25. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Zaleskis
I was so excited for this book. I had Humphrey Carpenter's book, The Inklings, in my reading queue, having spied it on my mentor's shelf about a month ago; but I noticed this new one that came out last year, and it was at my library in the "new book" section with no other holds! What a find! I had such high hopes!
The word that continually came to mind while reading this book was SLOG. To slog is to "keep doing something even though it is difficult or boring: to work at something in a steady and determined way" (Webster). That is what I had to do with this book.
Was it worth it? I would say overall, "Yes." The subjects were fascinating, but I had a love/hate relationship with this book. The first 200 pages were mostly boring with moments of brilliance. The authors did not make a very readable book for the lay public by using incredibly difficult words when they could have chosen a more common and accessible word that your average Joe would not have to look up to make any sense of the sentence. For instance, why use "sub rosa" to describe a secret vacation that one of the Inklings had with another woman (not Tolkien or Lewis, by the way)? Most people have no idea what "sub rosa" means! The poor word choices made by the authors are too numerous to count. The constant use of these more "educated" words gave one a sense that the authors were shooting for academia and the "hoity-toity" crowd rather those who love the works of these authors and want to learn all about them. I think this is a shame because you WILL learn ALL about them. Every literary work is analyzed and dissected almost too much. Sometimes, I just didn't care to know all the nuances of their lesser works, but analyze they did!
With all that said, the last half of the book was much better than the first (maybe they got tired of all the big words themselves). If you can slog through the first 200 pages, you will not be sorry you did, and you will feel like you accomplished a great feat when you are done.
My favorite quote made me really ponder why I read fiction (something that I had not done for most of the year and am rectifying by reading Narnia again):
We read, Lewis says, not primarily to appraise an author's worth, but to seek "an enlargement of our being." "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality . . . ," he writes. "In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see myself with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do." C.S. Lewis quoted, p. 473If you can persevere with a dictionary at the ready (try the Kindle version so you can look up the words easily as you read), I think you will be rewarded.
If you do not want to labor so hard and want a more readable version that came out at about the same time, try Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. This book was recommended to me, and I have not read it, but my library has ordered it for me. So, stay tuned for my comparison!
Also stay tuned because I will be broadcasting LIVE from Addison's Walk in Oxford on July 22! I am so excited to walk where Tolkien, Dyson, and Lewis walked into the early morning on September 19-20, 1931. It was instrumental in Lewis' journey to Jesus, and that always makes my heart sing!