vital to the individuals in the group.But Tolkien and Lewis stand above the rest for their influence on both scholarship and the culture. Tolkien is now considered by many the most influential writer of the twentieth century due to the sales of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the blockbuster movie series based on them, a position of honor regarded with distaste by those offended by the spiritual component of the books and movies, and by the subsidiary industry of games, clothes, gadgets, and cheaper, less fully developed imitators and successors. Without Middle-earth, claim the Zaleskis, there would be no Dungeons and Dragons, and no Harry Potter. This is not intended by the Zaleskis as a slight on those franchises, although those opposed to any form of spirituality find the continuing Christian influence of Middle-earth and Narnia offensive.As they wrap up this literary biography and its well-earned Classic rating, the Zaleskis point out that one last sticking point for some critics of the Inklings is that they were, "one and all, guilty of the heresy of the Happy Ending. A story that ends happily is, some believe, necessarily a sop to wishful thinking." (p. 511). But far from sappy optimists, the Inklings were men who had, most of them, personally experienced the tragedy of the first World War and lived through the horror of the second, and "understood that sacrifices must be made and that not all wounds will be healed in this life." The truth of that statement is abundantly clear in the accounts of the individual lives told here. But within their books also are embedded the hope of recovery, escape, and consolation of the Christian worldview:When Sam Gamgee cries out "Oh great glory and splendour! And all my wishes have come true!" we are not in the realm of escapism, but of the Gospel, in all its strangeness and beauty

  • Katherine Sas
    2019-05-04 06:19

    Readable, erudite, balanced, and extremely detailed, I imagine that the Zaleskis' brick-sized tome will replace Humphrey Carpenter's as the definitive Inklings bio, if it hasn't already. While dealing with much well-trod ground, there are a lot of fresh insights, especially relating to the life of Owen Barfield (though there's new stuff on Lewis/Tolkien, too - such as the cooling of their friendship in the mid/late 50's being less stark than I'd had the impression before). I might quibble with some of their critical assessments of the authors' works (good or bad) but matters of taste aside this is very well-researched and probably the most disinterested bio yet (in a good way).

  • Adam Shields
    2019-05-11 06:03

    Short review: I am very familiar with the biography of Lewis. I have read dozens of books by and about Lewis. I am somewhat familiar with Tolkien. I have read one book by Charles Williams and did not know anything about Barfield. The basic biography of Lewis at the beginning was fairly boring because I was very aware of it and nothing new seemed to be revealed. But by the second half of the book enough other characters that I was not aware of had been introduced. And the literary analysis in the second half of the book was very helpful. Overall this is well worth reading. Although if I was able to have skipped a lot of the first quarter of the book, I probably would have enjoyed it more.My full review is on my blog at http://bookwi.se/the-fellowship/

  • LillyBooks
    2019-05-05 11:57

    I'm giving this book 3 stars because it's well-written with an impressive vocabulary, it's meticulously researched, and because I believe it could, in time, prove to be a seminal work about the role of religion in Tolkien's and Lewis' work. However, I didn't finish it, and there are two clues as to why provided in my first sentence. Yes, it's an extremely academic work with the length that implies, and, honestly, I lost the mood to read that type of work after several days. But I also didn't finish it because of two primary issues I had with it.First, it claims to be about four members of the Inklings. The reason the four were chosen - when there were probably a couple of dozen of Inklings over the decades - is explained, in a logical and coherent fashion, in the prologue. So, if the authors had discussed those four members equally for the reasons they explained, I would have found that perfectly acceptable. But they don't. This book is about Tolkien and Lewis. Charles Williams' name is not even mentioned outside of the prologue until page 321 in a 512 page book. And, no, they don't make up for lost pages. Owen Barfield is given only slightly more consideration. If the authors wanted to write about Tolkien and Lewis, fine, write about Tolkien and Lewis; that's a commendable and deep field of study. But do not try to make your readers think you're writing about more than you are.Second, this book is not about the "literary lives" of Tolkien and Lewis. It is about their religious lives. Again, that is a valuable field of study: how their faith affected their writings, the religious symbolism in their writings, etc. But, once more, that's a bit of false advertising. For example, World War II - World War II! In Britain! - is given - I am not making this up - ONE paragraph of discussion in terms of its influence and possible connection to ALL of Tolkien's work. Whereas a whole chapter is spent debating the various possible Christian symbolisms of Beatrice in Dante's Inferno - is she heaven? is she Christ's sacrifice? Wait!, neither Tolkien or Lewis wrote the Inferno, you say? Correct you are. And yet there is a whole chapter devoted to it and Lewis' opinion of it (to be fair, he wrote a criticism of it, but the authors of this book stray from his opinion/criticism into general religious theories of the Inferno). Do not try to make your reader think you're writing about something you are not.So, in conclusion, if you are looking for an acedemic, well-written discussion of the religious lives and influences of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, you've come to the right book. If you're looking for the a discussion of the literary lives of four members of the Inklings, you have not.

  • Bookworm
    2019-05-13 12:24

    Better title: Tolkien, Lewis and two other guys 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings'. 'The Chronicles of Narnia.' Many people have read these (and other works by these men) and this book is the story of the literary society/club of these men and other members. However, it's really a story of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Barfield and Williams are really afterthoughts. In all honesty, I read this for Tolkien. I didn't mean to and it may affect my reading of the entire book, but I have NO interest in the last two men and I actually don't care for 'Chronicles' all that much either. But this is a story that weaves together the lives of the four men, both before and at Oxford through their deaths. And it is, as the book says, a look at their literary lives. So there's quite a bit of stuff on their writings, some of which has tons and tons of information. Some of this was quite difficult to get through--I had little to no familiarity with some and I didn't care for a lot for the philosophical stuff in the Lewis discussions. There is a bit of felling that the authors tried to cram in as much as possible and sometimes it feels like needless or too much filling. I did enjoy the writing on Tolkien though. It also made me realize I really need to seek out a book on him. Hugh Carpenter's work gets a few mentions in the text, so that is likely going to be a book I will read. It was also interesting to read about the formulation of both 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings.' Having just read Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if a draft of either 'Hobbit' or 'LOTR' was "found" and sold or what the reception might have been if the final book had been one of the earlier drafts. I had eagerly anticipated this book ever since of hearing about it, but it wasn't for me. If you are familiar with the Inklings and their works, this would probably be of interest, especially for a say a literature critic or academic. But for a casual reader I'm not sure it's really for them. Absolutely recommend the library to check out. The hardcover is 35 USD (!) and would be a rather expensive gift unless you can be sure it'd be right for the recipient.

  • Katy Wilmotte
    2019-05-16 11:03

    This book gave me more thoughts than I know what to do with.With meticulous detail, it spans the lifetimes of four men, two world wars, and several major literary movements. I learned much that I didn't know before about Tolkien and Lewis,connected the dots about the facts I did know, and discovered for the first time Barfield and Williams. If I had felt "behind" for knowing so little about the Inklings before (especially when I went to the Eagle and Child in Oxford last year), I feel thoroughly caught up now.The Zaleskis do an admirable job in writing a book that neither hero-worships nor pillories its subjects. Their approach is honest and fair, sometimes a little too honest for my taste. But I would rather err on the side of honesty than undo ardor. And though the book prompted an insecurity crisis about my own writing (inevitable when someone discusses Tolkien), it also encouraged me to think deeper about the nature of Faery, the fantastic, God, and the written word. In their works, Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams each tried to articulate their deepest beliefs about God and human nature, and it was encouraging to know that they could still enjoy success without compromising those beliefs. A warning: I listened to The Fellowship as an audiobook, which made it difficult to fully understand the book's frequent lengthy treatises on the authors' philosophy. I have trouble enough understanding philosophy on a page, and while listening, large chunks of the text often rushed by before I could understand what the subject was. For those of us who aren't philosophy majors, a physical book would probably be better.

  • Andrew
    2019-05-05 10:59

    A very smart book written well about very smart people who wrote well.You learn a lot of the motivations, writings, and development of the famous Oxford group, The Inklings. A group famous especially for its members C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. And here lies the one problem of the book. Despite its impeccable scholarship, so much of it revolves around those two writers. Even the other named characters, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield, spend more time as a supporting cast who cross the stage every so often. But they're in the book just enough to interrupt it. They should either have been more rounded out as historical subjects, or their roles reduced to just enough to tell the key story around Lewis and Tolkien. As it stands, they occupy an uncomfortable middle ground.But, this remains an excellent history of a circle of great writers and their lives who are giants in the world of modern English literature.

  • Brian Eshleman
    2019-05-02 07:26

    The authors are extremely adept at choosing passages from the voluminous writings of these figures that yield insight into their times and themselves. Even more remarkably, they are able to interpose themselves in this formidable circle without an anachronism. Their running commentary as they chronicle these lives adds to the reader's appreciation, whether they are connecting the insights of one to the other or boldly critiquing some revered work.I would recommend this work to anyone, whether or not a reader is more than vaguely familiar with all the figures involved in this literary gathering. I have some familiarity with CS Lewis, enough to revere him, and an introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien, but my interest never waned when this pair was talking about the other figures.

  • Jacob
    2019-04-27 11:20

    An engaging biography that does a really good job of placing Tolkien, Lewis, and their friends into context--religiously, intellectually, culturally, and historically (in that order of attention within the text). In doing so, this book mentioned several of Tolkien and Lewis' creative projects that I hadn't known about before and introduced me to several new authors whose work intersected with theirs. Thanks to this book, I had to add a lengthy section to my "to-read" list. If you're at all interested in learning about what all went into the creation of Middle Earth, Narnia, or anything else that Tolkien and Lewis wrote, you need to read this book.

  • Maddie Kircher
    2019-04-26 09:16

    Although I had trouble understanding bits and pieces of this book I found I couldn't put it down! The writing is warm and inviting- absolutely delightful! I feel like the Zaleski's had quite a task summarizing the lives of four great literary men and they were very successful.

  • Michael
    2019-05-04 05:17

    Really a wonderful book on the lives of: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, & Owen Barfield. Listened to it on Audible and the narrator was wonderful to listen to. If you're a fan of Lewis or Tolkien then you'll really enjoy this book!

  • Jim Coughenour
    2019-05-24 12:02

    An extra star for The Fellowship because the Zaleskis flouted my expectation. I was skeptical. The authors previously published Prayer: A History and Gifts of the Spirit: Living the Wisdom of the Great Religious Traditions – titles that would send me running to the opposite end of the bookstore – but this book provides a richly detailed portrait of an odd quartet, not the pious pondering I feared I'd find.There's already a library of books on these writers, starting with Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends (1978). Worse (for me) there is also evangelical America's obsession with Oxford Christianity, instantiated in the Wade Center at Wheaton College. Yet at some point in my teens and twenties I read almost everything by these men, so I suppose this book was a way of looking back at my own life, starting with C. S. Lewis's books on "mere Christianity." Those hearty apologetics seemed glib even when I accepted their substance. A sample:A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher. He'd either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he's a poached egg – or else he'd be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. Or maybe not. (To my delight, the Zaleskis supplied some background on the poached egg madman, who was an urban legend dating from the early 20th century.)But this is Lewis at his most tendentious. Luckily I soon discovered his literary criticism (The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature; Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature; Selected Literary Essays) which provided my first enchantment with the Middle Ages and redeemed him from the caricature he'd assumed among bookish evangelicals, agog with cloying visions of Myth, Faery, hot buttered scones and cozy conundrums. (A classic example: Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy.) I had a more divided response to his fiction: I was intrigued by his science fiction trilogy but appalled by Narnia. (As was Tolkien.) The only novel I truly liked was his last, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. The Zaleskis are less enthusiastic: It is the most controversial of Lewis's fictions, intensely disliked by many of his readers, extravagantly praised by a few, an anomaly among his works with its female narrator, its bleak landscapes, its bitter, ironic tone – more than a few passages might have come from Camus or Sartre – its complex plot, its cultivated obscurities, and its uncertain conclusion… the book's presiding darkness and relentless melancholy make it a struggle to read and nearly impossible to cherish.That last line made me laugh out loud. What I remember most from the book is Lewis's palpable love for the Greeks. It was also my introduction to the grim myth of Psyche and Eros, my favorite account until I read James Hillman's The Myth of Analysis: Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology years later. I'm also fond (at least in memory) of another late book, Studies in Words, which elicited the sour response from Tolkien "[Lewis's] ponderous silliness is becoming a fixed manner."Volumes have been written on the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien, and on Tolkien himself. Like everyone else who is lucky to discover it before they're too old, I was completely captivated by The Lord of the Rings. However, apart from his Middle-Earth obsession, Tolkien has always struck me as the least interesting, most cantankerous member of the group, and the Zaleskis' account only confirmed this impression.The other two Inklings are more complicated. Charles Williams wrote "supernatural thrillers," recondite Arthurian poetry, a highly idiosyncratic history of the church (notable chiefly for its elucidation of the "two ways" defined by Dionysius the Areopagite), and an equally peculiar but intermittently fascinating commentary on the Divine Comedy. My favorite anecdote (repeated in The Fellowship) has C. S. Lewis writing a fan letter after reading The Place Of The Lion, and Williams responding with praise of The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition. "If you had delayed writing another 24 hours, our letters would have crossed. It has never before happened to me to be admiring an author of a book while he at the same time was admiring me." Yet Williams's private life was anything but orthodox: he practiced magic and fell in love with his acolytes. He was prone to vast depressions as well as ecstatic visions.Finally Owen Barfield, for me the most interesting of the Inklings. I discovered Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry in my early 20s and was so intrigued by his version of the "evolution of consciousness" that I ended up writing an MA thesis on his work. Reading The Fellowship confirmed my suspicion that I never fully acknowledged his work, or rather that I'd pushed aside the aspect I could never accept – his unshakeable commitment to Anthroposophy and Rudolph Steiner – preferring to focus instead on his provocative meditations on poetry and consciousness. (His magnum opus What Coleridge Thought might be justly titled "What Barfield Thought.") Barfield spent most of his career as a solicitor in obscurity while the other Inklings triumphed; he came into his own in his 60s, celebrated in the United States by the likes of Howard Nemerov and Saul Bellow and surviving into his 90s.The Zaleskis conclude that the Inklings represent an unprecedented achievement: they "renewed a current that runs through the heart of Western literature… they have recovered archaic literary forms not as an antiquarian curiosity but as a means of squarely addressing modern anxieties and longings." This is bland and unconvincing. Fortunately, the rest of the book is not.

  • Greg Bailey
    2019-04-29 12:25

    There’s value in reading individual volumes on the leading Inklings, but this approach, considering the four who were perhaps the leading lights, has great value too, as it sets them side by side, revealing their similarities and unique strengths (and oddities), and highlighting the way they interacted (and often sparred). If the measure of a good biography is that the reader comes away from it knowing the subject better (a measurement I like to use), this one succeeds admirably. The Zaleskis begin by considering each man individually, and then show how their lives intersect, primarily through the Inklings. It’s evident that the authors know their subjects well. I suspect that they have a soft spot for Lewis, as he seems to get the most attention. Of course, this may also be an effect of Lewis being the most prolific of the Inklings the Zaleskis survey, as they spend time unfolding nearly every work each man produced. (I admit that my attention sometimes wandered a bit during these sometimes highly academic sections.) The picture they paint of Lewis is by far the most complex. His family history, literary thinking, and philosophical search for truth are all worthy of much explanation. By contrast, Tolkien’s life seems far simpler and more conventional. The Zaleskis declare that one of the chief commonalties of these men was their Christianity. They say this about the Inklings: “Their great hope was to restore Western culture to its religious roots, to unleash the powers of the imagination, to reenchant the world through Christian faith and pagan beauty.” In their epilogue, the Zaleskis conclude that the Inklings largely succeeded in this quest. I’ll leave the truth of that judgment for others to measure; my hesitation is with the idea that the Inklings were “unmistakably Christians,” as the Zaleskis write. Certainly Lewis was an ardent believer, and Tolkien, too, was quite pious, though in a Roman Catholic context. But Owen Barfield was an “anthroposophist” and quite the mystic. Williams, though a lifelong Anglican, was mystical, too, and somewhat occultish. The real beauty of this book, for me, is far down in the details—the pithy quotes from letters and conversations that reveal the men and the Inklings as a group just as they were. Here are a few I enjoyed:• James Harold Dundas-Grant, a commander in the royal army, who later became an Inkling, describing an Inklings meeting: “We sat in a small back room with a fine coal fire in winter. Back and forth the conversation would flow. Latin tags flying around. Homer quoted in the original to make a point. And Tolkien, jumping up and down declaiming in Anglo-Saxon.”• Lewis, in a letter to Dorothy Sayers, after That Hideous Strength received negative reviews: “Apparently reviewers will not tolerate a mixture of the realistic and the supernatural. Which is a pity, because (a) It’s just the mixture I like, and (b) We have to put up with it in real life.”• John Wain, an Inklings member who was among those who didn’t like Tolkien’s fantasy novels: “When Tolkien came through the door at a meeting of the Inklings with a bulging jacket pocket, I winced because I knew we were in for a slab of Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins and the rest of it.”• Tolkien, to his daughter Priscilla, after Lewis died: “So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man of my age—like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axeblow near the roots.”There’s also a funny vignette about Fred Paxton, the caretaker and gardener at the Kilns (Lewis’s home in Oxford), who was given to making prophecies of impending disaster and so became the model for Puddleglum in the Chronicles of Narnia. One day, when asked why there was no sugar on the table, he said, “Well, you never know when the end of the world will come, and we don’t want to be left with sugar on our hands. What’ll we do with it then, eh?”These kinds of small details, I think, really set this biography apart.I came away from this book with new appreciation for Barfield and Williams (I have a Williams novel, Descent into Hell, that I purchased in college but have never read). (Also, I came away with a new appreciation for Lewis’ brother Warnie, who was humble, welcoming, and servant-hearted, the one who hung the coats and poured the drinks at Inklings gatherings.)I think I gained a deeper appreciation for Lewis.But I think I now have a deeper love for Tolkien, thanks to his simplicity, his family life, his perfectionism. Now, all I want to do is read The Lord of the Rings again. NOTE: I “read” the audiobook.

  • Becky
    2019-05-07 05:14

    This was another book I listened to on audobook, so I'm going to start with a complaint about that: the audiobook was a little over 26 hours long, but that was entirely due to the excruciating slowness of the reader. I almost immediately kicked the speed up to 1.2, but by the end I was listening to it at 1.4 and it could easily have gone up again. At 1.4 the narrator was nice to listen to. He did have a very pleasant voice, it's just that at regular speed he put me to sleep.There's a ton of very interesting stuff in this book. Particularly, there's a ton if very interesting stuff about LEWIS in this book. I think every other review I looked at made similar comments about how Lewis-heavy the book is, with its secondary focus being Tolkien. Barfield sees some attention, although I can't help but feel that's because he has the benefit of being the last to die. Williams, however, is not even mentioned until very far into the book (about 200 pages, I'm given to understand), and he died rather young, so makes his exit from the book soon after. The frustrating part about this is how much time the Zaleskis spend, after the account of his death, stating that Williams had a profound impact on the others. Grief for Williams is mentioned many times, right up until the book ends, and yet I feel like I know almost nothing about him. Lewis' life is retold almost down to the hour, but Williams receives only the broadest of strokes. Warnie Lewis sees more page time than Williams, but it's Williams' name on the cover.This is both a criticism and praise, as if you are looking for information on Lewis, it's here. I've studied Lewis a lot, including taking an Inklings directed study in undergrad, but I learned some things from this book. It deals not only with his literary works, but with details of his life that I hadn't ever known existed. It's a really interesting read. I was listening to this book on audiobook while at work, so there's a chance I missed something, but it really didn't cover Lewis and Tolkien's falling out. This stands out because Lewis' life and other relationships were otherwise so detailed. Unless I missed it while doing something else, the fight isn't even mentioned until after Lewis dies, and then it focuses only on comments Tolkien made about Lewis' religious writings. I thought, given how much detail about Lewis the book was going in to, that there was going to be a lengthy discussion about the falling out. It's such a huge omission that I honestly believe I must have missed it; surely it was in there? I'm rating the book kind of low because it really doesn't do what it says on the tin; it's not about those four authors. Mostly it's about Lewis, with a fair amount of Tolkien. The other two are there almost incidentally. If the book had been called "Lewis and his Inkling Friends" or something, I'd happily rate it four stars. Good read, though.

  • Matthew Finneran
    2019-05-24 13:11

    This is a really long book. I think it could've been a lot shorter. The first 25-30% is some background about their lives and how they grew up which you'd think would be interesting but it was presented in such a dry manner. The background material is much more palatable after finishing the book, and I may go back and reread it, but this section tempted me multiple times to put down the whole thing and I'm glad I didn't. Once they get to Oxford and you start hearing about their conversations and literary works it becomes so fascinating. Also the reason their writings are so relevant today is that they saw the first signs of our current individualistic post-modern culture rising and they used their own talents to attack it head. They actually debated in Oxford and Cambridge with the rest of the faculty as well as published writings that adhered to classical, rational thought. Every piece of writing they published was so pointed and direct around these issues.Fantastic read if you can get through the first part. I feel I specifically know Tolkien (the Roman Catholic) and Lewis (the mere Christian) so much better now. They are no longer these mythical writers with incredible books, but I understand now more of their surrounding struggles in their personal and vocational lives. They're sinners now. Seeing what they accomplished in this new light is more encouraging and real. The book does go into detail around Charles Williams and Owen Barfield who had their own successes but nothing close to the attention and fame garnered by Lewis and Tolkien. The author knows we really care most about Lewis and Tolkien and so spends most of his time around them, but discussing Barfield and Williams bring more color both to the Inklings overall and to the influences surrounding Tolkien and Lewis.It also makes me want to read some of their other lesser known works. It's a hike getting through the book but if you appreciate the works of Lewis and Tolkien, or want to read about a Christian perspective and reaction around the beginning of post-modernist thought, I think you'd enjoy this book.

  • Ben Andrus
    2019-04-27 11:59

    The Fellowship is a biography of the Inklings writing community that emerged from Oxford, UK in the 1930’s and 40’s. The authors focus mostly on C.S. Lewis; as others have stated, about half the book focuses on Lewis, about a quarter focuses on Tolkien, and the rest on Barfield, Williams and others, so those who have read biographies on Lewis may not discover too much new information. But the authors were also diligent researchers and went to great lengths to find interesting facts and stories about these renowned writers. Philip Zaleski, I was pleased to learn actually corresponded with Barfield in the 1980’s, and those conversations formed the inspiration for this book. At times, the authors’ prose style seems a little labored and overwrought. It was, occasionally, difficult for me to tell what was fact and what was author speculation especially regarding salacious information about the some of the individual writers. Another issue I had was with the end notes, which are unconventional. There are no numbers referring to the end notes in the text, so the reader has to make a deliberate effort to check them. The notes are indicated by page number in the back of the book. Occasionally, the notes do include important information, so it was a bit of a hassle to keep checking just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those who have read some of Lewis and Tolkien already. The real joy in reading this book is discovering how members of the Inklings influenced each other, their disagreements, ambition and success at a time of tremendous upheaval both in the world and academia. In my opinion, one can trace many of the current ideological battles being waged to this time and even to this influential group of literary figures.

  • Nathanael
    2019-05-13 06:02

    This story is more curiously interesting than I expected. Sure, we know authors write and that JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were colleagues and friends. But their work arrives in our childhood as fully formed. The Narnia books and Lord of the Rings are part of the scenery, so overdone, at least after you’ve read them once, that they seem immutable. Like the sky or trees. This, then, is a surprising how it was made. It’s not without some flaws. For one thing, it’s hard to avoid the obvious foreshadowing throughout the first third of the book. Tolkien has a childhood issue with spiders, and our friendly authors occupy themselves with a full paragraph on how decisive fights with spiders happen in his fiction. The chronicling gets a little tedious at times, as do the theological asides. They’re like your smart friends: unwilling to let any related knowledge go to waste, and unwilling to be to told they repeat themselves. I sympathize: it’s hard to be a good literary critic and such a fan. Now that The Awl is gone, no one will review the weather. It just is. The book’s staying power is that it shows how great work is done. Sometimes at a feverish clip, sometimes over decades, often only on nights and weekends, but never alone. Their work was brought to a friendly group, sampled aloud, and relentlessly criticized. That’s how it became great.(Interestingly, they only blurbed and reviewed each other positively, despite the private critiques. Maybe your friends don’t really rip you to shreds publicly, and maybe there’s something to learn there, too.)The process can drag at times, but I kept picking this back up to learn what happened next, even though I already knew. Also, CS Lewis shacked up with a married woman and was into whips. See? Reading to the end of my reviews is worthwhile.