The Inklings: Barfield, Williams, Lewis, Tolkien & the Others


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
Chrons has a subforum for J. R. R. Tolkien. This intention here is to provide a place for people to talk about the Inklings primarily as a group or to talk about some of the members who are less well-known than Tolkien. (It would be fine to talk here about Tolkien as an Inkling, but discussion of his works in themselves would go better there.)

These less well-known members include practitioners of the novel and the literary biography such as John Wain, former Oxford Professor of Poetry, and Owen Barfield, author of a major study of Coleridge, many Anthroposophical articles and works of fiction, Warren Hamilton Lewis, author of a number of studies of French history, and more. This thread would be an appropriate place to discuss the supernatural thrillers of the controversial Charles Williams.

Given his enormous contributions to the creation of mythopoeic fantasy and his seminal critical works on science fiction and fantasy, I think C. S. Lewis -- who for some reason does not have a subforum of his own -- might well be discussed in separate threads, such as I have attempted to launch about his verse.

Here is a review of a new book about the Inklings:

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 2015. 618 pages + index. 16 pages of photographs, and ISBN, not seen. Reviewed by Dale Nelson.

The Fellowship is a generally good book for readers – especially admirers of The Lord of the Rings – who are curious about the famous informal Oxford all-male literary group. The authors say little about Dyson, Havard, Cecil, and other Inklings. Of the quartet upon whom they focus, the authors are most attuned to Tolkien, least sympathetic to Williams. Now and again they condescend a little towards Lewis. They could have balanced their depiction of Warren Lewis a bit better; what sticks in the reader’s mind is his loneliness after his brother’s death, and his alcoholism. Warren compiled the priceless “Lewis Family Papers,” which the Zaleskis appear to know only as these have been quoted in published sources.

The authors certainly have read very widely in published sources, some of which are obscure, many of which are well known, including quite recent ones. The only previously unpublished documents to which they refer seem to be items from the Barfield papers in the Bodleian Library.

Some of their literary judgments are dubious. They refer indirectly to Williams's Descent into Hell as "rarely ris[ing] above highbrow pulp." They assert that “most readers… slog through” Lewis’s Till We Have Faces with “grudging admiration”; the novel is “a struggle to read and nearly impossible to cherish.” Usually the Zaleskis are more appreciative. This book could be a worthy one to put in the hands of readers who have looked askance at the Inklings, and who would be put off by the partisan quality of many Inklings-related books that have rolled off the presses in the past 25 years or so.

The Fellowship will not supersede Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings. Public libraries and university collections should own both.

.....In any event......

Here is a very good source for information about the works of the Inklings -- the author, David Bratman, is a topnotch authority:

If someone is interested in getting into the less well-known Inklings, may I recommend a couple of books? John Wain's book on Samuel Johnson is just a model of literary biography. And Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances will knock down some of whatever dust you've got in the wrinkles of your cerebellum. I could say that it could be compared to the much longer Outline of History by H. G. Wells, but I don't suppose many people have heard of that nowadays.

And I must recommend Dian Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep to anyone interested in the Inklings as a group and to anyone interested in writers' groups.
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Here are some additional recommendations for reading about or by the Inklings.

1.The journal Mythlore, which started out as a superb fanzines frequently printing drawings by Tim Kirk and others, has published many articles of value. You will see high-priced copies of early issues on offer at some sites, but should know that the Mythopoeic Society sells its remaining stock of original printings, and photocopies of out of print issues, at low prices, so go there first. They also offer an index to Mythlore.

Also, the more informal newsletter Mythprint continues to be published. Issues from around 1972-1975, which are available from the Society, are particularly attractive.

The Mythopoeic Society is still very active, with an annual convention, a web presence, etc.

2.There are several good Tolkien blogs. There's now a good Charles Williams blog, which is called The Oddest Inkling. A new biography of Williams has appeared, written by Grevel Lindop. I haven't got my hands on it yet.

3.All or nearly all of Barfield is in print. Apocryphile has reprinted a bunch of Charles Williams material. If you haven't read Williams yet, I recommend that you begin with one of these: The Place of the Lion (an audacious "holiday thriller" fantasy, worthy to rest on the shelf next to Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday), All Hallows' Eve (ghost story, love story, black magic story), or War in Heaven (fairly irrelevant title for a thriller about the discovery of the Holy Grail in a rural church and the efforts of a sorcerer to use it).

4.A high-quality Journal of Inklings Studies has joined the company of Seven and Mythlore. Seven is issued annually from the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, which holds an outstanding collection of Inklings-related material. JIS is a British effort published twice a year.
They assert that “most readers… slog through” Lewis’s Till We Have Faces with “grudging admiration”; the novel is “a struggle to read and nearly impossible to cherish.”

Grudging? TWHF is generally acknowledged as the finest of Lewis's fiction, though not his most popular; certainly his most difficult. It makes one wonder what he might have written had he not been sidetracked into apologetics- though I'm sure he wouldn't have thought the saving of souls and presiding over a revival of popular Christian thought in those terms.

Other than that, I unfortunately haven't read anything of the others. Of Dyson I know only his (in)famous comment on Tokien's readings of The Lord of the Rings at their meetings.

As for websites, there is the late lamented "Into the Wardrobe", shut down in 2011, surviving as a pale imitation on Facebook.

Into the Wardrobe

Some of the essays are good, but the real treasure is in the forum archives; not only Lewis but Tolkien, the Inklings, and other sections on religion and philosophy
Just got Grevel Lindop's newly-released biography of Charles Williams from the library and intend to take it with me on a trip to Ashland, Oregon, where I first read Williams over 40 years ago.

There's a fairly lively blog devoted to Williams:

The Oddest Inkling

I should say that the people there mostly know a lot about Williams--it's not that much of a hangout yet for people just getting interested in him.

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