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Romantic Religion

A Study of Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and J.R.R. Tolkien

R. J. Reilly

220 pp.  
6" x 9 1/4"

Lindisfarne Books


Published:  August 2006


When Romantic Religion was first published thirty-five years ago, no one dreamed that Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia would one day be boxoffice hits and that their authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, would be household names. R. J. Reilly’s remarkably readable and perceptive book about the two writers and their two brilliant friends, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams, was soon treasured by fans as the best book on their circle of writer–philosophers, the Inklings.

Romantic Religion went out of print and commanded high prices on the rare-book market. Now it has finally been republished so that a new generation of readers can delve into this book, whose relevance has kept pace with the growing reputations of its subjects.

The title Romantic Religion< reflects Reilly’s premise that these four thinkers share a "matured romanticism." For them, creative imagination is central, with literary and religious views intimately related. Reilly devotes an insightful chapter to each of the writers and, in his conclusion, discusses their differences and similarities. Barfield fans will be especially impressed by the author’s ability to clarify Barfield’s famously condensed prose.

In a compelling new preface, Reilly considers the changing reputations of the four writers and their relevance for today’s readers. The book was first published, he tells us, during a war and horrendous societal dilemmas, not very different from those that plague the world today. Now, as then, says Reilly, the four writers remind us of “the possibility of a higher and saner life.” They remind us that “if we belong to the party not of memory but of hope, it is because we are imaginative beings and can imagine better beings and better worlds.”

This is the first study to examine in depth the theological and philosophic implications of the work of that remarkable group of writers now called the Oxford Christians. In focusing on the central religious concern of the group, R. J.Reilly provides and approach that is destined to become normative. This is not a work of convention literary biography (even less hagiography) or conventional literary history. Rather, it is intellectually informed criticism that makes possible a deep understanding of the enduring dimensions of the work of four of the most attractive and challenging writers of our time.

With the republication of Romantic Religion, this wise, penetrating picture of our own possibilities is put before us once more.

  • “Hats off to Lindisfarne for reissuing R. J. Reilly’s Romantic Religion! As the influence of Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield grows ever stronger, Reilly’s study remains an especially valuable guide to their intellectual principles and goals. He sees these men as religious writers and their literary works as spiritual illuminations, a viewpoint that provides a wealth of provocative insights. This is a splendid book, highly recommended.” —Philip Zaleski, coauthor of Prayer: A History and editor of the annual Best American Spiritual Writing

  • “The world is awash with writing on the Inklings these days, but precious little of it has the scope, the clarity, and the ability to surprise and convince that are in evidence on just about every page of this pioneering and brilliant study.” —Ptolemy Tompkins, author of Paradise Fever; senior editor, Guideposts Magazine

  • “R. J. Reilly treats each of his subjects—Barfield, Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien—with unfailing insight and fairness. In so doing he furthers the kind of Romantic imagination explained and exemplified by these four friends.” —Robert McDermott, author of The New Essential Steiner and The Essential Aurobindo

  • “This is not a work of conventional literary biography (still less hagiography) or conventional literary history. Rather, it is intellectually informed criticism that makes possible a deep understanding of the enduring dimensions of the work of four of the most attractive and challenging writers of our time.” —G. B. Tennyson, professor emeritus, UCLA, and editor of Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis

  • “R. J. Reilly's conviction that the Inklings are not just literary geniuses but also profoundly creative religious thinkers pervades this classic book. Having devoured the volume years ago, I came away from a recent rereading with a renewed sense of the vital relevance of these four thinkers to the philosophical, theological and religious tasks of our post-secular world.” —Jacob Holsinger Sherman, adjunct faculty, California Institute of Integral Studies

  • “I love this book. The writing is beautiful; the point of view, wise and illuminating; and Reilly is one of the few who can elucidate Barfield’s famously condensed prose without watering it down.” —Kate Farrell, author of Time’s River: The Voyage of Life in Art and Poetry


  1. Introduction
  2. Owen Barfield and Anthroposophical Romanticism
  3. C. S. Lewis and the Baptism of the Imagination
  4. Charles Williams and Romantic Theology
  5. J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings
  6. Conclusion

Related Titles

  • History in English Words
  • Owen Barfield : Romanticism Come of Age
  • Why the World around You Isn’t as It Appears : A Study of Owen Barfield

    Related Titles by Subject:

    Arts & Literature: Biography & Autobiography ; Arts & Literature: General and Esoteric: Art & Literature