Wednesday, December 27, 2017

“Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship” by Colin Duriez

It is perhaps the most famous friendship of the 20th century. The impact it had on both literature and popular Christianity was enormous, and its influence continues today, reflected in the movies, books, biographies, and derivative writings published decades after their deaths.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1982-1973) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).

Without their friendship, there likely would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, no Screwtape Letters. While it waxed and waned, the friendship between the two Oxford teachers, the two writers, the two members of the Inklings, and the two avid students of the Norse legends and myths left an immeasurable blessing and legacy.

The story of that friendship is examined and detailed in Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez, first published in 2003.

Tolkien and Lewis met at Oxford. They had much in common: both had fought in World War I, both were intrigued by medieval language and Norse mythology, both had lost their mothers at a young age. But there were significant differences as well. Tolkien was married and raising a family, while Lewis was a bachelor (although living in a rather unconventional arrangement with his brother Warren, and Mrs. Moore and her daughter, the mother and sister of a friend killed in the war). And Tolkien was a devout Catholic, while Lewis was in his late atheist phase, moving toward a kind of agnosticism.

Good friends they became. And the friendship was solidified during a stroll on Addison’s Walk in Oxford, in the early morning hours of a Sunday morning in 1931, when Tolkien, with the help of a mutual friend, Hugo Dyson, convinced Lewis that Jesus Christ was a “true myth.”

Addison's Walk in Oxford
Duriez pays special attention to the impact each had on the other’s writing. At the time, there was no literary genre of “fantasy for adults.” Fantasy, like fairy tales, was considered to be in the province of childhood. Tolkien was self-conscious about what would become The Hobbit, and it was Lewis who almost singlehandedly kept encouraging him to continue that story (published in 1937) and then the “second Hobbit,” which became The Lord of the Rings and was published in the 1950s.

Similarly, Tolkien encouraged Lewis. Their friendship expanded to include others in what became known as the Inklings, which met in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College and the Eagle and Child pub. Out of those meetings, readings, discussions, and occasional debates would come The Chronicles of Narnia.

The friendship between the two men, Duriez notes, would warm and cool, especially after Lewis accepted a position at Cambridge (with Tolkien’s help and support) and Lewis’s marriage to Joy Davidman. Tolkien was also not comfortable with how Lewis “popularized” Christianity. But it endured.

Colin Duriez
Duriez is a writer and lecturer who has written extensively about Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings. His works include The C.S. Lewis Handbook (1990), The C.S. Lewis Encyclopedia (2000), The Inklings Handbook (2001; co-authored), Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings: A Guide to Middle Earth (2001), The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook (2002), A Field Guide to Narnia (2004), The C.S. Lewis Chronicles (2005), J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend (2012), and The Oxford Inklings (2015). He is also the author of A.D. 33: The Year That Changed the World (2007), Field Guide to Harry Potter (2007), The Poetic Bible (2001), and Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (2008).

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis tells the story of a friendship that became a remarkable friendship, and helped change the world.


The Desiring God web site has a number of lectures by and interviews with Colin Duriez, covering the Origins of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings movies, C.S. Lewis, the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien, and related subjects.

J.R.R. Tolkien Convinces C.S. Lewis That Christ is the True Myth – Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition.

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