August 1, 2015

Review: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings

Last month, two of my loving, thoughtful and generous grandparents surprised me with a newly published book by Philip and Carol Zaleski titled, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings.  I quickly devoured it (while still savoring every chapter) and now I have finally gotten around to tying up some of my thoughts about the volume to post something new on Musings of a Tolkienist, a book review.


     To amass a critical study of the literary group known as the Inklings is no small task.  They are some of the most read and studied writers of the twentieth century.  Yet, there isn't a consensus as to what the members of the Inklings really intended to accomplish with their gatherings.  Were they a "cabel or club?"  Did they just gather to share drinks and read stories or were they trying to redirect "the whole current of contemporary art and life?"  While there never be a fully complete and simple answer to that question, the Zaleskis explore possible answers through the lives of the Inklings' four main members, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.  Their biographical picture of these four great men and their relationship to one another is not only the fruitful result of thorough research, but it is also a study that is thoroughly enjoyable to read.  With clear diction and a rich vocabulary, the Zaleskis lay the story of these four main Inklings out on the table as an open book, presenting their lives, beliefs, thoughts, struggles, labors, sorrows, and joys for readers to discover.

From left to right: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
     When discussing such controversial figures such as these (particularly Lewis and Tolkien) it's very hard (nigh impossible) to form a completely neutral, unbiased and scholarly assessment of the Inklings and their works, but the Zaleskis attempt to present opinions and views of these men from nearly all angles without blatant intrusion of their own beliefs and ideas.   In every chapter their honesty and genuine interest in these authors leads them near the core of their subjects' beings.  They obviously cherish the joyous parts of the Inkling's accomplishments, but at the same time they're not afraid to tackle some of the darker aspects of each Inkling's life (especially that of Lewis and Williams), uncover broken relationships between the members and explain some of the more bizarre ideas and theology presented by Barfield and Williams.  With that in mind, it takes an engaged and discerning reader to sift through and contemplate the the deep and profound thoughts and writings put forth by the Inklings.

The Bird and Baby pub (now known as the Eagle and Child) where the Inklings later gathered on Tuesday mornings

     While the true intention of the Inklings meetings may never be fully understood (nor was is perhaps fully understood by its participants), the Zaleskis recognize that today they "constitute a major literary force, a movement of sorts.  As symbol, inspiration, guide, and rallying cry, the Inklings grow more influential each year."  The Inklings have had an influential hand in shaping the modern world and this masterful account of their lives is highly recommended by this author to any discerning and dedicated reader who wishes to better understand the culture we live in or simply gain better insight into the lives of their literary heroes.

Oxford, England

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
by Philip and Carol Zaleski can be found here on Amazon for (currently) $23.37.

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