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

03 August 2020

When I was in high school I took a whole year-long class on the Lord of the Rings (you get to do fun things like that when you're homeschooled). During this course, I had the opportunity to learn so much, not only about the deep themes of the books, but also about J.R.R. Tolkien's life and how his experiences influenced his work. 

One of the most interesting aspects of his life to me was the group of writers and philosophers he was apart of, the Inklings, who met at the Eagle and Child to share writing and ideas. I loved the idea of a tight-knit group of writers who were able to all leave some form of profound legacy. When I saw this book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, come up on my Amazon page, it was an impulse buy. I have found I love reading biographies, and I've always wanted to be able to learn even more about this group of writers that has become a part of literary legend.

While this book mainly focuses on J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams, this was such an interesting collection of biographic information about many of the Inklings. Before I read this, I honestly only knew about Tolkien's life. I have enjoyed Lewis' work, but I had never heard of Barfield or Williams.

I definitely learned a lot through this book. The writing isn't the most engaging I've ever read in a non fiction, especially a biography, but it kept my attention and my mind didn't wander while I was reading. It got intimate with the lives of the Inklings it covered, and I felt like they were old friends by the end of it, which I liked.

My only qualms with this book is the way it's organized. I fully understand the difficulty in organizing a non fiction book, especially when it's covering the life experiences of four different people from their births to their deaths. I think it would have been easier to read if the book had been divided into more clear cut sections, such as childhoods, education, their different roles in the Inklings, and later life. 

I also felt like there was an imbalance with the amount of time the authors took to talk about each Inkling. They spent way more time talking about Lewis than they did any of the others, and I felt like there could have been more about Barfield specifically. I know Lewis is more well known, and his life is very interesting, but I think there needed to be more balance if they're trying to write a book about four individuals.

Again, I learned a lot about the different works the Inklings. I expected the book to provide a closer look at the dynamics of the Inklings as a group, the meetings, and how they interacted and built upon each other. However, this biography focused more on them as individuals and what they were able to accomplish. I found it inspiring that many of them, Barfield in particular, accomplished so much later in life. It was inspiring to me as someone who puts pressure on myself to get things done when I'm young.

In many ways this book was different than I anticipated it would be, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience. This is a great resource for those who want a brief overview of the Inklings, but I will say that you may not find it interesting if you've already done extensive studying on Tolkien and Lewis. This book doesn't add much to the overall discussion, but it has interesting information to learn.

Rating: ★
"Fantasy literature was, for the Inklings, a pathway to this higher world and a way of describing, through myth and symbol, its felt presence. Fantasy became the voice of faith. And it made for a cracking good story."--Philip and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings

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