At some point even a “101” look at Tolkien has to consider the other Inklings. I had read both the fiction and nonfiction of C.S. Lewis, but The Fellowship was the first book I read to really cover the other Inklings. Ostensibly, the focus is on Lewis, Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams. Lewis, “the most celebrated and execrated.” Barfield, “the least known but, some say, the most profound.” Williams, “first to be born, the first to publish, the first to die.” Tolkien, the, well, Tolkien. But the cover, with equal quadrants for Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams, gives the wrong picture. Tolkien and especially Lewis dominate (I would complain if they didn’t). Charles Williams, a bit of a latecomer to the Inklings, doesn’t get the Zaleskis’ focus until page 221. Nor do the four get all the attention. Other Inklings show up regularly. Lewis’ brother Warnie is arguably the fifth Inkling here. It is through his brother’s chapters, but Warnie is as present as Williams or Barfield. Tolkien is the only one who does not perhaps get his due, but the Zaleskis likely had a reader like me in mind, coming in mostly with knowledge of Tolkien.
If you’re looking for a place to start diving into nonfiction on Tolkien, I probably wouldn’t recommend The Fellowship (I would go with Author of the Century by Tom Shippey instead). But it is an excellent choice when you are ready to broaden your studies to the Inklings more generally (if you are instead interested in just Tolkien and Lewis, I would go with A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte). It is also a good place to start if your interest in more generally in the Inklings than in Tolkien (or even if you have some antipathy toward him, given his somewhat muted role here). The Fellowship is a doorstopper, but one written with considerable literary flair and chock full of information.