Who can compare with these writers? In the intensity of their communion, their accelerating effect upon one another, and their impact on posterity, their only real 20th-century rivals are the Beats. And the Inklings would have detested the Beats. Nonetheless, the two core groups can be mapped onto each other with weird precision: Tolkien would be Kerouac, sensitive maker of legends; Lewis, the broad-shouldered preacher-communicator, would be Allen Ginsberg; Charles Williams, kinky magus, would have to be William Burroughs; and the sagacious and durable Owen Barfield, Gary Snyder. (The Inklings had no Neal Cassady, no rogue inspirational sex idol—they were all too grown-up for that.)
But the Beats, bless them, consumed the greater portion of their own energies, with the result that their influence went mainly into rock and roll and advertising, and stayed there. The Inklings, on the other hand, are still gathering steam. Tolkien revived in us an appetite for myth, for the earth-tremor of Deep Story. (See: Game of Thrones, and the pancultural howls of pain at the death of Jon Snow.) Lewis invented Narnia—though the exacting Tolkien regarded it as an incoherent mythology—and he may be, write the Zaleskis, “the bestselling Christian writer since John Bunyan.” As for Williams and Barfield, they hang in the tingling future: for the former I prophesy an H. P. Lovecraft–style cult (with creepy folk music), and for the latter, cosmic vindication. And Warnie serves another round of drinks, and the Inklings, huffing and puffing and hurtling through time and space in their armchairs, have their victory.