Authors: Philip Zaleski, Carol Zaleski

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (June 7, 2016)

ISBN-10: 0374536252

ISBN-13: 978-0374536251

During the 1930s and 40s, the Inklings were a small club of literary minds who met informally at Oxford to discuss topics of interest to the group and read aloud passages from their works in progress for criticism and inspiration. The name came from their literary desires as they spend considerable time using ink to craft fiction, non-fiction, poetry, lectures, philology, and literary criticism. The group had a decided Christian bent, a strong interest in old English and Norse verse and myths, and a desire to flex their debating skills among themselves.

The core of “The Inklings were J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis whose lives and works fill the bulk of the Zaleski’s multi-layered biographies of these high-minded, intellectual, and creative innovators. While a number of other participants were on-again, off again members of “The Inklings” circle, the Zaleski’s invest long passages and criticism to only two other men, authors Owen Barfield and Charles Williams who once earned critical respect for their literary criticism but are now largely forgotten.

While this description might suggest a rather dry exploration of an obviously scholarly group, I found myself absorbed at learning much more about two of these writers, Tolkien and Lewis, and meeting lesser-known writers I’d never heard of. Certainly, we spend most of our time dwelling in the reading, writing, and thinking of these men which involves classic world literature, religious jousts, and metaphysical philosophy. The presence of Owen Barfield was, for me at least, a welcome introduction to an imaginative author and intellect I had no idea had written rather early sci fi.

Most general readers will be quickly drawn to the processes that resulted in Tolkien and Lewis’s most celebrated works like The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. We get no shortage of insights into how this popular fiction came to be and what the authors hoped to accomplish. Better, we get in-depth analyses of the contexts of their works which showcases how the “Inklings” interfaced with each other which is where students of these writers will read the freshest perspectives into the writings of figures whose legacies have been excavated countless times over the decades.

The Fellowship is clearly targeted for a rather high-brow readership, considering the subject matter and emphasis on the mental and creative aspects of the “Inklings.” If you’ve read and wish analysis of works like Out of the Silent Planet, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Lord of the Rings, then this study might be for you.

As a side-note: To all those who think fantasy fiction is anti-Christian or ruinous to young minds, the “Inklings” puts the lie to such fears. It’s rather the other way around.