The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski (Guest Review)

Tolkien Event 2016

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Life, Death, and Immortality. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring guest posts and interviews!

Katie blogs about about everything books, especially nonfiction and literary fiction, over at Doing Dewey. She loves hosting and joining in on fun bookish events like this one.

Doing Dewey

official Summary

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.

katie’s Review

Literary Lives of the Inklines

I always get excited about books about authors and I love both Tolkien and Lewis, so I thought this event was the perfect excuse to pick up The Inklings and learn a little more about both these great authors. Unfortunately, the bottom line of this review is (spoiler alert!) that I found this book a bit too academic. The parts about the major events in the authors’ lives were fantastic, but every time the book digressed into the details of their philosophy, it completely lost me. The good news is that I can give all you fellow Tolkien fans a description of this book so you can decide if you want to dedicate time to this 500 page tome.

My first reaction to this book was to notice that was so long. I’m so used to picking out books online and I never think to check page length! In the intro, the author said that this was a book designed to appeal to both people who love Tolkien and Lewis and people who just want to know more about the movement the Inklings represent. I thought that seemed very promising – I do love Tolkien and Lewis and I love learning about interesting times in history – but it turned out that the author meant something far more detailed and academic than I hoped for. This meant that sometimes I was deeply engaged in this book and at other times, I just wanted to be finished with it!

The best parts were:

  • Fascinating life stories of the authors
  • Interesting analysis of their books (most interesting for the ones I’ve read)
  • World history, connecting the authors to global events

And the parts that made me just want to be done included:

  • Excessive philosophy
  • Use of Latin and French phrases without translations provided
  • The authors of this book inserting too much of their personal opinion on the books being discussed

Overall, I’d say that if philosophy and/or the study of literature interest you, you’re likely to enjoy this more wholeheartedly than I did. If you’re even more of a die-hard Tolkien fan, that might also help carry you through.

Add the book to Goodreads here.

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