Go to Oxford, England, today, to the Eagle and Child pub on St. Giles street and you'll find, in addition to a hardy pack of regulars, a constant stream of pilgrims come to pay homage at the shrine of the Inklings. This tightly knit group, C.S. Lewis' intellectual family, wouldn't have stood out from many of the academic types you see strolling Oxford's High street today, but the Inklings are remembered for potently defending Christianity against a skepticism born in the First World War and nurtured by the horrors of the Second.
For many Christians, the Inklings, with Lewis at their center, did for faith what the RAF did for England in the Battle of Britain. And in the decades that followed, their example as dedicated, thinking Christians has influenced, comforted, even converted many. The ghosts of Lewis, "The Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien, lawyer and scholar Owen Barfield, and novelist Charles Williams attract fans of their fiction and their faith alike.
What was that faith, which still commands such devotion from visitors? It is difficult to answer, since the Inklings represent such a wide divergence within the framework of Christianity. Tolkien was a staunch traditional Roman Catholic. Lewis was an Anglican with what are called ï¿½Anglo-Catholicï¿½ or ï¿½high churchï¿½ tendencies. His friend Charles Williams was a Christian, but with links to Rosicrucianism and with interests in the occult and the mystery religions.
Moreover, Lewis was the only one to describe in nonfiction his own religious faith. His religious writings are not systematic in any way. They address specific issues: the demonic, miracles, heaven and hell, etc. But a common thread can be read in the Inklings' writings that gives an indication of how they thought about the Christian faith.
Christianity attracted in this period of tremendous foment a host of literary and academic notables: beside Lewis, Williams, Tolkien, and Barfield we can put G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrar, even T.S. Eliot, as a kind of distant Anglo-American cousin. The Inklings proper were constantly moving and changing, but the core group was the most intimate and concentrated gathering in this intellectual lineage.
Their project, if it can be described as such, was a twofold one. Firstly, they wished to assert the intellectual defensibility of a Christian faith. Lewis himself had come to Christianity from a period of atheism by intellectual questioning. This aspect of their work was entirely Lewisï¿½ project. He was the convert, and to him the important point was not that Christianity was defensible, but that atheism was indefensible.