Because C.S. Lewis deserves his own list, we’re going to leave him off. And so does Chesterton, so I’m going to ignore him, too.

But we’ll throw Sayers into the mix, if only because I’m not sure Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield wrote enough non-fiction to get us to five.

1)  The Monsters and the Critics, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  The 20th centuries most important piece of Beowulf scholarship, and Tolkien writing about fairy stories?  Yes, and yes.  It’s a steep drop-off from here, but that’s no insult to any of the other texts.

2)  The Figure of Beatrice, by Charles Williams.  It’s not very widely read, except by Williams fans and those interested in Dante.  But as a study of The Divine Comedy, it’s both insightful and provocative.

3)  A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken.  You’ll weep when you hit “The Deadly Snows,” which has some of the best prose I’ve yet read.  It’s just inevitable.

4)  The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers.  See, I don’t hate Sayers.  Go here for a provocative study in creative illumination, but don’t take your Trinitarian cues from her.  Go here instead  for those.

5)  Creed or Chaos, by Dorothy Sayers.  Sayers is at her best in short-essay form, and there are a few in here that pack a punch.  If you can’t get this version, then look for the updated one, Letters to a Diminished Church.

Yes, I’ve left off Owen Barfield and substituted 3(!) books by people who were not technically Inklings.  Barfield simply has the unfortunate designation of being the most prominent member of the group whose work I’ve not yet read.

Feel free to play in the comments.  How would you make the list?

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Top Five: Inklings Non-Fiction (Non-Lewis Category) | Mere Orthodoxy

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter


  2. 1. “On Fairy-Stories,” by Tolkien.
    2. “On Fairy-Stories,” by Tolkien.
    3. “On Fairy-Stories,” by Tolkien.
    4. “On Fairy-Stories,” by Tolkien.
    5. “On Fairy-Stories,” by Tolkien.

    Seriously. How could you miss it? :)


  3. No, no , no, no, no! : )

    It’s included in #1, where I wrote: “The 20th centuries most important piece of Beowulf scholarship, and Tolkien writing about fairy stories? Yes, and yes.”

    How could you miss it? : )



  4. D’oh! Serves me right for skimming for titles! Forgive me.


  5. “Forgive me.”

    Grrrrr…..if I must. : )


  6. No complaints here, though I must say I’m eager for the Lewis list. (Is every top 5 just going to be about the Inklings? B/c that’d be kinda awesome. Although once you get to things like “top 5 inkling inspired desserts” you may be stretching the life of the meme out a little too much.)


  7. Elliot Ravenwood August 20, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Has anyone read any Austin Farrer? I’ve heard good things second hand about his work. Or does Farrer count as an Inkling?


  8. Strictly speaking, Chesterton, Vanauken, and Sayers weren’t Inklings, right?


  9. JRR: Letter (to his son) on Eucharist

    Vanauken: All his essays in New Oxford Review from the 80s (except the one about guns…he may have left the top down too long in the convertible)

    Percy: All his essays in New Oxford Review from the 80s (except…nope…all of ’em)

    And from my wife-who-must-not-be-named….

    Sayers: Introduction to Purgatorio

    JRR: Monster and the Critics

    Did I mention JRRs Letter (to his son) on Eucharist? :)


  10. The Theology of Romantic Love – Charles Williams

    Where I first heard the terms apophatic and cataphatic theology, and their alternative names via negative and via positiva. Much reading on monasticism sprung from this.

    Honorable mention goes to …

    The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis – Gilbert Meilaender

    Not an Inkling, but about an Inkling and so so good. It was his Phd thesis at Princeton. What I read in that on Lewis’ understandings on the differences between men and women eliminated a good bit of grief in my marriage. Pace Hume, is and ought are very closely related.

    And about Sayers’ “Creed or Chaos” …

    I agree with Sayers on a lot, but I have to say I got all excited to finally read this a while back and it was a letdown. For all I know everything else she has written is different because I haven’t had the taste for more yet after CoC, though I’ll get over it eventually. Not anything to do with creeds or doctrine -I’m good with all that but I just think others have said it better without her strident and shrill tone, though that could be overlooked if that were all for me. I must confess when I got to the hopelessly and cringingly pious and presumptuous statement about “excellence” that I recognized from a syllabus of a class I had once and couldn’t help but be fairly well biased against her. Paraphrasing from memory she says it is inconceivable to imagine Jesus making less than perfect work in his carpenter shop, and in other parts of the book goes on and on and on about how she makes sure not to consider anything other than simply craft-skill in choosing people for such things as actors in Christian dramas, and how personal character should make no difference whatever. A lot of real stuff to argue about there, but she doesn’t even make the effort and because of her proud and overbearing insistence on the point I think of her as the patron saint of every proud Christian who thinks excellence is equivalent to meeting current expectations of the moment -their’s in particular. More excellent than thou. Teachers love to put this quote on covers of syllabi (as I first encountered it) to scare their students into putting more effort into whatever is their current interest, but I’m afraid they reap a poor return for such manipulation. I asked the last teacher I had who used a syllabus with what I now know to be Sayers’ quote if she thought it truly characterized excellence or was a good way for student’s to think of how God views their work, and why I didn’t think so. She looked at me and said with a perfectly straight face that “You’re thinking too hard about it”. Seriously.

    I’ll probably read “The Mind of the Maker” sometime in the next year or so, but I don’t have high expectations and I won’t be too surprised if God’s mind turns out to be just like Dorothy’s. :)


  11. Don’t. Know. What. To. Do. Without. List. Of. Lewis. And. Chesterton.

    Seriously, I think my last list had Lord of the Rings on there only out of respect. And all the others were Lewis and Chesterton. Hmm….


    1. @Dave, hang out this weekend. We’ll get to those. I promise.

      @Bill, of course. I meant to mention last week’s post on the same theme, where I explained the expansive use of the term…only to restrict it backward this week. Sorry for the confusion.


  12. Really, did Vanauken hang with the Inklings, I mean official status? I didn’t know that, tho’ I love A Severe Mercy.


  13. I hope you’ll revise the list once you’ve read Barfield, Matt. He has a few works of non-fiction, of which I’ve read Poetic Diction and Saving the Appearances. The first was essentially his undergraduate thesis and changed my whole way of thinking. It made meaning and faith plausible to a resigned agnostic.

    Some Christians I know are wary of Barfield’s definitely non-Christian conclusions, but his influence on Lewis in linguistics was mighty, I dare say–it will change your reading of Perelandra in particular greatly. Lewis references him in his works only a few times, but with deference in each instance.


    1. Moryam,

      Okay, that’s high enough praise. I’ve added them to my wish list, and am thinking of going on a shopping spree here soon….. : )


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