The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by P. Zaleski and C. Zaleski

Extollager

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I'm nearing completion of my reading of an advance review copy of this book, due out in June. It should be a good book for many readers who'd like to get a sense of the famous Oxford informal all-male literary group around Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Lewis's brother Warren, etc. It seems to me that the authors have read very widely in published sources, some of which are certainly obscure.* I spotted a very few inaccuracies, e.g. about the Latin form of the title of Farmer Giles of Ham, but overall they are doing very well. They are most sympathetic to Tolkien, of the four authors named, least to Williams,** who was indeed a rather "problematic" man. Probably they could have afforded CW a page or two more of exposition of his ideas.

I don't think this book will mean that the late Humphrey Carpenter's Inklings book will be completely superseded. Carpenter, I take it, talked to numerous people who knew one or other of the Inklings, and as an Englishman in the early 1980s he was closer to the Inklings milieu than the American Zaleskis writing in the second decade of the 21st century. The latter go into some ideas circulating among the Inklings more than Carpenter did. A pleasure of the Zaleskis' book for readers who have already read a lot about these authors will be the dovetailing of chronology -- what was going on with author A while author B was finishing a book, etc. (A table of highlights in parallel columns might have been a good idea.) I will be interested in seeing the 16 pages of photos when the book is published. This book will be a "must purchase" for public libraries and university libraries, and many fans of Tolkien will want to read it.

*The only unpublished sources I have noted so far are some papers of Owen Barfield.

**It's astonishing that they refer indirectly to Williams's Descent into Hell as "rarely ris[ing] above highbrow pulp." Said novel is worthy of a place on the shelf with James's The Turn of the Screw.
 
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I've finished the book. I think this is a good book for people who are fans of LotR to read -- people who love the Rings and are aware that Tolkien was involved with something called "the Inklings" and are curious about it, but not too sure they would be interested in a lot of what came out of the group.
 

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