As we gear up for the start of our Spring 2016 semester next week, we wanted to share this review sent to us by Signum University M.A. student David Maddock, which dovetails nicely with our Inklings and Science Fiction class.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. June 2015. 656 pages.
Writing a one-volume biography about a group of writers with such diverse output and life experience is a task fraught with compromises destined to please no one. Every reader has different expectations of the appropriate mix of personal to professional detail, literary analysis, rumor, scholarly rigor, and colloquial anecdote. And yet, the Zaleskis have managed to navigate this minefield with aplomb and emerge with a truly superb book.
The Fellowship is a suitable introduction for the casual reader, but it really shines as a foundational introduction and resource for the budding Inklings scholar. It covers the lives and major work of the four primary Inklings writers – J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams – and herein lies the biggest strength of the book.
Although the life of C.S. Lewis provides the backbone narrative – as any Inklings biography inevitably must, the Zaleskis devote much more space to Barfield and Williams (and to a lesser extent, Warnie Lewis). This “second string” is treated as worthy of study in their own right and not as mere eccentric sidekicks. One hopes that the sections on Charles Williams should whet the reader’s appetite for Grevel Lindop’s full biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling released by Oxford University Press just a week ago.
Of course, the expanded cast of characters explains the 650+ page count (almost twice the size of Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings), but also enables the Zaleskis to discuss the broad themes that make each author distinct from the others. These are Tolkien’s “mythology for England,” Lewis’ conversion to “mere Christianity,” Barfield’s “evolution of consciousness,” and Williams’ “romantic theology.” Even well-read Tolkien or Lewis aficionados should find much to explore in treatment of the latter two characters. Thus, the whole narrative is an efficacious and diverting review for the initiated and an informative and comprehensive introduction for the newbie.
David Maddock is a Signum University graduate student currently earning his M.A. in Language & Literature.