Skip to:Content
Cover image for The fellowship : the literary lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
The fellowship : the literary lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
First edition.
Physical Description:
644 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Prologue: Dabblers in ink -- "A star shines on the hour of our meeting" -- Heaven in a biscuit tin -- Advent lyrics -- Hard knocks and dreaming spires -- "Words have a soul" -- A mythology for England -- Wanted: an intelligible absolute -- A meeting of minds -- Inklings assemble -- Romantic theology -- Secondary worlds -- War, again -- Mere Christians -- Loss and gain -- Miracles -- "Making up is a very mysterious thing" -- The long-expected sequel -- The dialectic of desire -- Inklings first and last -- Epilogue: The recovered image.
Added Author:
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 every week in Lewis's Oxford rooms and in nearby pubs. They discussed literature, religion, and ideas; read aloud from works in progress; took philosophical rambles through woods and fields; gave one another companionship and criticism; and, in the process, rewrote the cultural history of their times. Here, Philip and Carol Zaleski offer the first complete rendering of the Inklings' lives and works. The result is an extraordinary account of the ideas, affections, and vexations that drove the group's most significant members. C. S. Lewis maps the medieval and Renaissance minds, 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 while conducting groundbreaking Old English scholarship. 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. --From publisher description.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 820.900912 ZAL 0 1
Book 820.900912 ZAL 1 1
Book 820.900912 ZAL 1 1
Book 820.900912 ZAL 1 1

On Order



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 a nearby pub. They read aloud from works in progress, argued about anything that caught their fancy, and gave one another invaluable companionship, inspiration, and criticism. In The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski offer the first complete rendering of the Inklings' lives and works. Lewis maps the medieval mind, accepts Christ while riding in the sidecar of his brother's motorcycle, becomes a world-famous evangelist and moral satirist, and creates new forms of religiously attuned fiction while wrestling with personal crises. Tolkien transmutes an invented mythology into a breathtaking story in The Lord of the Rings, while conducting groundbreaking Old English scholarship and elucidating the Catholic teachings at the heart of his vision. This extraordinary group biography also focuses on Charles Williams, strange acolyte of Romantic love, and Owen Barfield, an esoteric philosopher who became, for a time, Saul Bellow's guru. Romantics who scorned rebellion, fantasists who prized sanity, Christians with cosmic reach, the Inklings sought to revitalize literature and faith in the twentieth century's darkest years-and did so.

Author Notes

Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski are the coauthors of Prayer: A History and The Book of Heaven. Philip is also the former editor of the Best American Spiritual Writing series. Carol is the author of several books and a professor of religion at Smith College.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that the name "Inklings" suggested "people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink." Yet it's difficult to overstate the influence of the two most famous Inklings, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, on varied fields including Christian apologetics and fantasy writing. The Zaleskis trace the history of this informal club of Oxford-educated, Christian intellectuals, which first coalesced in the early 1930s, by focusing on four of the most prominent Inklings: Tolkien, Lewis, mystic Charles Williams, and philosopher Owen Barfield. As scholarship, the book is immensely successful, describing its protagonists' strengths and shortcomings with insight and facility. Understandably, the Zaleskis spend more time on Lewis and Tolkien than on their fellows (mainly due to the amount of material available), but their portraits of Williams, "a swirling mass of contradictions," and Barfield, dedicated "to unraveling the secret life of words," are no less nuanced. Particularly insightful is the observation that the Inklings' scholarly preoccupations affected their public writings and personal lives as much as the reverse. Ultimately, this meticulous group biography allow readers to decide whether the Inklings were, as novelist John Wain suggested, a countercultural "circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries," or, as they themselves insisted, merely a pipe-smoking, ale-drinking, loud-laughing group of friends. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The iconoclastic Bloomsbury Group captivated intellectuals, but the Zaleskis hail as a more influential ensemble the improbable conclave of Oxford fantasists who called themselves the Inklings. This talented group waxed and waned between the 1930s and the '50s, but four central members J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield define the focus of this revealing chronicle. Readers see how the distinct life trajectories of these four punctuated by family disruptions, war, and personal travail primed them for the exceptionally fruitful fellowship that convened weekly in Lewis' sitting rooms and in a nearby pub, where they shared literary works in progress and challenged each other to think more deeply about their writing, their friendship, and their faith. The Zaleskis expose tensions within the group but highlight the members' shared commitment to a vibrantly Christian creativity so resistant to the sterility of modernism that it incubated soul-stirring fantasy. Out of the beer, the smoke, and the talk of the Inklings' meetings emerged works that deeply moved millions of readers works that included Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Williams' Place of the Lion, and Barfield's Poetic Diction. A compelling collective portrait of an exceptionally potent gathering of literary creativity.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2015 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

OFTEN, READING a book that calls to mind your teenage favorites is, at best, an exercise in nostalgia: a slightly uncomfortable reminder of a time when coming-of-age tales seemed to offer magnificent maps of the possible. But under those bright, forthright tales with the air of the mythic about them, you could sometimes find a messier story (courtesy of Angela Carter or Tanith Lee, say) that struck deeper, a story that knew you had already seen the outline of the dark and understood that no easy map was going to work. Enter UPROOTED (Del Rey, $25), in which Naomi Novik skillfully takes the fairy-tale-turned-bildungsroman structure of her premise - the peasant girl selected to serve the terrifying magician, her undiscovered magical talent, an evil wood encroaching on the doorstep - and builds enough flesh on those bones to make a very different animal. Plain but hyper-talented Agnieszka could risk cliché, but even without Novik's tweaks to the formula, she makes for a gripping narrator, pragmatically personable but tapped into the lyric. The vivid characters around her also echo their fairy-tale forebears, but are grounded in real-world ambivalence that makes this book feel quietly mature, its world lived-in. Even the magic has the low-key, organic feel that you would expect from a farming valley. When the sinister wood infects some cattle, for instance, their owner doesn't immediately slaughter them - his family has no other animals, and he's so desperate he delays what's necessary. Even in the midst of chaos, the villagers don't vilify him for it. This is a book in which the thinnest threads of understanding can hold the whole enterprise aloft. None of these asides feel burdensome; the plot thickens as quickly as the thorn bushes of the wood cast shadows, and Agnieszka's brisk narration and shrewd, shorthand observations of character make "Uprooted" a very enjoyable fantasy with the air of a modern classic. FOR SOME AUTHORS, a collection of early work might carry an air of formality, like a curated museum exhibit of their careers. But that was never Terry Pratchett's style. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with Sir Terry's work that his annotated juvenilia, collected alongside more recent short fiction in A BLINK OF THE SCREEN (Doubleday $26.95), read decidedly more as if you're sitting in the author's parlor on a lazy afternoon, flipping through an album while he weighs in on - and occasionally condemns - those long-ago stories. "My word, how this brings back memories," he says of one of them; he introduces another with little more than "I'm quite glad I never tried to sell this one." Though Pratchett's tongue stays firmly in his cheek, that's not entirely self-deprecation; many of these stories are by their nature slight, and serve more as markers than as works in themselves. For every interesting foray into hard science fiction, there's a formulaic comedy about the author whose character comes to life, or a brief, surreal thought experiment about what it must be like to be trapped inside a Victorian Christmas card. Some are darker than one might imagine from the man whose Discworld seems like such fun, though readers who have kept up with those novels will recognize many of these early exercises of Pratchett's satirical eye. And if it's Discworld you've come for, "A Blink of the Screen" has some charmers, gathering a brief but enlightening collection of short stories and ephemera from fairly far afield - including a "national anthem" written for BBC Radio, a reminder of Pratchett's breadth of pop-culture influence. (Similarly, one of the non-Discworld pieces comes from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.) The Discworld stories, unsurprisingly, are the collection's gems. In particular, an outtake from "The Sea and Little Fishes," which centers on Pratchett's hall-of-fame combination of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, bureaucracy and magic, feels like a familiar page in the album full of beloved faces. Pratchett died in March after a long illness, leaving this collection as something of a farewell present to his fans; it's a book meant to be cherished by those who want a glimpse of both the work and the man. THE SELF-AWARE AUTOMATON is far from new territory - the theme has been examined by everyone from Isaac Asimov, in "I, Robot," to Ekaterina Sedia, in "The Alchemy of Stone." Now Ian Tregillis joins in with THE MECHANICAL (Orbit, paper, $17). This novel makes no bones about what it is: From the moment the automaton Jax observes his Dutch masters executing a fellow "Clakker" who achieved free will, the narrative is designed to be a thriller that concerns itself at every turn with what it means to be human. (In between chase scenes, characters debate at length the theological basis for the soul.) It's perhaps a fitting irony, then, that this alternatehistory fantasy sometimes feels less like a compellingly human story than a collection of carefully rendered attributes painstakingly assembled by machine. Tregillis's plot moves briskly across two continents and several points of view, and the calamities build in ways that can be just as unsettling as intended. But as one might expect from a narrative that so closely engages with slavery, occasionally the story bends under the weight of its own extended metaphor. Still, it's a story without easy answers, and one that's too big for a single book to contain; "The Mechanical" is the first of a series, as genre-savvy readers will guess when they're rounding third base without any sign of tidy plot resolutions. Even if the spark of life never quite ignites, however, this secondary-world series should offer a promising introduction to new fans; it's both high concept and built down to the smallest details, with alchemy and espionage to spare. IT'S ALWAYS INTERESTING when artists "emerge" in the American sphere after establishing a legacy in their home countries. The brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky were fixtures of Soviet-Russian science fiction; their work has been turned into movies, referred to by a new generation of speculative writers and rereleased, minus the censors, in the post-Soviet era. THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER'S INN (Melville House, paper, $17) is already considered one of their classics, having been adapted for film and as a video game, but this handsome edition arrives with Neversink Library's Wes Anderson-minimalist cover aesthetic and an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer to entice those unfamiliar with the Strugatskys. This dual existence - famous, yet undiscovered - seems to suit "The Dead Mountaineer's Inn" down to the ground. On the surface, it's a locked-chalet mystery in which the irascible Inspector Glebsky has his vacation interrupted by a cadre of the usual suspects: a blowhard millionaire, an androgynous teenager, a busybody innkeeper, an eccentric physicist, an incurable grump, a femme banal. In short order, the book seals its genre trappings with an avalanche and a corpse. It's the investigation of a lifetime, hampered only by the fact that Glebsky wants nothing to do with it. (He's a narrator fallible enough to fall into traps, and just mature enough to know better.) As translated by Josh Billings, the Strugatsky brothers' rhythms set staccato conversation alongside passages unsettling in their languid cadence; there's enough dry humor to spark kindling, underlaid with a seeping dread that lingers long after the mystery is solved. That delicious sense of the uncanny is the unseen guest in every room of this inn, and when the tale slips from a riff on Agatha Christie into something more like "War of the Worlds," it's with less surprise than relief that Glebsky is made to realize the universe is stranger than it seems. That the difference feels so slight is part of what makes "The Dead Mountaineer's Inn" delightful and melancholy by turns, and so satisfying to read. NEDI OKORAFOR HAS made a name for herself with novels that combine politically complex science fiction and lyrical fantasy. The worlds her characters inhabit are as messy as they are magical, the conflicts as pointed as the magic is mythical. The World Fantasy Award-winning "Who Fears Death" followed Onyesonwu, a mixed-race child of rape born amid genocide, and was an unblinking look at an upturned future that asked hard questions about the present. THE book of phoenix (DAW, $24.95), its indirect prequel, is less concerned with the immediate world of "Who Fears Death" than with how such worlds come to be in the first place. And Okorafor runs roughshod over every genre marker she can find on her way there, despite (or perhaps because of) doom as the inevitable endpoint. Phoenix is a superhuman being, held at a Big Eye facility in New York; in quick succession, she falls in love, recognizes the harmful experiments being carried out on her and makes a dramatic escape. Her inescapable existence as an overtly colonized body provides more than impetus for revenge; it's the jumping-off point for a book particularly interested in the ways globalism reinforces colonialism, the ways one can carve a life out of so unfair a world, and how even superpowers have their limits when pitted against human cruelty. Some parallels are subtler than others (the book contains asides pinned directly to the Middle Passage, Henrietta Lacks and Okorafor's own previous work), and some of the questions it raises go deliberately unanswered, but it's refreshingly direct in the ways it contrasts its everyday politics with its everyday magic. Despite some loose threads, Okorafor triumphs over the perils of the prequel by making the inevitable feel newly dreadful. Blending poetic passages with sharp observation and the occasional cadence of a story told by firelight, "The Book of Phoenix" is an assured introduction not just to her world's myths, but to the process of mythmaking. ANYONE ATTEMPTING TO encapsulate the Inklings - that club of devout writers and academics who occupied the Oxbridge academic stratosphere of England before and after World War II - has some challenges to overcome. At the height of participation, their members numbered in the dozens (all men, naturally, though Dorothy L. Sayers gets singled out among the almost-rans), and their careers followed vastly different paths, nearly all of which were overshadowed by the encompassing fame of C. S. Lewis. But in THE FELLOWSHIP: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35), the husband-and-wife team of Philip and Carol Zaleski bring to bear both extensive scholarship and a neatly interwoven narrative; this is a story about storytellers, and it shows. While Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien take up the lion's share of the accomplishments, perhaps by default, the authors make good use of Charles Williams and Owen Barfield as barometers of the Inklings as a whole, as well as foils for Tolkien's quiet imaginings and Lewis's often-bombastic treatises. (Barfield's travails, with decades shackled to an office job and striving to recapture youthful success, come across as particularly poignant opposite Lewis's rising star.) Occasionally, some tidbits of trivia can feel as if they were included less out of direct narrative merit than out of a desire to justify the sheer effort expended to gather them - this is a book that features almost 100 pages of endnotes and bibliography - but for all that, things move nimbly across a century of deep shifts in England's political, religious and literary history. In all biographies, it's a trick to make the subjects seem interesting enough for a book while maintaining enough critical distance to acknowledge their flaws along with their virtues. In "The Fellowship," the authors never cease to feel for the Inklings, particularly sympathizing with their yearnings for spiritual and professional fulfillment, with occasional wry asides on the nature of their marriages and their politics to take note of shortcomings both personal and institutional. Taken together, it makes the overarching life of the group something greater than the sum of its parts. GENEVIEVE VALENTINE'S third novel, "Persona," was published in March. She is also the writer of DC Comics' "Catwoman."

Kirkus Review

How a "circle of instigators" thrived in mid-20th-century England.From 1930 until the 1950s, a small group of friends who dubbed themselves the Inklings met weekly, usually in the rooms of C.S. Lewis, at Magdalen College, Oxford, to talk, argue, cajole one another, and read their works-in-progress. Writers and painters, physicians and theologians, historians and actors, the men (no women allowed) shared "mythological, medieval, and monarchical" sympathies; "their great hope was to restore Western culture to its religious roots, to unleash the powers of the imagination, to reenchant the world through Christian faith and pagan beauty." In this well-researched, consistently engaging group biography, the Zaleskis (Prayer: A History, 2005, etc.), who have written widely on religion and spirituality, follow the lives of the group's major figures: Lewis (1898-1963), whose prolific output includes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series; playwright and literary critic Owen Barfield (1898-1997); and poet, playwright, theologian, and novelist Charles Williams (1886-1945). The Inklings, the authors assert, were interested in theological issues, but they differed in their viewpoints, derived from a range of Christian affiliations. They most certainly identified common enemies: "atheists, totalitarians, modernists, and anyone with a shallow imagination." Their own imaginations gravitated to mythology and especially to fantasy, "the sheer excitement of the genre, the intoxication of entering the unknown and fleeing from the everyday." Fantasy, moreover, intimated the spiritual and a "higher, purer world or state of being." The Inklings, the authors maintain throughout this richly detailed biography, revitalized "Christian intellectual and imaginative life" by producing literature that served as "a sanctuary for faith." A bountiful literary history that maps the work of "an intellectual orchestra, a gathering of sparkling talents in a common cause, each participant the master of his own chosen field." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

In 1932 a literary club called the Inklings first met at Oxford University. Its members debated various topics and provided criticism of one another's writings. This group met weekly for nearly three decades. Four members of the Inklings-C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams-are the subject of this book. The recent blockbuster film adaptations of Tolkien and Lewis's works have caused a resurgence of interest in these authors. Although Lewis and Tolkien are often the central focus of this prodigious work, coauthors Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski (religion, Smith Coll.), who previously collaborated on Prayer: A History, successfully interlace the biographies and the literary accomplishments of all four individuals. The book, which is extensively researched, provides a fascinating look at British literary society during the first half of the 20th century. This reviewer would often reflect on particular passages, covering, for example, Lewis's religious reawakening, Tolkien's World War I experiences, Williams's interest in the occult, Barfield's brief friendship with Saul Bellow, and the occasional disputes among various Inklings, when not reading this title. The Zaleskis make an important contribution to the study of these individuals and their accomplishments. -VERDICT For all fans of Tolkien and Lewis, this excellent title will also appeal to readers interested in Christian scholarship and 20th-century British literature and history.-Erica -Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., -Media, PA © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Dabblers in Inkp. 3
1 "A Star Shines on the Hour of Our Meeting"p. 13
2 Heaven in a Biscuit Tinp. 29
3 Advent Lyricsp. 57
4 Hard Knocks and Dreaming Spiresp. 72
5 "Words Have a Soul"p. 99
6 A Mythology for Englandp. 123
7 Wanted: An Intelligible Absolutep. 144
8 A Meeting of Mindsp. 173
9 Inklings Assemblep. 194
10 Romantic Theologyp. 221
11 Secondary Worldsp. 239
12 War, Againp. 265
13 Mere Christiansp. 292
14 Loss and Gainp. 336
15 Miraclesp. 360
16 "Making Up Is a Very Mysterious Thing"p. 380
17 The Long-Expected Sequelp. 406
18 The Dialectic of Desirep. 436
19 Inklings First and Lastp. 479
Epilogue: The Recovered Imagep. 507
Notesp. 513
Bibliographyp. 587
Acknowledgmentsp. 611
Indexp. 613
Go to:Top of Page