After reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings – J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski, I can’t help but imagine a little corner of heaven with an Oxford pub where a bunch of old British guys are still drinking beer, talking about literature, theology and philosophy, laughing and arguing and, at least from my perspective, having a good time.
The authors in the title all belonged to a literary circle known as the Inklings and met together once a week for the better part of several decades. In the 21st century, Tolkien is probably the most well-known due to Peter Jackson’s film version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Coming out of World War I, they all dealt with the disillusionment so much of the world felt, though they dealt with it differently than some of my favorite American authors. They are primarily known for writing fantasy and, in their writing, they never completely lost hope:
Yet underlying his pessimism about humanity was an indomitable hope, born, as surely as his pessimism, from his Catholic faith. Belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, logos over chaos, bestowed upon all the oppositions in his life – scholarship and art, male friendship and marriage, high spirits and despair – a final and satisfying unity, a deep and abiding joy. When Tolkien said of himself that “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size),” he spoke the truth, not only about his material likes (trees, farms, tobacco, mushrooms, plain English food) and dislikes (cars, French cooking, early rising) but also about the disposition of his soul. He, like a hobbit, was at home in his shire; he like a hobbit, trusted the cosmos – but not necessarily the powers that held sway on earth.
While I still love the way so many American authors poured all of their disillusionment into their writing, I personally have difficulty “staying there”. I enjoy Tolkien and Lewis (I haven’t read Barfield or Williams) for the fact that they are “guilty of the heresy of the happy ending” as the Zaleskis put it.
This book was a complete joy to read for someone who has read Tolkien and Lewis since they were twelve; however, if one is not all that inclined to read about literary analysis, theology or philosophy, one might struggle through parts of the book but there’s still plenty of fascinating history and biography.