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Monday, April 19, 2010

Tolkien and Lewis, Lewis and Tolkien

I have recently read Tolkien and Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, by Colin Duriez. (Mahway, NJ:HiddenSpring, a Division of Paulist Press, 2003.) J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis should not need much introduction, but I have linked to the Wikipedia articles on each of them, at the beginning of this sentence. There is not much on Duriez on the Internet, but here's a link to a Wikipedia stub, and here's a link to the Amazon page listing the books he has authored.

So what does Duriez have to say? The book includes enough information to make it a good brief biography of both authors. As would be expected from the title, it specializes on the influence that the two men had on each other, which was considerable.

To summarize, Tolkien, a lifelong Roman Catholic, was one of the main influences in the conversion of Lewis to Christianity. (Lewis became an Anglican believer.) Tolkien was also one of the main influences in the appointment of Lewis to a chair at Cambridge, late in his life -- Lewis, although an important influence at Oxford, was never given a chair there. Lewis published several important books about English Literature while occupying his chair at Cambridge. Lewis read much, perhaps all, of the works Tolkien had published during his lifetime, and was a great encouragement to Tolkien. It is possible that, if Lewis had not done this, The Lord of the Rings would never have been published, and not many people would have ever heard of Tolkien. (Tolkien's son, Christopher, put together The Silmarillion, and other works, from his father's notes after the father's death. Tolkien outlived Lewis by about ten years. He and Christopher Tolkien attended Lewis's funeral.) Tolkien likewise encouraged Lewis, although he thought that the elements of myth in the Narnia books were put in somewhat carelessly, and he also thought that the work in Christian apologetics that Lewis did would have been better done by an ordained cleric, rather than a lay person. History, and the marketplace, have largely supported Lewis, not Tolkien, in these differences between them, but Tolkien had a point, especially about Narnia.

For much of their working lives, Tolkien and Lewis were good friends. Lewis, apparently more outgoing, added other friends to his circle, and eventually Tolkien felt left out, later in their lives. Even more important, Lewis married Joy Davidman, and this also caused some strain on the relationship. She had been previously divorced, and Tolkien felt that any marriage to her would be wrong, and apparently had told Lewis so.

One area where Tolkien and Lewis supported each other, and were, together, able to have considerable influence, was in the teaching of English Literature in Britain. They both felt that there was not enough attention given to the roots of English Literature, and to the roots of the English language. They, in fact, believed that they lived in a time that largely ignored its roots, in English, and in other ways. I believe that they were correct, and that we are worse off for this, but that's another sermon.

The only thing I found wrong with the book is that Duriez inexplicably claims that Jill Pole, who came to Lewis's Narnia with Eustace Scrubb in The Silver Chair, was a cousin of the Pevensie children (p. 137), who first entered Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The Silver Chair, and subsequent Narnia books, don't mention this.

The book is a good read, and anyone wanted to read about either, or both, of these giants, would find it a good choice.

Thanks for reading.

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