There is never a shortage of new critical examinations and editions of the books of C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), whose created worlds in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings have enduring appeal for readers and still sell millions of copies a year. Three new books illuminate not only the work of these friends and fellow Christians, but also their lives.
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 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June), offers sweeping biographies of Lewis and Tolkien--who met in 1926 and were close until Lewis's death in 1963--along with two other members of the Inklings, the group of Oxford intellectuals that met weekly for decades discuss religion, literature, and other topics and to critique each other’s work. The Fellowship--which was selected one of Publishers Weekly’s top ten literary biographies for spring 2015 and received a starred review—tells the stories of Lewis and Tolkien and analyzes the cultural and religious impact of their books. Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski write, “Tolkien fans are often surprised to discover that they have entered a Christian cosmos as well as a world of Elves and Hobbits; fans of Lewis’s apologetic writings…are often discomfited when they learn about their hero’s personal life…his hearty appetite for drink and ribaldry, and his enduring affection for the pagan and planetary gods.”
One hundred years ago, Britain was in the midst of WWI, and two young Englishmen, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, then 19 and 24, served their time in the trenches. Though Lewis went through a period of atheism in his teens and early adulthood, re-embracing Christianity after the war, Tolkien's Christian commitment never wavered. In A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18 (Nelson Books, June), Joseph Loconte focuses on the horrors Lewis and Tolkien experienced at the front and how what they witnessed on the battlefield is reflected in themes of their epic sagas of Middle-Earth and Narnia--among them that war is to be avoided if possible, and never glorified. “It can be argued that these epic tales—involving the sorrows and triumphs of war—would never have been written had these authors not been flung into the crucible of combat,” Loconte writes.
C.S. Lewis & His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society edited by Roger White, Judith Wolfe, and Brendan A. Wolfe (Oxford University Press, July), collects essays by theologians. philosophers, and literary critics, along with memoirs by Lewis’s friends and family. Most were originally delivered as speeches to the C.S. Lewis Society and rescued from its archives of moldering tapes. Essayists including Alister McGrath and Rowan Williams ruminate on Lewis’s intellectual and artistic achievements. Reminiscences by those who knew him--a cousin, his priest, a former student, his biographer, fellow Inklings, and other friends--remember his incisive mind but also his warmth, generosity, enduring Christian faith, and unassuming manner. Despite criticism and backlash in the academy, Lewis believed in reaching a wider audience, as he wrote in God in the Dock: “We must learn the language of our audience….It is also of greatest service to your own thought.…Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.”