(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)
I wasn’t sure how reading a book not written by one of the boys would go, but I enjoyed reading a book diving more into the lives of Tolkien and Lewis. It a lot of ways, it helps me appreciate their works all the more. Now how to keep this discussion from turning into a dissertation…
First off, I think there should be an official holiday on May 11th (1926). This was the day Tolkien and Lewis first meet. All I’m saying is there could be some epic Middle Earth and Narnia mashup shenanigans happening. Or maybe we can all have a pint for the boys :). If these two weren’t a part of each others lives, we wouldn’t have LOTR or Narnia. What a dark and dreary world that would be.
I also feel we need to take a moment to appreciate the fact that it took 17 years for Tolkien to write LOTR. 17 YEARS PEOPLE. Tolkien admitted “it is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.” So I dare someone to say it isn’t a well written or an entertaining story….
Both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are literary superstars, known around the world as the creators of Middle-earth and Narnia. But few of their readers and fans know about the important and complex friendship between Tolkien and his fellow Oxford academic C.S. Lewis. Without the persistent encouragement of his friend, Tolkien would never have completed The Lord of the Rings. This great tale, along with the connected matter of The Silmarillion, would have remained merely a private hobby. Likewise, all of Lewis’ fiction, after the two met at Oxford University in 1926, bears the mark of Tolkien’s influence, whether in names he used or in the creation of convincing fantasy worlds.
They quickly discovered their affinity–a love of language and the imagination, a wide reading in northern myth and fairy tale, a desire to write stories themselves in both poetry and prose. The quality of their literary friendship invites comparisons with those of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Cowper and John Newton, and G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. Both Tolkien and Lewis were central figures in the informal Oxford literary circle, the Inklings.
This book explores their lives, unfolding the extraordinary story of their complex friendship that lasted, with its ups and downs, until Lewis’s death in 1963. Despite their differences–differences of temperament, spiritual emphasis, and view of their storytelling art–what united them was much stronger, a shared vision that continues to inspire their millions of readers throughout the world.
This book was a little different than I expected. It not only discusses the friendship between the two, but also looks at key works of each, when they were written and the influence of those novels. Whether it be Till We Have Faces or The Hobbit, Duriez provides overviews of their works, which readers will find helpful if they haven’t read the books discussed. I knew a bit about their friendship before reading this, but there were some things I didn’t have a clue about, so if you’re interested in learning more about these two, I definitely recommend this read!
“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends and old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs – or else sitting up till the small hours in someone’s college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea and pipes.” C.S. Lewis
I think one of my favorite parts was reading all the ways they influenced each other, from Tolkien’s guidance to C.S. Lewis’ spiritual awakening to Lewis’ constant encouragement for Tolkien to finish the Lord of the Rings. I also loved that they each dedicated some of their greatest works to The Inklings. And guess what? They were both avid readers (although I do believe Lewis takes the cake), meaning WE WOULD HAVE BEEN BEST FRIENDS.
Moving on. 🙂
I’m also pretty sure they were meant to be best friends from birth. Why?
- They each have rad names: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Clive Staples Lewis
- They both lost their moms at a young age.
- Tolkien’s dad died earlier and Lewis’ Dad withdrew after his mother’s death and sent Clive to a boarding school (their relationship would later be restored).
- They also both fought in WWI.
It’s pretty crazy to think of early life happenings became a connection point for them later.
Now some facts I deemed worthy to point out (also solidifying my love for these two):
- Tolkien commented late life that “he sought to create a mythology for England, but arguably he also tried to create a mythology for the English language.” I vote he was successful on both accounts. I would add he created a mythology for the universe. Unbiased opinion of course.
- There had been plans between the two to collaborate on a book together. This project never materialized and I bet it’s because they knew the universe would probably explode from the sheer amount of awesome a book like that would have contained.
- I’m sure there will be other books we read about C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity, but I have to point out one fact: after he became a theist in 1929, by 1930, he was exploring Christianity more (with John Bunyan’s works) and decided to start reading the Bible almost daily. He started reading the book of John. What’s so exciting about that? He read it in GREEK. You know, like I’m sure we’ve all done.
- I love this quote by Tolkien: “In the Gospels, art has been verified.”
I can barely handle the levels of genius, internet.
“The two friends had a tangible confidence that the separation of story and fact has been reconciled, which led them to continue in a tradition of symbolic fiction, telling stories of dragons and kings in disguise, talking animals and heroic quests, set in imagined worlds.”
Some Items to Discuss
Honestly, I don’t have a ton of questions, but I am curious of any reactions, so here we go!
1. What were some of the most surprising facts?
I was surprised and found it interesting that Tolkien didn’t approve of Lewis’ role as a popular theologian. I understand where it comes from (with different church backgrounds), but still found it interesting. Yet, again, I appreciate how much they still respected each other with the differences.
2. There were several works discussed in this book and I wish I could read them all RIGHT NOW. Were there any that stuck out for you?
I think mine would be The Notion Club Papers. Did you catch the title page?
Out of the Talkative Planet
Being a fragment of an apocryphal Inklings’ saga,
made by some imitator at some time in the 1980s
3. Closing thoughts about friendship:
As I mentioned, there were a few things I had heard before about their friendship, but I felt like people made them much more dramatic than they were. Yes, their friendship shifted in later years, but as the book pointed out, with C.S. Lewis’ death, it was a “wound [Tolkien] knew he [would] not lose, as one loses a falling leaf.” Even years after Lewis’ death Tolkien wrote about Lewis: The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. Same with Lewis (just read his thoughts on friendship). They prove that through thick and thin, friendship is a powerful force we all need in life.
I love that their different personalities, instead of separating them, helped them to connect on a deeper level.
“They were enormously important to each other, and had obvious affinities that helped each to keep alive his vision of life.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about these two!