Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis: An Unforgettable Literary and Intellectual Friendship

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis: An Unforgettable Literary and Intellectual Friendship


Edited by G.B. Tennyson and Jane Hipolito


Barfield Press (first edition by Wesleyan University Press)

Publication Date:

2011 (first edition 1989)




188 pages


Owen Barfield was not only C.S. Lewis’ lawyer, co-trustee of his literary estate, and the father of two children to whom Lewis dedicated Narnia books. He was also one of Lewis’ oldest friends, meeting him at Oxford shortly after WWI. Their friendship continued until Lewis’ death, and Barfield is considered one of the four major Inklings (alongside J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams). Despite this, there hasn’t been much written about Barfield. Even many scholars probably don’t know that Barfield wrote about Lewis, both as a friend and as a literary critic. This book collects Barfield’s writings about his dear friend, republished from various speeches and hard-to-find anthologies:

  • “C.S. Lewis”
  • “C.S. Lewis in Conversation”
  • “Either: Or: Coleridge, Lewis, and Romantic Theology”
  • “C.S. Lewis and Historicism”
  • Some Reflections on The Great Divorce
  • Lewis, Truth and Imagination”
  • “Lewis And/Or Barfield”
  • “The Five C.S. Lewises”
  • “A Discussion about C.S. Lewis”

While Wesleyan University Press published this book’s first edition, this new edition, edited by Jane Hipolito, was released by the Owen Barfield Literary Estate. There are two excellent reasons for bringing it back into print. One, books released by academic publishers tend to sell a few copies with high price tags (which may increase for secondhand copies after the book goes out of print). Second, something important has happened since the original edition: Barfield passed away in 1997. If one doesn’t count minor Inkling Colin Graham Hardie (who outlived Barfield by ten months) or qualify Christopher Tolkien as an Inkling for 1940s meetings he attended (he died in 2020), this makes Barfield the last Inkling to pass away. This new edition has some new features, including photos of Barfield and his family, and a chronology showing Barfield and Lewis’ complete lives. Thus, this new edition not only gets some Inklings essays back into print; it also gives a fuller picture of Barfield’s life.

The range of the essays shows that Barfield didn’t just have a close friendship with Lewis but a stimulating one. There are some essays where Barfield reminisces about his friend’s company. He notes how Lewis always had something humorous in his conversation but “was not a social buffoon or a professional jester.” When discussing what it was like being Lewis’ lawyer, Barfield describes how Lewis set up a fund for giving away most of his book royalties (“he gave two-thirds of his income away altogether and would have bound himself to give the whole of it away if I had let him”).

Other times, Barfield grapples with where he and Lewis disagreed. For example, several sources have noted that Barfield and Lewis argued about “chronological snobbery,” dismissing old ways of thinking out of hand. Lewis ultimately accepted Barfield’s view that old ways shouldn’t be snubbed at, which proved an important milestone in his journey to Christianity. However, the essay “C.S. Lewis and Historicism” shows that while Lewis and Barfield both came to respect old ways, they differed on how to understand the past. Barfield argues that “the very notion of development of any sort was somehow alien to Lewis’s mind.” In Barfield’s words, Lewis would concede people can see patterns in history but denied that humans could find the true pattern. In contrast, Barfield maintained some belief in historicism, which he connects to his work on human consciousness. Since Barfield believed how humans perceive their environment changes over time, and he believed this process could be studied (as he studied it in books like History in English Words), he believed it was possible to see history’s true pattern. This apparently was a disagreement that continued throughout Barfield’s and Lewis’ lives but never broke their friendship.

So, these essays show that Barfield wasn’t not only a close friend to Lewis, but one that trusted him enough that they were comfortable disagreeing on some things. In short, the essays verify Lewis’ comments about Barfield in Surprised by Joy, where he calls him “the second friend.” The first friend, Lewis explains, is a close kindred spirit who shares your interests and conclusions. The second friend shares your interests but reaches different conclusions. Lewis explained in Surprised by Joy that the second friend provides a healthy challenge and “out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerge.”

The way this book describes moments where Barfield agreed, and also moments where he disagreed with Lewis, make it a worthwhile book even for readers who aren’t Inklings specialists. The essays show an affectionate yet competitive friendship that lasted for decades, encompassing differences of opinion. Especially now, in a moment where Western culture feels deeply polarized and finding common ground feels harder than ever, this vision is a breath of fresh air.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

Five stars

Suggested Audience:

Researchers interested in the Barfield-Lewis friendship or seeking firsthand insights into Lewis.

Christian Impact:

Barfield provides some great insights into Lewis’ religious views, sometimes in comparison or contrast to his own views.


Note: ECLA readers who enjoy this book may enjoy the following:



Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis


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