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

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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 in 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 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.


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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 in 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 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Rollins

    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 al 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    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 lit 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 Nelson From The Best Books We Read In March: https://bookriot.com/2015/04/01/riot-...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    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. 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie Davis

    I've read enough about Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings that I resisted this behemoth of a book until now. What hooked me was that the authors delve into both their faith and their literary works more deeply than the other things I've read. It was a very slow read, just picking it up here and there, but oh so satisfying. One of the things I especially liked was that it humanized and made likable some of the characters who came off as one dimensional in other biographies. For example, Lewis's fat I've read enough about Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings that I resisted this behemoth of a book until now. What hooked me was that the authors delve into both their faith and their literary works more deeply than the other things I've read. It was a very slow read, just picking it up here and there, but oh so satisfying. One of the things I especially liked was that it humanized and made likable some of the characters who came off as one dimensional in other biographies. For example, Lewis's father always seemed an unfeeling fellow who continually made Lewis miserable. In this book we see excerpts of letters between the father and Warnie, Lewis's much loved brother, where both are worried about some activity of Lewis. So we get another angle. The same goes for Edith Tolkien who I've simply seen written about as miserable and unfulfilled as a person. That angle is not ignored, but we also see the Tolkien couple's devotion to each other and the good things she got from her marriage to J.R.R. Lewis's wife Joy and their relationship get similarly balanced treatment. I'd say that this is the only book you need if you are interested in biographies of Tolkien and Lewis, or simply interested in the Inklings. It is superb and superior to any other books I've read on these subjects.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    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. Sayer 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    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 hi 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kailey (Luminous Libro)

    I read this book by listening to the audiobook, and really enjoyed the voice of the narrator and the structure of the book. Following a chronological and sometimes topical format, this book covers the lives of four of the most famous members of the Inklings. Starting from their childhoods and following them through both World Wars, their academic careers, and their writing, this book also includes details of their family lives and personal friendships right up until their deaths. I already know I read this book by listening to the audiobook, and really enjoyed the voice of the narrator and the structure of the book. Following a chronological and sometimes topical format, this book covers the lives of four of the most famous members of the Inklings. Starting from their childhoods and following them through both World Wars, their academic careers, and their writing, this book also includes details of their family lives and personal friendships right up until their deaths. I already know a lot about these men, because Tolkien and Lewis are my two favorite authors, and I've already read other biographies about the Inklings. But I was really impressed with the depth of information and careful research in this book. There are some really wonderful details and anecdotes that bring these historical figures close to the reader. And the author doesn't shy away from the less than pleasant aspects of these men's lives, their bad behavior at times, their poor choices, or their bad habits; but instead includes those things as a larger picture of who these people became, and how their lives developed, and how God worked in them and through them. I have never liked Charles Williams or Owen Barfield. They were both "Christians" who believed some really weird things, like reincarnation and alchemy, and I never understood why Lewis and Tolkien were friends with them. This book helped me understand some of Williams and Barfield's better points, and how their intellectual prowess would attract friends like Lewis. I still don't like them, but I feel like I know a little more about the overall dynamic of the Inklings group, and why those friendships flourished despite religious differences. The writing is excellent! Concise and forceful, each word serves a purpose, weaving a story of these imaginative writers and their little Oxford world.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

    My cup of tea, brewed nearly to perfection.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    This book is an absolutely fascinating, exceptionally detailed examination of the lives of 4 famous Inklings, covering not only their Inkling activities but also their complete life stories. This work is heavily weighted towards C.S. Lewis and to a slightly lesser extent Tolkien, but this makes sense given their popularity and—especially for Lewis—the sheer volume of works they put out. The amount of detail and research that went into this book is impressive—though at times a bit overwhelming, ra This book is an absolutely fascinating, exceptionally detailed examination of the lives of 4 famous Inklings, covering not only their Inkling activities but also their complete life stories. This work is heavily weighted towards C.S. Lewis and to a slightly lesser extent Tolkien, but this makes sense given their popularity and—especially for Lewis—the sheer volume of works they put out. The amount of detail and research that went into this book is impressive—though at times a bit overwhelming, rambling or disconnected. However, this thorough approach served to create a well-rounded presentation of Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield and Williams and their relationship and dynamics with each other, their families, the rest of the Inklings and their larger social circles. I appreciated this book’s coverage of the development and content of these author’s works as well. It was fascinating not only learning about quantity of works each Inkling published, but also seeing the context surrounding each book’s development, the authors’ times of inspiration vs. creative drought, and the critical success or lack thereof for each published work. However, at times this book got a little too deep into describing the Inklings’ works, at times presenting an overly in-depth summary of a work rather than a brief synopsis. The lengthier summaries often made sense for works of non-fiction, since that allowed the authors to analyze the work and provide their historical, cultural or religious contexts. However, there were a few works of fiction that were overly summarized (to the point of including spoilers) rather than summarized enough to provide context.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    I went into this book knowing a huge amount of information about Lewis, quite a bit about Tolkien, barely anything about Barfield, and zilch about Williams (other than I had heard he was "kind of weird"). This book weaved together a big picture of all four authors' lives using a combination of facts, documents, and straight-up conjecture. I found its sliding in and out of speculation a little unsettling and wished the authors would have separated or red-flagged their opinions from their supporte I went into this book knowing a huge amount of information about Lewis, quite a bit about Tolkien, barely anything about Barfield, and zilch about Williams (other than I had heard he was "kind of weird"). This book weaved together a big picture of all four authors' lives using a combination of facts, documents, and straight-up conjecture. I found its sliding in and out of speculation a little unsettling and wished the authors would have separated or red-flagged their opinions from their supported details (of which they had many). In one instance of their summarizing Lewis's Narnia books, either by typo or ignorance, I encountered a factual error when the book said Eustace (and not Diggory) was the nephew of Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew. The book was chock-full of details, such as names, dates, medical diagnoses, and the book is LONG so it's probably forgivable that neither the authors nor the publishing company caught every little issue. But the opinions-presented-as-facts irked me. Towards the end, it was stated matter of factly that without The Lord of the Rings there could never have been Harry Potter. That statement, to me, is overreaching as both LOTR and HP both pull from a similar tradition of fantasy and literary motifs. Maybe a person THINKS there could be no HP without LOTR, but that needs to be stated as opinion and not weaved into factual statements with no indicator. My takeaways from the book are that I learned only incidental details about Lewis' life (bc I knew a lot already), I learned many incidental details about Tolkien (like, the date he had to have all of his teeth removed for dentures), I learned enough about Barfield to be very leary of reading his ideas, and I learned enough about Williams to be very intrigued with his Arthurian writings and completely creeped out by the rest. However, I'm attempting to consider my opinion is from only this one source. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't trust everything I read here, but I'll take it into consideration.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    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 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Roxana Chirilă

    I used to wonder what it would have been like had I been at Oxford at around the time J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were around. Ah, to be in their group of friends! To be an Inkling! To be motivated to write fantasy and to study all sorts of fascinating, mythological topics! After a while, the dream faded, and with this book, it vanished entirely. While I still have great respect for those involved, it's become quite clear to me the Inklings and I would Not Have Gotten Along as people. Their Chr I used to wonder what it would have been like had I been at Oxford at around the time J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were around. Ah, to be in their group of friends! To be an Inkling! To be motivated to write fantasy and to study all sorts of fascinating, mythological topics! After a while, the dream faded, and with this book, it vanished entirely. While I still have great respect for those involved, it's become quite clear to me the Inklings and I would Not Have Gotten Along as people. Their Christian ethos, Lewis's passion for debate and argument, as well as the ban against women, well. Perhaps not the best fit. "The Fellowship" follows the lives of five Inklings, more or less. C.S. Lewis seems to me to feature the most prominently, and his brother Warren Lewis is never far behind (although he's not on the cover). Tolkien is the second to be explored. Behind them lag Charles Williams and Owen Barfield, who are afterthoughts rather than main topics. The book focuses on their spiritual beliefs, ranging from the "mere" Christian, C.S. Lewis, Anglican by birth, agnostic until his 30s, then a convert returning to Christianity; the Roman Catholic Tolkien, who believed in propriety; the freemason Charles Williams who founded the Christian mystic Fellowship of the Rosy Cross; and the Anthroposophist Owen Barfield. Together, they wanted to bring the spiritual back into the world, and their literature reflected that. As I hadn't read a lot about the lives of the Inklings, there was much to find out here - most surprising of which, to me, was C.S. Lewis's odd life. In World War I, he made a pact with a friend that, should either of them not return from the front, the other would take care of their family. His friend died, and C.S. Lewis kept his promise, moving in with his friend's mother and living with her for decades, spawning the eternal question of whether C.S. Lewis and Mrs. Moore were having an affair or not. He was also a much hotter debater than I had expected, and a Christian apologist after his conversion, holding sermons in church and discussing Christianity on the BBC radio, to Tolkien's dismay. Charles Williams seemed like... a character. He enjoyed giving people fantasy names and appeared to be the sort of man others enjoyed being around and felt inspired by. Tolkien was the sort of perfectionist who took his commitments so seriously that he had trouble ending things. Owen Barfield lived a somewhat depressing life as a solicitor, his literary attempts largely unsuccessful until his old age, when he found unexpected recognition first because of his friendship with C.S. Lewis, and later on his own account. A fascinating read about the people who brought mythical, epic storytelling into the modern world. At times I felt it was perhaps a bit depressing, though I can't quite put my finger on it - perhaps it was the focus on their lives, failures, pains and eventual bad health, as well as the way in which spirituality influenced their works, rather than the actual poetic creeds and creative processes, which might have been more optimistic. But I'm uncertain. Maybe it was simply my own ill mood coloring my reading.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lekeshua

    Enjoyed learning about the Inklings and I felt the book was well written to a point. The things I wish weren’t present are not giving each Inkling their due time. This book ended up being CS Lewis heavy. The other concern that continued to raise its head in this book is author’s opinion being inserted. At times it distracted me from learning a particular Inkling. After reading this book you can make an assumption of who the author’s favorite Inkling is.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    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 acade 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melora

    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 rea 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!).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt Pitts

    As delightful as it is long (which is to say, very). Anyone interested enough in the Inklings to read 500 pages about them will not be disappointed. I certainly wasn't. As delightful as it is long (which is to say, very). Anyone interested enough in the Inklings to read 500 pages about them will not be disappointed. I certainly wasn't.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    A great biography of the Inklings and its most notable members. Although I’ve read better books specifically about CS Lewis’ thought and writings (eg Rigney, McGrath, Wilson, Ward), here the Zaleskis expand the story of the Inklings by examining the literary lives of Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams, and show how their sharing of ideas may have influenced one another. I kept feeling a deep longing to have been at just one of their gatherings at Lewis’ Oxford quarters or at the Eagle & Child (or a A great biography of the Inklings and its most notable members. Although I’ve read better books specifically about CS Lewis’ thought and writings (eg Rigney, McGrath, Wilson, Ward), here the Zaleskis expand the story of the Inklings by examining the literary lives of Tolkien, Barfield, and Williams, and show how their sharing of ideas may have influenced one another. I kept feeling a deep longing to have been at just one of their gatherings at Lewis’ Oxford quarters or at the Eagle & Child (or as they called it, the Bird & Baby) while these remarkable men discussed theology, philosophy, and literature with a pint in hand. Here is Lewis, in “The Four Loves,” describing the value of friendship. I think it wonderfully captures a part of what must have been so cherished in each of the Inklings meetings: “Those are the golden sessions...when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and... all are freeman and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?” 2020 MGM BAB Challenge: 656 p. 1 down, 5 to go

  18. 5 out of 5

    Briana

    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 Christi 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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    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 know 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Adam Balshan

    3 stars [Biography] (W: 3.25, U: 3, T: 2.5) Exact rating: 2.92 #22 in genre, out of 28 A decent Biography of Thought on four of the main Inklings. Anyone looking for more than passing information on Barfield or Williams: this fulfills that aim. The Zaleskis did not achieve the coherence or informativeness which characterize the better works on the Inklings. Some information is incomplete, some points suffer from a lack of follow-up, and loose ends abound. In one [and thankfully only one] instance, t 3 stars [Biography] (W: 3.25, U: 3, T: 2.5) Exact rating: 2.92 #22 in genre, out of 28 A decent Biography of Thought on four of the main Inklings. Anyone looking for more than passing information on Barfield or Williams: this fulfills that aim. The Zaleskis did not achieve the coherence or informativeness which characterize the better works on the Inklings. Some information is incomplete, some points suffer from a lack of follow-up, and loose ends abound. In one [and thankfully only one] instance, the Zaleskis speak outside their field, and bumble an attempt to talk about the historical Jesus on p.305f. The book's general lack of flow and occasional lack of segue are the result of either laziness or lack of time, because the Epilogue was tightly-written and informative. The Zaleskis, evidently, are capable of more than they delivered in the main body. Perhaps a 2nd edition will fix these many problems.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    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 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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    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 inter 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jana Light

    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.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Here is my review: http://carolhomeschool2.blogspot.com/... Here is my review: http://carolhomeschool2.blogspot.com/...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Hartman

    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 ot 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...

  26. 5 out of 5

    H. P.

    I had read and read about Tolkien, and both the fiction and nonfiction of C.S. Lewis, but The Fellowship was the first book I read to really cover the other Inklings. Ostensibly, the focus is on Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. Lewis, “the most celebrated and execrated.” Barfield, “the least known but, some say, the most profound.” Williams, “first to be born, the first to publish, the first to die.” Tolkien, the, well, Tolkien. But the cover, with equal quadrants for Tolkien I had read and read about Tolkien, and both the fiction and nonfiction of C.S. Lewis, but The Fellowship was the first book I read to really cover the other Inklings. Ostensibly, the focus is on Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. Lewis, “the most celebrated and execrated.” Barfield, “the least known but, some say, the most profound.” Williams, “first to be born, the first to publish, the first to die.” Tolkien, the, well, Tolkien. But the cover, with equal quadrants for Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams, gives the wrong picture. Tolkien and especially Lewis dominate (I would complain if they didn’t). Charles Williams, a bit of a latecomer to the Inklings, doesn’t get the Zaleskis’ focus until page 221. Nor do the four get all the attention. Other Inklings show up regularly. Lewis’ brother Warnie is arguably the fifth Inkling here. It is through his brother’s chapters, but Warnie is as present as Williams or Barfield. Tolkien is the only one who does not perhaps get his due, but the Zaleskis likely had a reader like me in mind, coming in mostly with knowledge of Tolkien. The Fellowship is a great place to start if your interest in more generally in the Inklings than in Tolkien (or even if you have some antipathy toward him, given his somewhat muted role here). If you’re looking for a place to start diving into nonfiction on Tolkien, though, I probably would go with Author of the Century by Tom Shippey instead. The Fellowship is a doorstopper, but one written with considerable literary flair and chock full of information. The Fellowship is the sort of book I would prefer to read about writers in lieu of a more traditional biography. It intermixes the basic facts of their lives with discussion of their literary efforts. I expected thorough coverage of their writings, and of their academic careers (I didn’t realize before I started the book that Barfield was a lawyer and that Williams worked at the Oxford English Dictionary rather than in a professorship). I didn’t expect so powerful a discussion of the Inklings’ (varied) Christianity (unsurprising now that I know more about the Zaleskis’ background). Even the much shorter treatment of the Great War is powerful: Tolkien’s “greatest contribution to the war effort would come decades later, when The Lord of the Rings apotheosized, in its account of hobbits battling ultimate evil in a landscape of fantastic redoubts and talking trees, the achievements of ordinary Tommies and Doughboys among the barbed wire, rats, mud, and machine gun fusillades of rural France.” The Inklings, of course, were a famed, all-male, informal, literary circle with Lewis at its center. They were drawn together by Lewis, and by shared tastes. Consider how the Zaleskis describe a proto-Inklings circle: “Their tastes were conservative and refined. They adored mythology, traditional art, and the Romantics, and despised all bohemian movements.” Those views would result in work bearing a “special stamp of Christian faith blended with pagan beauty, of fantastic stories grounded in moral realism.” Consider this passage: “At least in Lewis’ case, the holiness of Phantastes was not confined to the book; when he closed its covers, rather than finding ordinary things dull by comparison, he discovered that its enchantment had spilled into the real world, ‘transforming all common things.’ Lewis’s imagination, he tells us, was forevermore ‘baptized.’” The book is full of wonderful detail. For Tolkien’s and Lewis’ academic careers, it is the little things the Zaleskis mention that are the most illuminating. Tolkien had the prestigious chair; Lewis the time to write that came with a less prestigious position. Lewis described his frequent conversations with Tolkien thusly: “Sometimes we talk English school politics, sometimes we criticise one another’s poems; other days we drift into theology or ‘the state of the nation’; rarely do we fly no higher than bawdy and ‘puns.’” Think you’re being edgy by saying don’t read anything written after 1980? Tolkien and Lewis agitated (successfully) to remove all modern English literature (including Shakespeare) from the Oxford program. Lewis wasn’t opposed to reading modern literature, he just thought that “the student who wants a tutor’s assistance in reading the works of his own contemporaries might as well ask for a nurse’s assistance in blowing his own nose.” Tolkien had a flair for the dramatic (he was known to burst into a lecture hall with an exclamation of hwæt!), but he was also known for his mumbling, barely audible diction (courtesy, in part, of a tongue injury received playing rugby). Lewis, on the other hand, had a lecture style that was “slow enough for note taking, loud enough to rouse the dullest listener, straightforward, abundantly furnished with quotations, and lavish in wit.” It was all delivered with a “booming voice” to “rap, enthusiastic crowds.” He had the power to make his lectures seem less a performance but rather the exploration of “a thought for the first time.” The Fellowship is similarly delightful in describing the Night of Addison’s Walk, that mythical long walk by Lewis, Tolkien, and Hugo Dyson that led to both Tolkien’s Mythopoeia and Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. It should come as no surprise that Tolkien would “choose such a middle-class, conventional, well-regulated existence.” He did “because he believed it was the right way to live.” How many Oxford dons and literary stars have “a deep admiration for ordinary people—butchers, police officers, mail carriers, gardeners—and a knack for befriending them”? Tolkien did, because “he valued their courage, common sense, and decency.” He had “ample opportunity to observe” the values of his betters “in the trenches.” See above for my recommendation as to when to read The Fellowship. It’s a tome, but a worthy one. I have it ranked behind Author of the Century and A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War, I think, but only slightly so. (Only the latter covers Lewis, hence The Fellowship’s promotion to my second-favorite book on Lewis.)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chad Gahafer

    This was an utterly marvelous listen. I've read Lewis and Tolkien and heard about some of the other Inklings, but this book provided a depth to them I cannot quite explain. Each figure is presented in their full humanity, and that is something I appreciate greatly. Historical figures are easy to lionize and biographies of them can easily slip into hagiography, but The Fellowship avoids this error. Readers of the literary saint C.S. Lewis will be struck by his illicit adolescent fantasies and lon This was an utterly marvelous listen. I've read Lewis and Tolkien and heard about some of the other Inklings, but this book provided a depth to them I cannot quite explain. Each figure is presented in their full humanity, and that is something I appreciate greatly. Historical figures are easy to lionize and biographies of them can easily slip into hagiography, but The Fellowship avoids this error. Readers of the literary saint C.S. Lewis will be struck by his illicit adolescent fantasies and long relationship with Mrs. Moore; devotees to Tolkien's Middle Earth may be caught unawares to his fervent Catholicism; Williams was a Christian occultist by all accounts, and it is somewhat shocking (to me at least) that he found his way into the band of inklings; Barfield spent much of his professional career as a legal solicitor while his closest friend stepped in and out of the limelight. Each is presented as a profoundly human individual with loves, losses, beliefs, depressions, wars, and everything in between. The book is not about the accomplishments of this loose literary group, but about them. And it presents them through the lens of their literature.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Jennings

    I stumbled across the audio version of this book, and ended up liking it so much that I used the print version as well. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about the Inklings, although some parts were difficult and strange (mostly about Williams and Barfield). I especially enjoyed the background story about each of Tolkien’s and Lewis’ works. The authors give a balanced overview of each book as well, and I found this particularly helpful and interesting. I did learn something I had not I stumbled across the audio version of this book, and ended up liking it so much that I used the print version as well. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about the Inklings, although some parts were difficult and strange (mostly about Williams and Barfield). I especially enjoyed the background story about each of Tolkien’s and Lewis’ works. The authors give a balanced overview of each book as well, and I found this particularly helpful and interesting. I did learn something I had not considered before, and that is that Christian apologia is hard on one’s faith. Lewis himself said “nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist.” Lewis encouraged believers to turn “from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.“ After Lewis came to this realization, he turned to writing his Narnia tales. Also I have thought much recently on the power of story. The Bible is full of stories, and Jesus taught so much using stories. A well-told, captivating story makes truth vivid, beautiful, meaningful. Tolkien’s and Lewis’ fantasy stories reflect truths, and I think that is one reason they endure.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Meyer

    I'm finally finished this tome. It took me over a month of steady reading an basically getting no other books done, but I finished it. I liked it. I knew a lot about Tolkien, but I didn't realize how little I knew about Lewis. And I've never heard of Barfield or Williams. The book did feel a little Tolkien and Lewis heavy, but since they're the two most influential members, I understand why. It was interesting to learn more about these men's lives, their writing, and how they managed to shape mod I'm finally finished this tome. It took me over a month of steady reading an basically getting no other books done, but I finished it. I liked it. I knew a lot about Tolkien, but I didn't realize how little I knew about Lewis. And I've never heard of Barfield or Williams. The book did feel a little Tolkien and Lewis heavy, but since they're the two most influential members, I understand why. It was interesting to learn more about these men's lives, their writing, and how they managed to shape modern literature. It was a bit verbose at times and included a lot of quotes. A few areas could have been trimmed down. But not being a non-fiction writing, I don't know a lot about that kind of thing. If you're looking for a pretty comprehensive book on the subject, this is a good one.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review Title: Living in The Fellowship The 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 Review Title: Living in The Fellowship The 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

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