Welcome to Inklings Week 2022! You can find all the posts for this week here.
International Inklings Day was born out of a deep love of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. On May 11, 1926, they met for the first time during a faculty tea in Oxford, England. Based off their decades long friendship, you would think that they immediately hit it off. But this was far from the case. Quite opposite really.
After that first meeting, Lewis commented in a letter (I believe jokingly!) about Tolkien: “No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” He thought him rather opinionated and at the time Lewis was an atheist and Tolkien was a strong Roman Catholic. As Diana Pavlac Glyer explains in Bandersnatch:
“It got worse. As Lewis and Tolkien got to know each other, it became clear that they had a number of serious disagreements. They had different interests and personalities. They came from different religious traditions. And they had different academic specialties. Lewis was an expert in literature and philosophy; Tolkien was a philologist, an expert in languages. He loved Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon.”
This all might have been too much, if both Lewis and Tolkien hadn’t been willing to work through their very different belief systems, both in faith and education. As Lewis wrote in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy: “When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (these queer people seemed now to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile. They were H. V. V. Dyson (then of Reading) and J. R. R. Tolkien. Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.”
After that first fateful tea, Lewis and Tolkien disagreed again, this time about the required coursework for English students. Tolkien decided that in order to win people over to his curriculum, he would gather the faculty together to bring about love for mythology and ancient languages. This turned out to be a genius move. In The Gift of Friendship, Colin Duriez writes: “Lewis has been intrigued by Tolkien’s alluding to his linguistic and writing hobbies. Soon he was attracted by Tolkien’s invitation to come along to The Coalbiters, an informal reading club Tolkien had initiated at Oxford in the spring of 1926. Its purpose was to explore Icelandic literature such as the Poetic Edda….As a result of the Colabiter gatherings Tolkien and Lewis were soon meeting regularly and talking far into the night.”
Soon a common ground was found. In Bandersnatch, Glyer writes: “Lewis and Tolkien discovered they had significant common ground. They gravitated towards each other because they shared an interest in what they called “northernness,” the vast skies, icy landscapes, and heroic tempers of the ancient Vikings. As they talked together, Lewis was slowly won over to Tolkien’s view of the English curriculum. And as they worked side by side, they forged a solid friendship. E. L. Edmonds, a student at Oxford, remembers, “It was very obvious that [Lewis and Tolkien] were great friends—indeed, they were like two young bear cubs sometimes, just happily quipping with one another.”
Through the years of consistent and constant fellowship, a deep friendship was formed and their influence started showing up throughout different areas in their lives. In 1929, Lewis famously became a theist, writing in Surprised by Joy: “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
The evening of September 19, 1931 (through the early morning hours of the 20th) was another life changing faith moment for Lewis. That night, Tolkien, Lewis, and another friend, Hugo Dyson (who was also a devout Christian), the three men spent hours discussing life and faith and it was then that Lewis 1931 fully embraced the truth of Christianity. Duriez explains more in The Gift of Friendship: “Tolkien recorded the long night conversation on Addison’s Walk, and many previous exchanges with Lewis, in his poem, Mythopoeia (the “making of myth”). He also noted in his diary: “Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual – a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher – and a love, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.”
Their influence went far beyond faith matters – Lewis was the first person Tolkien shared any writing of Middle Earth adventures and Lewis shared his writings as well, like The Chronicles of Narnia.
While this is a wonderful story of friendship and influence, I can’t help but wonder what if Tolkien would have put off friendship with Lewis because he didn’t share his faith? What if Lewis decided Tolkien wasn’t worth his time because Tolkien was too “religious” in his eyes? Or that their educational philosophies could never be worked through? The world would have missed out on the influential and incredible works of Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and so many others.
What can their story of friendship teach us today? One of the first things I think of is the beauty there is in finding common ground. I love that Tolkien played a key role in Lewis’ faith journey, but that wasn’t Tolkien’s sole focus. Instead, they found common ground, shared life, encouraged and challenged each other.
We can have deep and meaningful impacts on others we invite into our lives; when we open ourselves up and welcome vulnerability. The past several years have shown and taught me many things and I want to be sure I lead with Jesus’ example of love. I have learned so much from the friends who have crossed my path (whether for a short period of time or they continue to be in my life today). I may not agree with all their viewpoints, but that doesn’t take away the positive impact they have had on my life. I pray that they feel the same about me.
During his time on earth, Jesus spent his days befriending those who lived differently than him, believed differently, had different experiences. He taught with stories of this too, like that of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. While the story was definitely a convicting reminder to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we also see that a man didn’t ask questions and helped out someone in need. I can’t help but think that if Jesus continued with his story, he would have shared how they became lifelong friends.
We may never know the impact we have on a person, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out and finding common ground with people in your life. It will push you out of your comfort zone, but God has shown me often that it is always worth it in the end.
I’ll end with these wise words from Lewis’ The Four Loves: “Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”