A Classic I Loved As a Child but Love Less Now (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

What Is Classic Remarks?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

How Can I Participate?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

This Week’s Prompt:

What is a classic you loved when you were younger, but feel differently about now?

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Considering that we celebrate the works of C.S. Lewis frequently here at Pages Unbound, this may be a bit shocking, but I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia much more as a child than I did rereading them as an adult.

I first encountered Narnia with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in third grade, and I went on to read and reread the entirety of the series (besides The Last Battle, which I’ve only read twice) over the course of the next two years or so.  I was obsessed.  I loved the stories.  I was disappointed in the existing movies; I was excited when new movies were announced.  I basically wanted to be Lucy Pevensie or to somehow find myself suddenly in Narnia one day.

So I was very surprised when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult and felt the story was a bit…sparse.  As a child, I felt as though I could open the pages, walk into Narnia, live the story and just live there.  As adult, I felt like nothing was happening and nothing was explained and there was just so much missing that I had apparently just imagined into the story when I was younger.  Sometimes I wonder if this says something sad about me (I’ve moved away from being able to take words and make them come alive with my own imagination to being rigidly fixated on exactly what is or is not written on the page?), but the end result is that I definitely found the story shorter and less detailed than I remembered it.  And it was disappointing.

I still have a lot of respect for C.S. Lewis and for The Chronicles of Narnia.  There is a lot of good scholarship on the series, so clearly adults are finding things that are interesting and complex about the books, enough so to fill their own books with discussion of them. However, the difference between my experience reading the books as an adult and as a child was so stark that I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get over it, and sometimes I wish I still had the ability to read a short chapter book and make it come alive for myself, rather than thinking something is lacking.

Briana

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Information

Goodreads: Finding Narnia
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: November 2019

Summary

Caroline McAlister follows Jack and Warnie Lewis from boyhood to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in this picture book biography.

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Review

Finding Narnia proves a lackluster picture book biography, so focused on simplifying matters for children that it loses its heart in the process. Caroline McAlister seeks to move from Jack and Warnie’s boyhoods up to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but, rather than focusing on concrete details, attempts to write a thematic work tied together by the concept of Jack and Warnie’s differences, and Jack’s longing to find out “What if?” The result is that the book provides neither enough biographical meat to feel like real biography, nor enough emotional resonance to feel like inspirational. The biographical end note is more effective at bringing Jack to life than the picture book text.

Writing a picture book biography is no small feat, as a lifetime must be condensed into only a couple hundred words. Caroline McAlister attempts to do this by trying to give readers a “feeling” for who Jack and Warnie were instead of fitting in as many facts of possible. Jack likes stories. Warnie likes technology. Jack likes knights. Warnie like trains. Jack likes a world of talking animals. Warnie likes India in the real world. Unfortunately, it feels like this contrast (perhaps oversimplified for drama), comes sometimes at the expense of biographical fact. Moments like Mrs. Lewis’s death and WWI are glossed over, creating a lack of emotion in the book. A writer usually cannot dismiss WWI in three sentences and still have readers understand how such an event impacted the characters. Without this understanding, it is hard for readers to feel why Jack’s question of “What if?” was so important to him.

The ending of the book regrettably does nothing to leave the readers with a a lasting impact. Instead, it just tapers off into a vague summary of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in a bid to appeal to avid fans and the sense of wonder that Lewis’s world creates. Needless to say, this ending will probably be less meaningful to those discovering Lewis for the first time through the book. And it will probably confuse children expecting some sort of conclusive ending.

The illustrations in Finding Narnia are nice. They are serviceable. But they are not memorable and they do not save the book from feeling underwhelming. They are, however, apparently well-researched, based on the number of end notes provided to explain the details readers may have missed.

One begins to regret that all the research done for the book does not seem immediately obvious, due to McAlister’s struggle to write a successful picture book. She is far more engaging writing the lengthy biography at the end of the book and it seems clear that her love for C. S. Lewis would probably have been better used if she had written a book for older readers. Still, fans of the Inklings often tend to like things just because the Inklings are mentioned in them, and I suspect some fans will just be cheered to see any picture book featuring Jack and Warnie.

2 star review

10 Must-Read Books about C. S. Lewis

Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him ed. by James T. Como

This collection brings together the recollections of twenty-four men and women who knew C. S. Lewis both in his professional and in his everyday life.  An intimate, varied look at the celebrated author.

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The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Glyer proposes to change our understanding of the Inklings by going against the common understanding that the Inklings did not influence each other’s writings. She defines the difference between “influences” and “similarities” and goes on to outline how writers can be influenced by resonators (supporters), opponents, editors, collaborators, and referents. It’s also a fascinating read for those interested in the writing process.

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C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Greene and Walter Hooper

The first biography of C. S. Lewis to published, this book was written by his former student and later friend Roger Lancelyn Green, along with his secretary Walter Hooper.  It paints a sympathetic picture of Lewis, focusing on his academic and literary life.

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Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Douglas H. Gresham

Joy Davidman’s son recounts his life growing up in New York, Joy and C. S. Lewis’s romance and eventual marriage, life at the Kilns, and his life as a farmer and radio announcer up until Warnie Lewis’s death. An intimate glimpse at C. S. Lewis’s home life by his stepson.

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All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis, 1922-1927 by C. S. Lewis

This volume collects five years’ of diary entries by C. S. Lewis when he was in his early 20s, returned from WWI and attending university.  It contains a foreword by Lewis’s friend Owen Barfield and an introduction by Walter Hooper.

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Boxen: Childhood Chronicles before Narnia by C. S. Lewis and W. H. Lewis, ed. by Walter Hooper

While growing up, C. S. Lewis and his brother Warnie imagined a world of talking animals that they called Animal-Land or Boxen.  This book collects their stories, sketches, and maps.

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The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis by C. S. Lewis, ed. by Walter Hooper

This three-volume collection includes letters from Lewis’s boyhood and time serving in WWI through his professional life and marriage to Joy Davidman, right to the day before he died.  His thoughts on theology, poetry, and children’s stories can be found within, as can his correspondence with such figures as J. R. R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers.

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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Lewis’s spiritual autobiography famously recounts how he converted to Christianity by attempting to explain his search for joy, a piercing longing for something else.

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C. S. Lewis in a Time of War by Justin Phillips

Phillips’ book traces the history BBC and its religious programming before moving into an examination of the request for C. S. Lewis to provide a series of talks on Christianity during WWII. This look at a specific historical moment may be of most interest to readers who enjoy works about radio broadcasting or who are really fascinated by the details of Lewis’s life.

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Planet Narnia: the Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis by Michael Ward

Ward argues against the common perception that there is no unifying theme that ties the seven Chronicles of Narnia together.  He suggests that Lewis was inspired by medieval cosmology and that each of the seven books reflects characteristics of a planet, including Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn.  A provocative criticism of Lewis’s work.

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5 Things to Love about C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast on November 29, 1898.  Today we honor him by remembering some of his finest moments.


Lewis was no literary snob.  In An Experiment in Criticism, he lays out an argument that books are not “great” by virtue of what they contain, but instead by virtue of how they are read.  He asserts that even a novel that most people see as without literary merit cannot be dismissed offhand if we can find even one person who has truly loved and reread that book many times.

Following this first point, C. S. Lewis advocated tirelessly for science fiction to be accepted as a respected literary genre.  His status as an academic, as well as his own science fiction works, certainly would have caused many of the literati to sit up and pay attention.  You can read some of his arguments in the collection On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature.

C. S. Lewis did not stoop to personal attacks when others criticized him or his work.  Rather, he often generously outlines the merits of his critics’ own literary works before proceeding to respond with reasoned arguments to their critiques.  You can read some of his responses to his critics in On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature.

When asked if he would write a review for the work of an author who had savaged his own work, Lewis indignantly declined.  He felt he was just being asked to create drama, rather than really review the work.  (You can read the story in On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature.)

In their autobiography of C. S. Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper write that Lewis set up his finances so two-thirds of his writing income was given to charities.  Apparently Owen Barfield had to step in to help Lewis manage his money because he initially went a little crazy giving it all away!

The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writings, Ideas, and Influence by Colin Duriez

Information

Goodreads: The Oxford Inklings
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Colin Duriez focuses on four of the most prominent members of the Inklings–C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield–telling their stories and examining how they influenced each other.

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Review

Colin Duriez’s work on the Inklings seems highly influenced by Diana Pavlac Glyer’s groundbreaking research on the Inklings and how they influenced each other.  Glyer wrote in response to the misconception that the Inklings had not influenced each other–an belief that was shaped both by the Inklings’ own words about each other and by a misconception that influence equals only similarities in works written.  Her work proposes that the Inklings did influence each other because they acted as editors, collaborators, supporters, opponents, and referents.  Duriez’s book thus takes their mutual influence for granted and examines their lives in light of Glyer’s findings.

Regrettably, however, Duriez’s work offers little that is new for readers already familiar with the Inklings.  Biographies of the major figures are readily available and Glyer’s study of influence is far more extensive and explicit than is Duriez’s.  Perhaps his most intriguing argument centers around Lewis’s move from writing theological books to writing the Chronicles of Narnia.  Otherwise, however, I felt that that the book was nor particularly original or insightful.  Its main use may be in bringing more biographical details together with the study of influence in one volume.

Readers who are new to the Inklings and who have not read other books about them will find Duriez’s work a useful, concise introduction.  However, readers who have already explored some of the major works on the group may want to pass.

3 Stars

The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Information

Goodreads: The Company They Keep
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2008

Summary

In this groundbreaking study, Glyer proposes to change our understanding of the Inklings by going against the common understanding that the Inklings did not influence each other’s writings. She defines the difference between “influences” and “similarities” and goes on to outline how writers can be influenced by resonators (supporters), opponents, editors, collaborators, and referents.

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Review

Diana Pavlac Glyer’s book represents an important contribution to Inklings studies.  While many have argued that the Inklings had no influence on one another, often quoting Inklings who said as much, Glyer argues that influence means far more than textual similarities.  She illustrates how the group members offered encouragement and support, edited each other’s projects, sometimes opposed projects, collaborated, and referenced each other in their works.  She illuminates the work not only of the Inklings but also of writing groups in general.

The beauty of Glyer’s work is that it seems so obvious once she says it. Some readers may be tempted to dismiss it for that reason.  However, it is important to remember that her arguments were not obvious to many for a very long time.  Assertions by the Inklings themselves that they had no influence on each other were taken at face value, rather than read in context.  The ways in which they supported each other by reviewing, editing, and just listening were ignored.  There are copies of Inkling drafts with the handwriting of other Inklings on them–and yet this was apparently not significant to many scholars.  All because influence studies focused on finding one-to-one correspondences in published work.

The writing may appear academic to some, but the text is supremely readable, even if written in more formal a style than many are familiar with.  Glyer’s points are clear and crisp, and any lay reader should be able to follow along.  There is no jargon here, nor attempts to make up new words or string big words together in the hopes of sounding learned.  The Inklings themselves would likely be pleased, as clarity was always their aim.

So if you’re interested in the Inklings or even in how writing groups come together and work, check out Glyer’s work.  It’s worth it.

4 stars

C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper

Information

Goodreads: C. S. Lewis: A Biography
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1974

Summary

Born in 1898 in Belfast, Ireland, Clive Staples Lewis was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University and later Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University.  He is known primarily for his Narnia books, his Space Trilogy, and his works explaining Christianity to lay people.  This biography is written by his former student and later friend Roger Lancelyn Green, along with Lewis’s secretary Walter Hooper.

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Review

Written by two of C. S. Lewis’s friends, this biography understandably paints a sympathetic and very professional portrait of the man perhaps best known for writing the Chronicles of Narnia.  As a result, readers hoping for salacious details about things like Lewis’s relationship with  Mrs. Moore will obviously be disappointed.  Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, in fact, seem more preoccupied by Lewis’s academic career and his publication history than even harmless details about his personal life.  The biography thus is a serviceable introduction to Lewis, but readers may want to supplement it with more balanced accounts.

As the first biography written of C. S. Lewis, this one does read as a little dated.  The authors seem eager to trace Lewis’s academic career in more detail than most contemporary readers would probably care about (modern emphasis is on Lewis’s fiction, with some attention paid to a few of his theological works)–and they are prone to listing all the names of people Lewis met, lunched with, knew in his colleges, etc.  This name dropping was perhaps flattering to the individuals still alive at the time and perhaps even relevant to readers familiar with the faculties of Oxford and Cambridge.  However, today, most of these men are no longer well-known and thus of no interest to readers.  I imagine a contemporary biographer would focus more on the Inklings and less on Lewis’s interactions with fellow academics.

The benefit of this biography, however, is, of course, that both authors knew Lewis and they were able to ask for recollections from others who had also known him.  Thus, little anecdotes are scattered throughout the book.  They do not necessarily add to the overall narrative, but they do give readers the sense of being allowed to glimpse something personal–and that is probably the point.

It is also worth nothing, however, that personal recollections never get too personal.  Green and Hooper do not want to deal with the Mrs. Moore situation, nor do they like to dwell too much on negative impressions of Lewis, even when they bring up others’ opinions.  They may mention that Tolkien thought Lewis was always being “taken in” by someone like Mrs. Moore or wife Joy (whom he initially married as a legal formality so she could stay in England).  But they really aren’t going to comment.

Fans of Lewis will no doubt want to read this book since it does have the special distinction of being written by friends and contemporaries.  Readers who like to get the dirt on celebrated figures, however, will have to look elsewhere.

3 Stars

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Information

Goodreads: An Experiment in Criticism
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1961

Summary

C. S. Lewis proposes that we can define books as good or bad based on how they are read.  To do this, he differentiates between the “literary” and the “unliterary,” or readers who enter fully into the work without preconceptions and readers who do not.

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Review

C. S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism challenges readers to be better.  His argument posits that “it might be plausible to define a good book as a book which is read in one way, and a bad book as a book which is read in another.”  To do this, he defines the “few” and the “many” or the “unliterary” and the “literary.”  Presumably readers want Lewis to count them among the “literary!”

Lewis’s thesis rests on the argument that what both groups mean by “liking” a book or “liking” to read is very different.  The unliterary do not reread books and “turn to [reading] as a last resort.”  The literary, however, reread “great” books multiple times, experience books as life-changing, and are so caught up in their reading that they both spend time reflecting on their favorite passages and talking about books to others.  So far, so good.  Many readers would probably see themselves among the “few.”

As Lewis’s argument goes on, however, it becomes more challenging.  The unliterary, he maintains, “use” books instead of receiving them.  The book is a jumping off point for their own ideas and fantasies.  They do not receive the ideas of the author by entering the book without preconceptions.  For this reason, Lewis believes that the unliterary prefer fast-paced narratives and even poor prose–the prose cannot get in the way of the use they wish to make of the book.  Erotica may come to mind here as a type of book people use, as Lewis agrees, but he is far more concerned with the pleasure the literary receive from “success “stories, whether that means they imagine themselves in a romance being wooed by a gentleman caller, or in a rags-to-riches tale achieving wealth and fame.  Reading should not, Lewis suggests be about one’s self but should take one out of one’s self.

Lewis’s ultimate argument goes far beyond questioning the intellect of readers; it suggests that reading is a moral act, as well.  The literary can enjoy, with the unliterary, “vicarious enjoyment of imagined happiness,” but that is not the only way they read.  He imagines reading as a process “described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self.”  What a wake-up call!  Though many see reading as for entertainment or enjoyment, Lewis’s stance reminds readers that the way they use free time has stakes.  They could waste their time, but they also might be missing an opportunity to better themselves, or even actively harming themselves.

Lewis’s book, fittingly, requires readers to approach it just as he argues–without preconceptions.  A defensive approach in which a reader prepares to justify their reading habits means that they will likely misread his argument and miss an opportunity to engage self-reflectively with his ideas.  But Lewis, as always, strives to be personable as well as concise and clear, making the book feel like a chat with a friend.  An Experiment in Criticism is a worthwhile read for any reader.

4 stars

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Information

Goodreads: A Grief Observed
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1961

Summary

After the death of his wife Joy Davidman in 1960, C. S. Lewis found himself questioning his faith.  He worked through his emotions in four notebooks,  from which he later compiled this account, initially published under a pseudonym.

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Review

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

In the introduction, Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham points out that the title “A Grief Observed” indicates that the book does not deal with the experience of every grief, but only with the experience of Lewis’s particular grief.  Even so, generations of readers have found comfort and consolation in it is pages.  Lewis’s account shows a man who falls into the depths of despair and somehow reemerges, first questioning his faith and then finding that he can still believe, after all.  His experience reminds readers that feelings of hopelessness and doubt are natural, but do not have to be the end of the story.

Madeleine L’Engle succinctly explains the importance of this book in her introduction: “It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”  Some may find Lewis’s doubt scandalous, but it is through doubt that Lewis ultimately attains growth.  He muses that perhaps God is testing him, not because God is cruel  but because he himself needs to learn exactly how strong his faith is.  He worries that his faith was never much at all, it seems so ready to flee as soon as grief assails him.  And yet he finds that God does give consolation–only that is not feelings of warm fuzzies but instead the strength to carry on.

For Lewis does go on, though initially he wonders what that might look like.  He worries that he will lose his memory of his wife, that she will become only his image of her.  He adamantly opposes the idea that things should go back as they were, that he should go on living as if she had never been.  He feels tempted to cling to his grief to honor her.  But he begins to think that, to really honor her, he must love her and wish her well.  He realizes he has been thinking mostly of himself, then of her, and then of God.  He has got the order all wrong.

A Grief Observed is a powerful book, an intimate look at one man’s struggle with the pain of death and the pain of wondering if he can ever belief in God again–believe in God, not as someone who exists but as someone who is good.  Publishing it was surely an act of courage.  But one that has benefited countless readers.

5 stars

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski

Fellowship Literary Lives of the Inklings

Information

Goodreads: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: June 2, 2015

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.

Review

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings gives readers an in-depth look at the four men generally considered the most influential and successful of the writers’ group known as the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.  The book, at a hearty 644 pages (about 100 which are bibliographic references) combines biography, religious studies, and literary studies to look at the lives of these four men and explain how their academic training and their Christian (though not always orthodox) faith influenced their writing, from poetry to novels to straight apologetics.  Expect more than four overlapping biographies; Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski give a full overview of all of the men’s writing, from the influential to the unknown, summarizing it and explaining how it fit into their ever-evolving worldviews.

Despite the promise of four Inklings, the focus is truly on Lewis and Tolkien.  Charles Williams does not even appear in the book until after page 200, and 100 pages later, he’s dead.  (Not his fault he died first, though, I suppose.)  Owen Barfield is a little more present, but he never gets as much attention as the two other authors.  This spotlight on Lewis and Tolkien is, on one hand, understandable; they’re the two most famous Inklings, and readers who pick up the book are likely to have the greatest interest in them.  However, one would assume part of the appeal of a book about “the Inklings” more generally would be that it would tell readers about the Inklings they don’t already know much about.  (As a bonus, readers do get to learn a lot about Lewis’s brother Warnie, also an Inkling and a respected academic in his own right, but perhaps doomed to be always known as “C.S. Lewis’s brother.”)

My real frustration with the book, however, is that the authors consistently impose their personal opinions and interpretations.  There are numerous offhand comments about people’s characters, without much backing evidence, as well as blithe declarations that, for example, a certain work is obviously the author’s weakest novel.  There could be reasonable explanation for these judgments.  Perhaps literary scholars in general think x is author y’s weakest novel.  However, the Zaleskis’ failure to back up many of their claims is a recurring issue in the book.

I also think it worth mentioning that the book could be a bit of a slog for readers without some knowledge of literary theory, religion, and philosophy.  It is, admittedly, unclear who the target audience of this book might be.  It seems to be marketed to a general audience, but one assumes anyone who actually picks up a 600+ page tome classified as “biography/religion/literary criticism” is going to have some background knowledge on the subject matter and not be a complete novice.  However, the authors frequently refer to theories, scholars, and other movements in various academic fields without any explanation of what they are or why they are important.  I did alright reading the book, but I credit that with having a graduate degree in English literature; I admit to being somewhat lost when it came to some of the religious studies references.  The book is not impossible to read, but some readers may do well to have Google handy.

These flaws aside, the book does offer an immensely thorough look at how these four men influenced each other’s writing and how their faith and their scholarly interests pervade all of their writing.  Readers may already be aware that Tolkien was an active Roman Catholic or that Lewis became known for his Christian apologetics work.  However, what the Zaleskis clearly show is how each of the four men’s faith changed over time and how certain movements, beliefs, and struggles might have colored their work over their entire lifetime—how Lewis moved from essentially pagan views in his early poetry to become the Christian voice of a nation, for instance.

I would warn off readers who feel the need to idolize their authors.  Personally, I think Tolkien’s private life is the only one that comes across as admirable here, even though he himself felt he may never have devoted as much time to his family as he would have wished.  However, the contradictions add a layer of interest to the work, as readers must ponder how Lewis could espouse Christian teaching while living with an older, married woman for the majority of his life (critics are unclear whether the relationship was sexual), or how Williams could justify his ideas of pure love leading to virtue while engaging in multiple affairs (never sexual, as though that excused them).  But the point is that these were all real men, all struggling to refine their beliefs and their own behavior, even as they sought to illuminate some type of truth through their writing.  They were never perfect, but they all thought deeply about what perfection might look like.

Despite my issues with The Fellowship, I did find it a worthwhile read.  I learned a number of new things about all four of the authors, and the intersections drawn between them were immensely helpful.  I recommend it to Inklings fans serious about learning more about their lives and work.

3 Stars Briana