Inklings

The Friendship of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (Plus It’s International Inklings Day!!)

(If you’re new, welcome to Inklings Week 2016! I don’t want you to miss any of the posts this week, so be sure to check them out here!) 

I miss you Oxford!

“Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.” Cicero

Today is officially International Inklings Day!!!! On this day 90 years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were gathered for English tea with Oxford English faculty at Merton College and met for the first time. This would begin a 40 year friendship and this friendship would inspire generations to come and also help to produce some of literature’s greatest masterpieces.

Yet, truth be told, it wasn’t friendship at first sight. After that first meeting, Lewis commented (I believe jokingly!) about Tolkien: “No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” He thought him rather opinionated, but this was more due to the fact that at the time Lewis was an atheist and Tolkien was a strong Roman Catholic. As Diana Pavlac Glyer’s explained in Bandersnatch (which really is an excellent book and you should all read it!)

“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. Lewis said that meeting Tolkien triggered two of his childhood prejudices. He explains, “At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a [Catholic], and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.

Soon after the faculty disagreed on required courses for English students and Lewis and Tolkien found themselves on opposite sides of the debate. So 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. Once again, I’ll quote Bandersnatch:

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.”

Tolkien would go on to play a significant role in Lewis’ conversion to Christianity (especially on the night of September 19, 1931, where, along with Hugo Dyson, the three men spent hours discussing life and faith and Lewis later said this was his final push for Christianity) and Lewis would be Tolkien’s biggest supporter and encourager in finishing Lord of the Rings and other works. Their friendship was a staple in each other’s lives and, while, in later years the friendship did change, it never lost it’s meaning.

In Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of a Friendship by Colin Duriez, we see that “with C.S. Lewis’ death, it was a “wound [Tolkien] knew he would not lose, as one loses a falling lead.” 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.”

I’ll leave with a few fun facts because I’m all about fun facts.

  • Lewis’ character, Elwin Random, in Out of the Silent Planet, resembles Tolkien quite a bit. Elwin means “elf-friend” and the character is a Cambridge philologist who has a love for languages.
  • The Professor in Narnia was also inspired by Tolkien.
  • Treebeard was inspired by C.S. Lewis.
  • 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 when he was a toddler and Lewis’ Dad withdrew and sent Lewis to a boarding school after his mother’s death.
  • They both fought in WWI.
  • In 1961, Lewis nominated Tolkien for the Nobel Peace Prize in literature (which he totally should have won)
  • Both Humphrey Carpenter (Tolkien’s official biographer) and Edith Tolkien (when she told scholar Clyde S. Kilby) stated that C.S. Lewis actually wrote Tolkien’s obituary, which was published the day after his death (9/2/73) in The Times.

“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 rooms talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer tea and pipes.”

I hope y’all enjoyed this brief look at Tolkien and Lewis’ friendship! Who has greatly encouraged and inspired you in your life?

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Inklings

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis | Inklings Series Discussion

(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!!)

“A violet yellow sunset was pouring through a rift in the clouds to westward, but straight ahead over the hills the sky was the colour of dark slate.”

How have I not read this until now? I feel like a fake fan! It was a fabulous read to kick off the series and I look forward to reading the other two in the series, but first to discuss!

The first book in C. S. Lewis’s acclaimed Space Trilogy, which continues with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, Out of the Silent Planet begins the adventures of the remarkable Dr. Ransom. Here, that estimable man is abducted by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra. The two men are in need of a human sacrifice, and Dr. Ransom would seem to fit the bill. Once on the planet, however, Ransom eludes his captors, risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth, becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity. First published in 1943, Out of the Silent Planet remains a mysterious and suspenseful tour de force.

Here’s a fun fact to kick things off (in case you didn’t catch last month’s read): Tolkien and Lewis once flipped a coin deciding who would write a time travel story and who would write an outer space novel. Thanks to that coin toss, Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet and Tolkien wrote The Notion Club Papers (a time travel set in the future of the 1980s :).

I wish I had a better way to say this, but the way C.S. Lewis paints a story is rad. I constantly found myself pausing during the book and just thinking how talented and gifted he was as a writer (and by my description of “rad,” you can see we’re on slightly different playing fields).

Like this:

“Pulsing with brightness as with some unbearable pain or pleasure, clustered in pathless and countless multitudes, dreamlike in clarity, blazing in perfect blackness, the stars seized all his attention, troubled him, excited him, and drew him up to a sitting position…

…now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam.”

I mean….

Now onto the actual storyline :). Not only did we once again see the creative and imaginative genius of Lewis, but I found myself wishing all the creatures on the planet were real and that one day I could hang out with them (add that list to Narnia and Middle Earth). I loved what got Ransom to speak with Hyoi was he heard him speaking and his love of language took over, especially since both Tolkien and Lewis loved languages.

I laughed quite a bit too, like with this line: “For a moment Ransom found something reassuring in the thought that the sorns were shepherds. Then he remembered that the Cyclops in Homer plied the same trade.”

When Hyoi was shot and killed (which, by the way did not see coming 😦 ), I thought Lewis portrayed the aftermath in such a poignant way. How do you explain someone kills something for no other reason than they wanted to?

As I mentioned before, I haven’t read the rest of the series, but I hope there is more to come battling Weston and the forces behind him.

“…our cry is not merely “Hands off Malacandra.” The dangers to be feared are not planetary but cosmic, or at least solar, and they are not temporal but eternal. More than this it would be unwise to say.”

I also really enjoyed the Postscript and the letter between Ransom and the writer. Not only was it a creative way to gain more insight into the world Lewis created, but I like that we got more of what it was like when Ransom returned home.

Here’s some questions I was thinking about:

1. How the hey was Jack (aka Clive Staples aka my BFF) so creative?!
I mean, geez, save some genius for the rest of the world. Obviously this isn’t really a question I expect answered, but I still needed to get it off my chest :).

2. How does this rank against Lewis’ other fiction books for you?
It might be too early for me to make this statement (since I have to read the others), but I think Narnia still holds the top spot for Lewis’ fiction work. But please don’t take that to mean I didn’t enjoy this – I thoroughly did. It’s just hard to beat Aslan. 🙂

3. I love that Lewis used a sci-fi novel to take a look at humanity. Did that stick out to any of you?
It could be because I’ve been watching Breaking Bad and I love The Walking Dead, two shows that reveal both the bad and good of humanity in different/unique/dire circumstances, but that kept popping up. Take Weston. He’s arrogant and refuses to truly learn about the lives he encounters. He only sought power and dominance. Devine clearly didn’t grasp mo’ money, mo’ problems. Greed drove him, even when he encountered something no one else from planet Earth had. Then there was Ransom. Sweet Ransom. The complete opposite of the other two. I kinda think Lewis wrote pieces of his personality in Ransom’s character too.

4. Did you have a favorite of the Malacandra beings? Between the sorns, hrossa, Oyarsa and pfifltriggi?
I want to pick the pfifltriggi based solely on their name. I have no idea how to pronounce it, but it makes me laugh! This really is a tough one though, but I think I might have to go with the hrossa. They were the first we really encounter, so that probably has something to do with my bias.

What about you readers? As always, please share any other insights as well! Looking forward to reading what you thought of the book!

Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christian Books

Inklings

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of a Friendship by Colin Duriez | Inklings Series Discussion

(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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Beyond Lewis
Or
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!

Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christian Books

Inklings

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis | The Inklings Series

Welcome to our first post in The Inklings Series! I’m so glad you’re here 🙂 First, I feel we all need to take a moment to appreciate the dedication of this novel:

Seriously. Way too much genius for one friendship circle.

Alright, now onto discussing this fabulous book! Although written in 1941, the lessons and wisdom from this book apply just as much as today as it did then. That alone blows my mind. It’s an original and genius piece of work, whether you consider the truths Lewis wrestles with, the names (Our Father Below (satan) vs. The Enemy (God) ) or any other aspect of this book. I want to include every quote I highlighted, but that would quickly escalate into the world’s longest blog post, so instead I’ll settle for some key points :).

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is a classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.

There were several times throughout the letters where it seemed as though it was written just for me. Today. Here and now. That’s when you know it’s a classic. Whether the chapter on prayer (I was rather encouraged to become “very far advanced in the Enemy’s service.”), humility (i.e. becoming proud of one’s humility) or modesty (which he called what modern day advertising would become decades before it happened), each chapter had me thinking through plenty of things.

“For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if he consciously directs his prayers ‘Not to what I think thou art but to what thou know art thyself to be’, our situation is, for the moment, desperate.”

One of the biggest themes (or tools of “The Father Below”) I found was one of distraction. That’s definitely how I become complacent in my faith and in my life. Never does temptation come across as a little devil on our shoulder with a pitchfork, but as Lewis so eloquently points out, it’s in a quieter, almost non-noticeable way. Those times of simply getting people to focus on daily life distractions. Before we know it, something good has become twisted.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

“Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”

This is one of my favorites:

“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” (emphasis mine)

On the other hand, God isn’t about removing things, but rather filling us up. A great example of the opposite of this is Screwtape’s anger toward Wormwood reveals how satan works (i.e. when he gets so mad he turns into a centipede). Yet, Lewis gives us hope in the truths that God wants to make our lives beautiful and full.

“The real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.”

“We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

“To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return – that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.”

I’ll close out my thoughts with this quote – I love the description of the Patient’s understanding upon reaching the heavenly realms.
“But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’ “

Alright, here’s some questions to open up discussion:
1. If you could sum up the message(s) of this book in a sentence, how would you? Think elevator pitch for this book. 😉
2. What are some of your favorite quotes?
3. What did you think of the ending? It’s been so long since I’ve read it, I totally forgot how it ended! Anyway, would love to hear what you thought!

And here’s my answers:
1. I’ll just sum it up right quick: That what God wants for each of us is better than we can imagine. That when he asks you to “lose yourself” in Him, it’s so we can gain something much more beautiful. On the other hand, satan seeks out ways to destroy our souls. (Like when Screwtape asks Wormwood “And anyway, why should the creature be happy?”). Also, satan’s attacks are much more subtle and dangerous than blatant attacks.

2. Since I’ve already included about 57,000 quotes, here’s one more that had me laughing out loud:
“For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created…” (I wasn’t laughing at the part of He loves us – because internet high fives all around for that – but the part where Screwtape calls humans hairless bipeds. Cracked me up!)

3. I forgot that the Patient was killed during an air raid. It takes a skilled writer who can create a character with no name, yet one the readers (or at least me) become attached to. And was that not a fantastically creepy way to sign off a letter? “Your increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle”…aka “I’m going to eat you.” Have I mentioned I love this book?

Just because I really enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on writing this book (and in case your version didn’t include C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on writing it), here they are:
“Though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.”

Please feel free to include any other thoughts or questions! I’m all about a good discussion 🙂

Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christian Books