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I have quoted C. S. Lewis many times in books and other writings and have always been fascinated by his conversion from atheism to Christianity. His book Mere Christianity had a profound effect on my life. It still astounds me that the man could write such diverse books as the Chronicles of Narnia series, Surprised by Joy, and The Screwtape Letters, thirty books in all. I also found the movie Shadowlands, with Anthony Hopkins playing Lewis, fascinating. Lewis, at one time, was one of the most famous people on the planet and remains one of the most widely quoted Christian apologists today.
I learned later about the relationship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame and how Tolkien (a devout Catholic) influenced Lewis’s conversion. Though Tolkien influenced Lewis’s conversion, I did not know that Lewis, in the early days, held an anti-Catholic bias based on his Irish upbringing.
I thought of both men as brilliant scholars, but mostly writers of fantasy tales meant primarily for children. How wrong I was. I learned that they combined their voluminous learning with a strong liking for fantasy—fantasy not indulged independently of their ideas, but about their ideas.
The book tells the story of the Inklings, a group of writers, professors, scholars, academics and various other possessors of titles both honorary and practiced who met regularly to engage in deep discussions of religion, spirituality, fantasy, the meaning of life, poetry, and other deep intellectual topics too many to list here. I imagine the rooms where they met literally expanding and contracting with the IQ’s of the brilliant folks mentioned in this book. It focuses on Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield and Williams, but many, many others were involved as part of the group or peripherally, names like Saul Bellow, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy L. Sayers, etc.
The authors delve deeply into the Inkling members’ meetings as well as their personal lives and interactions. Although I think it would have been a better book at 350 or so pages rather than 500, who am I, an intellectual lightweight compared to these giant brains, to know? I had to keep a dictionary handy to wade through the multitude of terms regarding philosophical and scholastic studies and disciplines.
I believe it is safe to say that the group unleashed a mythic awakening and a Christian awakening that surpasses anything or anyone else in the 20th century. Without them, there would probably have never been a Dungeons and Dragons, or Harry Potter.
I confess that I drew as much inspiration from the weaknesses exposed in this book as I did from the strengths and triumphs of these literary icons. I knew about Lewis’s strange relationship with Mrs. Moore , but not as much about his hearty appetite for drink and ribaldry. It was fascinating to learn that even the most brilliant minds can suffer from the same pettiness and daily problems that the rest of us do. They Inklings argued among themselves, hurt each other with their criticisms and reviews of each other’s works, suffered from envy. They endured failures as well as triumphs. I think the authors best describe their own work with this:
“By returning to the fundamentals of story and exploring its relation to faith, virtue, self-transcendence, and hope, the Inklings have renewed a current that runs through the heart of Western literature.”