Review: The Fellowship

Title: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings
Author: Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Published: June 2, 2015
Paperback, ARC
ISBN: 9780374154097
Genre: Biography
Source: Publisher


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.

My Thoughts:

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski is one of my favorite books from 2015. It's also took me the longest to read. When I think of the Inklings, I often have a more romantic view in my head. That is to say, I imagine them sitting around in deep discussions about literature and writing, being totally brilliant, and encouraging each other in their literary careers. This did happen, but not as often as I like to believe it did.And truth be told, while I am familiar with some of the members (formal and informal) of the Inklings, I am mostly familiar with the two most famous (in my opinion) Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

I first discovered C.S. Lewis while in second grade. I picked up The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at a book fair, and it wasn't too long after when I began slipping into closets and wardrobes trying to find the entrance to Narnia. I also read The Hobbit in elementary school, but it wasn't until I was in my twenties before I could appreciate it. In 2015 I discovered Owen Barfield and Charles Williams for the first time. The four gentlemen make up the Inklings that Philip and Carol Zaleski discuss in this book.

Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, a husband-and-wife team, have managed to sift through an endless amount of documents to piece together an interesting look into the lives of the one and only Inklings. I wasn't familiar with either author before starting this book, but soon after I began it was clear that I was going to love this book. Philip and Carol have each made their writing career writing books on religion and spirituality. Which is one of the reasons that I think they made the perfect team to write this book, because many of the members of the Inklings had deeply held beliefs and to leave them out or gloss them over would be a disservice to them. And the Zaleskis don't gloss over them, either to leave their beliefs out or to make it seem as if their lives were a fairy tale with no personal struggles in that department.

The Fellowship follows J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams from childhood to death. Though I believe the authors tended to focus more on Lewis and Tolkien than Williams and Barfield. I enjoyed reading about their lives especially in the early years, but for me, it was the formation of the Inklings and their trials through WWI and WWII that were the most fascinating. As well as their interactions and reactions to each other and each others' writing.

The authors call the four Inklings " . . . the most original, as writers and thinkers, and the most likely to be read and studied by future generations." I think they might be right. I recommend that anyone interested in the Inklings read this book. It was an absolute pleasure reading it.