The Magical World of the Inklings by Gareth Knight

It’s finally here … Gareth Knight’s new and expanded edition of his classic text on the mythopoeic fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and their less famous but similarly gifted colleagues Charles Williams and Owen Barfield – collectively known as The Inklings.

When The Magical World of the Inklings was first published in 1990 by Element Books, a copy was sent to Owen Barfield, who was at that time the only surviving member of the Inklings group. His response was unequivocal:  “Because of the combination of information, understanding and insight on which it is founded,” he wrote, “The Magical World of the Inklings is more than outstanding. It is not in the same league with anything else I have come across.” He contributed a foreword to the book which is included in this new edition.

So what is this information and insight which makes the book so valuable? First of all it is a thorough overview of the works of all four writers, including some of their lesser known work and posthumous publications. Secondly it explores the very practical way in which the creative imagination is invoked within the reader through the ‘magical world’ each of these writers constructed. In this respect, Gareth Knight’s background as a leading exponent of the Western Mystery Tradition, and expert on both magic and myth, gives him a unique perspective which takes this book some way beyond the sphere of straightforward literary criticism.

The C.S. Lewis section covers Lewis’s early works of Christian apologetics and his later mythological work Till We Have Faces, as well as the hugely popular Screwtape Letters, and, of course, the Chronicles of Narnia. Knight explains just how profound and intuitive Lewis’s understanding of magic and occultism really was, despite his outward suspicions and disapprovals of its practice.

The J.R.R. Tolkien section studies the various Elven Sagas across all three of Tolkien’s major works, and ends with a practical imaginative working for extending the myth. It also covers some of the lesser known stories such as the extraordinary “faery story” of Smith of Wooton Major and Leaf by Niggle, plus some of Tolkien’s insightful literary essays. Here Knight shows how Tolkien’s construction of a magnificent pagan/faery mythological cycle was nevertheless perfectly compatible with his lifelong Catholicism.

The Charles Williams section is a wonderful introduction and guide to this extraordinary and much underrated writer. The only member of the Inklings to be openly and unashamedly an adept of a magical lodge (he was initiated into the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, an offshoot of the Golden Dawn), Williams wrote a series of evocative and alluring occult novels. Although they achieved little commercial success at the time, they are beautifully written and worthy companions to the work of Lewis, who was greatly influenced and inspired by Williams. This new and expanded edition of the book also covers Williams’s deeply symbolic ‘ritual’ play Judgement at Chelmsford, and the cycle of Arthurian poems which were unpublished at the time of his death and on which Knight, himself an expert on Arthurian traditions, is exceptionally well qualified to comment.

The Owen Barfield section highlights the work of another much underrated writer, who was among the original group of Inklings but achieved most of his success later in life. Although he wrote some mythopoeic fiction, which is covered in the book, his major work was on the philosophical underpinning of mythopoeic writing. An enthusiastic supporter of the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, Barfield made a case for a holistic approach to science in which there is a place for intuition as well as evidence. He also wrote an important work on the nature of the poetic spark. This new edition has been updated to include the two novellas Night Operation and Eager Spring which were published posthumously in 2008.

The Magical World of the Inklings, priced £16.99, is available from Amazon and all the usual retailers, and can also be ordered direct from Skylight Press.

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About Rebsie

Run the Daughter of the Soil gardening blog, and Cheltonia, a history of Cheltenham.
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