If you drop into The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford today, you’ll find a few humble mementos of the Inklings – that fascinating literary group of Christian intellectuals whose chief figures were C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. The group famously met there on Tuesdays to read and discuss their unfinished works, such as The Lord of the Rings and more. Of course, it’s almost impossible to overstate the far-reaching influence of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s writings in particular, but to what extent did this informal, pipe-smoking gathering of friends shape the nature and scope of their impact?

Enter The Fellowship – a new, best-selling biography of the Inklings that tackles that very question and more. In Patheos, Greg Garrett interviews the authors, Philip and Carol Zaleski, for some choice tidbits on the group’s dynamic. Here are just a few. On being human:

As writers, they were not always paragons of style; cloying elements, false archaisms, labored allegories mar even the best works of these writers. They were great storytellers, but not great poets. As human beings, they had their foibles, too; Charles Williams was particularly (and paradoxically) strange. But their closets, as far as we could peer into them, were relatively skeleton-free; they were impressively decent men, for the most part free of excessive vanity and literary pretentiousness; they were faithful lovers, generous to strangers, honorable friends. It may make for less sensational copy, but there is something cheering for a biographer in writing about a 20th-century literary coterie that did not go in for massively destructive patterns of behavior.

On the profound effects of both world wars on their lives:

Not only their own harrowing wartime experiences, but the loss of intimate friends scarred Lewis and Tolkien permanently and redirected the course of both their lives. Indeed all the Inklings, and their whole generation, suffered wounds from the two world wars that Americans, as we think back to those times, may not fully appreciate. The tremendous losses made the prospect of fellowship (in particular, male camaraderie) all the more inviting.

On war as a theme:

For these Christian authors, war was just one more piece of evidence that we live in a world whose original beauty and goodness have been marred by malice and violence – a world under siege, a fallen world, yet not a forsaken one. This is the great underlying theme of their various literary works.

There’s more to the interview, and certainly more to the book, (to which Publisher’s Weekly gave a starred review) but the Zaleskis offer us this perceptive takeaway: “If the Inklings succeeded as writers, it was because they wedded realism to hope and fantasy to reason.”

Image Credit: EO Tours