Have you ever found inspiration in a book? Have you ever picked up a book and been changed? Not just wowed or inspired or excited—I’ve had that happen many times.
Just last November I got a page and a half into Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea and was so covered in goosebumps I had to scrounge around for a blanket. That’s a delightful experience for sure!
Today I’m talking about having your entire future changed—even defined to some extent—by an author’s work. That’s exactly what happened to me; and I can’t wait to tell you all about the book that rocked my world!
I consider The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski to be my literary lighthouse—indelible inspiration in ink.
Background on this Book
Last Christmas my hubby knocked it out of the park with a comfy hoodie (that also supports an amazing organization), some bookmarks from Scotland, chocolates—of course!—and this book. Little did he know how those pages and the treasures on them would transform our house. Maybe he would have opted for a fluffy read for me instead if he would’ve known?!?!
I finally started reading The Fellowship in early March. Eleven days later I had a “moment of clarity” about this website and blog. I began making plans, gathering some of my extremely talented and creative friends around the project and preparing to launch the next phase of my life.
Here’s a little background for you to help you understand why I wanted to read this book: I grew up with C.S. Lewis. Okay…I didn’t actually grow up with C.S. Lewis—the man. I grew up with his Narnia books! The boxed Chronicles of Narnia set has held an honored position on my bookshelf since I was very young.
One of my brothers gave me many of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, too; but I didn’t read them right away. I hit college just after Peter Jackson took on the monumental task of directing “The Lord of the Rings.” Many of my friends were beyond excited about these movies and talked non-stop about the books. Well, I couldn’t be left out of that; so peer pressure created my obsession with the most amazing writer of modern times—perhaps of all times.
A Word on the Inklings
As you may know, Lewis and Tolkien were members of the Inklings, a group of men bonded by wit and the written word. In fact, they’re undoubtedly the two most well-known of the Inklings. I’ve always been fascinated with that group and would have loved to be a fly on the wall since I wouldn’t have been invited to join—that woman thing falls on the wrong side of this one. [Golf—that’s where we can get those guys back, ladies!] Anyway, I would love to have joined in the whiskey-soaked, pipe-ringed, philosophical and literary chats of those deep thinkers!
The Zaleskis paint such a full and real picture of who these men were and of how they interacted and influenced one another, but they don’t glorify them or make them out to be picture-perfect saints. They bare their souls and show how who they were—good and bad—led to the creation of the worlds they developed.
“[The Inklings] were twentieth-century Romantics who championed imagination as the royal road to insight and the ‘medieval model’ as an answer to modern confusion and anomie; yet they were for the most part Romantics without rebellion, fantasists who prized reason, for whom Faërie was a habitat for the virtues and literature a sanctuary for faith.” The Fellowship, page 510
They continued on the next page: “…they were war writers who understood that sacrifices must be made and that not all wounds will be healed in this life.” How well these men understood life and death, heaven and hell!
Now, I won’t go into detail about all this book includes. You can read my Goodreads book review for that. What I want to share with you today is how inspiration in a book gave me a vision for my literary future.
A Blogging Boost
First, I discovered the perfect title for this blog in the prologue. Check out this post that explains why the words Logos & Mythos encapsulate the heart of who I am. These words provided me with a focus for my varied interests. Just to give you a little taste of why this book and its subjects inspired me, here’s the sentence leading to those two words:
“[The Inklings] listened to the last enchantments of the Middle Ages, heard the horns of Elfland, and made designs on the culture that our own age is only beginning fully to appreciate.” The Fellowship, page 4
Words to Sink Your Teeth into
This 644-page tome contains shiny word phrase nuggets that make my word-loving heart skip a beat. Here are a few for you: “compass rose of faith” (page 12); “Inklingesque” (page 366); “adventurous but learned fantasy” (page 508); and, perhaps my favorite, “words are catch-basins of experience, fingerprints and footprints of the past that the literary detective may scrutinize in order to sleuth out the history of human consciousness” (page 106). “Literary detective”…sign me up!
Inspiration in a Book
This book gifted me more than I have time to explain. I have so many more books, essays, poems and anthologies I want to read. My “to be researched” list has grown by leaps and bounds. As I read I was filled with fascinating topics for essays and inspiration for stories. The Zaleskis opened my eyes to some of these great writers’ writing processes and influences. In “A Mythology for England,” I claimed a Eureka moment to consider doing what Tolkien did for England, for my own country.
I have a deeper understanding of, love for and commitment to the world of Faërie.
Thanks to inspiration in a book, I’m brave enough to attempt my own little jaunt into this land. Though I’m no match intellectually for these great men, I’d like to think my logical processes run similarly to theirs. I’ve always seen reality wrapped up in the best fantasy. Through words we make our mark on the world. Language carries our past, present and future. Writing allows us to uncover deeply buried truths about ourselves and the world around us. Reading opens our eyes to others’ thoughts and insights.
Combined, reading and writing give us a lifetime education no walls can contain; and, when we use the written word, we become “subcreators” alongside Tolkien and the other “literary lions.”
I learned a great deal about Owen Barfield and Charles Williams, two men I probably would never have studied otherwise. This book includes so many little anecdotes about the writers’ lives. Some brought tears—“’she was my Lúthien Tinúviel.’” Others had me doubled over with laughter—Tolkien’s forceful opening of the epic poem Beowulf, only to have his dentures fly out in the process or his disapproving response to a hydrofoil named Shadowfax without this consent.
On a lighter note, I also found inspiration for another tattoo. Yes, it contains elvish words. Any tattoo artists want to swap my mad proofreading skills for a masterpiece?
Each time I flip through the pages of this book, I learn something else…or want to learn something else…or want to write! This post feels disjointed and incomplete; and I’m betting you, my poor sweet readers, are reaching for a double shot of espresso (if you’ve even made it this far); but I hope I’ve somehow conveyed how the combination of a group of people brought together by similar burning passions could create a force so strong that years later a couple of writers HAD to tell their tale completely in an attempt to relay to others just what an impact that group had on so many aspects of our world.
This is the tale that fuels my own passion. These are the people whose giant footsteps I desire to baby step in.
They are the “Fellowship” I look up to and learn from; you are the “Fellowship” with whom I choose to walk through this discovery and process. So, raise your glass with me to the “Dabblers in Ink”—“Inklings First and Last”—and the chance to create a world around my own Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielmo.
What book has changed you, inspired you, directed you? Who do you look up to and admire?
This is a lovely, cheerful, and VERY inspirational post, Joy! I loved reading your story on your “aha” moment. I think my “aha” has been gradual. As I’ve been reading and learning with my children, I’ve been growing into my own skin, so to speak. The truth of what reading has given me (a frame of reference for my own life and a deep well of beauty to drink from) is still slowly dawning on me. I’ve always loved writing, but now, just being older, able to look back at all the big and little moments, and how they they were shaped and informed by my reading, helps me hope to do the same in a small way for someone else.
I think probably my five favorite authors are the ones that really touched me at various times of my life: L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Goudge, Gladys Taber, and Charlotte Mason. I’m trying to think of the books that really have impacted me over the years and there are so many, but these come to my mind:
The Gentle Art of Domesticity, Jane of Lantern Hill, Anne of GG series, Emily Climbs, the first book in the Boxcar Children Series, Narnia, LoTR, The Hobbit, A City of Bells, The Dean’s Watch, A Pilgrim’s Inn, A Charlotte Mason Companion, For the Children’s Sake, and so much poetry, especially currently Abigail Carroll, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver. Sally Clarkson was so influential in my earliest mothering years, truly a breath of fresh air.
Of course, the Bible, specifically the NT and Psalms – John and James being favorites
I’m horrible at picking just one, because they are all friends and like I said my journey has been gradual. I’ll stop now. 😉 Sorry…I keep thinking of other books that have meant so much to me at different stages and seasons. Ha. 😉
I love your list, Amy!! Thank you so much for sharing! (And, for the record, you never have to stop sharing favorite books!!) We have many of the same ones on our lists, but I see some there I need to add to read! 😉 You’re so right about books being friends. As a kid, I had friends but I didn’t spend a great deal of time with them. I did, however, have tons of books and a library card. So, I never felt like I was missing friendship in my life.
Every book I’ve ever read has influenced me in some way, I think. Some large, some small. I have been surprised at pieces of stories I read long, long ago popping up in my own writing. I’m looking forward to seeing more of those influences and writing about that at some point down the road.
Age certainly does help. I feel like I obtained a heap of certainty once I hit my 30s (an unspecified number of years ago) that I’d never had before—not that I have everything figured out or I’m a super confident person all the time or anything like that. It was just like a veil had been lifted, and I saw my past, myself and my dreams more clearly than ever. This journey of life is certainly an interesting one!