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.”