The Friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Seminar — 2013 National Conference

The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis

Thank you for your welcome, and thank you for the opportunity to speak about two of my favorite writers. This is about the friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Friendship of Lewis and Tolkien

The friendship went back to the time when Tolkien moved to Oxford to take on the university chair of Anglo-Saxon in 1925, or as its known, Old English. This friendship continued close to 40 years, and perhaps inevitably had its ups and downs, especially with such different temperaments. Much of their friendship was played out in the context of the Inklings. This was a club of Christian friends, which came into existence perhaps eight years after Lewis and Tolkien first met. It marked a deepening of the friendship of the two which had grown since Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, probably a couple of years before the club began.

Members of the small club read their works in progress to each other. Tolkien over the years read much of The Lord of the Rings and at least some of The Hobbit to them. He had presented parts of his background mythology of the earlier ages of middle earth. From time to time he shared poems. Lewis read widely from his prodigious output, including his space fiction stories, many poems, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, his translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid, and the occasional essay.

Many times Lewis read to Tolkien outside of the Inklings group, or during World War II to Tolkien and another Inkling called Charles Williams. Early in 1949, for example, Lewis read at least part of the manuscript of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe just to Tolkien. Perhaps because Tolkien disliked the Narnian story, Lewis seems to have read little to him after this. But we can’t be certain because we have to rely upon incidental documentation in letters and on the sporadic diaries of Warren Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s brother.

The Inklings were, to all appearances, a small and obscure reading group of a few academics and professional people meeting in the smoky lounge of a local Oxford pub, or in Lewis’s unpretentious college rooms. For the early years of the friendship, Tolkien and Lewis were little known outside of their academic circles, especially as writers of fiction. Yet they became enormously important to each other and had obvious affinities that helped each to keep alive his vision of life.

The Faith of J.R.R. Tolkien

Here’s a little bit about Tolkien’s faith. Of fundamental importance is the influence of Tolkien’s faith. Lewis was originally an atheist, and Tolkien helped him to find Christ. He exerted all his persuasive powers on his friend, focusing upon the Gospel narratives as demanding both an imaginative and an intellectual response. Lewis responded in both these ways and over time developed and mastered the skills of a Christian communicator both in storytelling and in rhetoric.

As the years went on, Lewis’s fluency in both imaginative and discursive writing increased. Tolkien failed, however, to persuade Lewis to enter what he felt to be the only valid church, the Roman Catholic Church. Tolkien once wrote a poem to Lewis based on his many conversations with him as a non-believer. In one section, Tolkien describes himself as, in his own words, a “little maker” or “maker in miniature,” working away an expression of God’s image in him.

In the poem, Tolkien rejects Lewis’s modern materialism, and this is a brief extract from this poem, which is called Mythopoeia, which means the making of myth:

I will not walk with your progressive apes, erect and sapient. Before them gapes the dark abyss to which their progress tends - if by God’s mercy progress ever ends, and does not ceaselessly revolve the same unfruitful course with changing of a name.

I will not treat your dusty path and flat, denoting this and that by this and that, your world immutable wherein no part the little maker has with maker’s art. I bow not yet before the Iron Crown, nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

Tolkien’s faith was integrated with insights from ancient northern mythologies. He greatly influenced Lewis significantly with his view of a connection between myth and fact. The connection goes back, as Tolkien believed, to the very nature of language. Tolkien’s view could be described as a theology of story, or even a theology of language. Tolkien had worked out a complex understanding of the relationship between story and myth to reality, and of how language itself relates to reality.

Story and language were for him part of one human invented process. In his words, they were “integrally related.” Both were a mark of the human mind, and there had always been story and language where the human mind existed. Tolkien saw the Gospel narratives, in his view, as a story created by God himself in the real events of history. In his view, it was a story that had been woven into what he called “the seamless web of story.”

So he was saying that human storytelling, whether proceeding or following on from the Gospel events, is joyfully alive with God’s presence. The importance of story became equally central to Lewis. Tolkien saw language mystically. Languages, he believed, embodied mythologies, and he spent a lifetime trying to demonstrate this.

The Significance of Myth

The present company here might understand this idea of “inherent mythologies” better if I translated this into saying that human languages carry worldviews, provided that we understand that worldviews are not just conceptual systems, not just systems of ideas, but that they also carry pictures or models of the cosmos. One of the most profound things I think, which was said by Francis Schaeffer, is buried in a footnote in his groundbreaking book, The God Who is There.

He suggests that words carry meanings from a culture’s worldview, but even deeper they carry a memory of God’s existence, even if a person professes atheism. He gives the example of maybe how an atheist will swear using God’s name. He wonders that this might be a better explanation of archetypes in human culture than that was put forward by the famous psychologist Yung. But the main point is that for Tolkien, in mythologies, worldviews are carried in human language.

Secondary Worlds

Now a little bit about Tolkien’s idea of secondary worlds, invented worlds, what he called sub-creation. Another important feature of Tolkien’s impact upon C.S. Lewis, which is related to what I’ve just said, is his distinctive doctrine of sub-creation or the making of secondary worlds. This was his belief that the highest function of art is the creation of internally consistent and coherent secondary (other) worlds. And if they carry sufficient imaginative accuracy, they’re able to capture some of the depth and splendor of the real world, the primary world that God has made. So for Tolkien, a fairy story is not a story which simply concerns fairy beings. They are in a sense otherworldly, having an invented geography and a history to surround them.

And in fact, Tolkien’s concept of sub-creation is the most distinctive feature of his view of art, and it explains why he created Middle Earth. Though he saw sub-creation in terms of inventive fantasy, his view applies much more widely. Secondary worlds can take on many forms, not just in familiar fantasy like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. The concept of sub-creation was very important to C.S. Lewis. It provided the basis for his own invention of the planets of Malacandra and Perelandra, or Venus. Venus, particularly, was one of his most successful creations in his science fiction stories.

Another creation was the country of Glome, which may not have come across in a less familiar book called Till We Have Faces. It inspired for child readers his most popular world, which was Narnia. And recently the importance of Tolkien’s idea of sub-creation on Lewis has become even more clear in my opinion.

A Surprisingly Profound Sub-Creation

I just want to say a little about the impact of a book called Planet Narnia, which you may have come across, on understanding Lewis’s secondary world of Narnia. For many years it was customary for critics to consider The Chronicles of Narnia as having been written in a rush in a rather slapdash manner. This was in contrast to Tolkien who spent many years painstakingly writing The Lord of the Rings, and over half a century developing the background world of Middle Earth. Lewis wrote the seven Narnia stories in as many years. Yet this dismissive attitude did not fit the actual reading experience of many.

Like Tolkien, Lewis was a brilliant medieval scholar. His presence as a thinker and a scholar seemed to be tangible in the Narnian stories, even though they’re written at the level of a child. What was it that gave the seven-fold stories their unity was a mystery, however. Various attempts were made to account for what held them together so satisfactorily. Anybody who’s written on Narnia, like myself, has struggled with issues thinking, “Maybe it’s the seven deadly sins that are the key to the unity?” or this, that, and the other. But none of these seemed to fit.

While researching the Narnia and Chronicles for his doctorate, Michael Ward, the author of the book Planet Narnia, stumbled across an element in all the stories that Lewis had carefully hidden. Ward later published his discovery. It points to Lewis’s creation of the world of Narnia as being skillful in its own way and on its own smaller scale as that of Tolkien’s rendering of Middle Earth. Like much of Tolkien’s inspiration, Lewis drew upon the imaginative resources of the Middle Ages, allowing the vision of that period to re-enchant the world of the modern reader.

Ward shows how medieval astrology plays a central shaping role in particular in Lewis’s depiction of Narnia and the stories that play out there. In fact, the very night sky of Narnia is modeled upon a medieval one with living stars and a world that is commonly perceived as flat, even though in the Middle Ages scholars were aware that the earth was a globe. The planets were ruled by intelligences, great lords and ladies rather like the planets in Lewis’s science fiction stories.

There was not a modern separation therefore between astronomy and astrology. Heaven and the starry skies were one. Signs in the skies were taken with utmost seriousness in Narnia. Centaurs, for instance, have a remarkable facility in reading the portents. So if you remember just one fact from this talk, remember the fact that Centaurs have this special gift. Michael Ward has argued that the Chronicles playfully embody medieval astronomy, and he teases out Lewis’s interest in medieval imagery.

Each of the stories, Ward points out, represents one of the seven planets of astrology. In this scheme, there are seven astrological planets: the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the Sun — which remain traditionally rooted in the names of the seven days of the week in many languages, including English. They influenced people, events, and even metals in the earth each in a distinctive way. Ward argues that Lewis uses the astrological planets as spiritual symbols.

Embodied Symbolism

I’ll give you an example. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the voyagers head towards the sunrise. Gold, the metal of the sun, tempts Eustace Scrubb and provides the curse on Death Water Island. And light takes on a luminous spiritual quality as the adventurers approach the end of the world and Aslan’s country.

Taking each planet, he shows how its symbolism is present and embodied throughout one of the Narnian stories, giving a credible account of the influence and appropriateness of that dominant planet. Just as the sun shapes The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Jupiter, the planet of kingship, “animates the imaginative vision of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” in Ward’s words.

Similarly, the characteristic atmosphere or quality of Prince Caspian comes from the planet Mars. Venus is a planet Lewis finds appropriate to shape the story and portrayal of Narnia in the Magician’s Nephew. Lewis’s Narnia, therefore, is in fact an outstanding example of a successful secondary world created with Tolkien’s views in mind.

Ironically, Tolkien disliked the Narnia stories, and this was in his view because they contained allegory — that is, a pattern of symbolism that corresponds one-to-one with concepts or ideas. So if you take the most famous allegory that you probably know about, The Pilgrim’s Progress, despair is represented as a giant. So you have the idea of despair presented in that way. Tolkien thought this spoiled stories. I don’t agree with that view, by the way, but I haven’t got time to go into why at the moment.

How Stories Come True

I want to say something about how Tolkien and Lewis believed that stories can come true. Alongside his idea of sub-creation, Tolkien is likely to have conveyed to Lewis a vision and understanding of story that is spiritual and even mystical. In such a view, a story has a significance beyond itself. It points to a reality other than itself. Tolkien distinctively said that “all tales may come true,” and this was because of the link he saw between human and divine making.

C.S. Lewis’s mother had died when he was nine. When Lewis told a story about Digory’s apple in The Magician’s Nephew, the apple which gave life to Digory’s mother, Lewis felt that he was doing more than indulging in wish fulfillment. The story, for him, I believe, embodied the possibility that his own long dead mother and other people’s mothers, might one day live again in a fully human, physical, spiritual existence.

Now indulge me as I read a relevant extract from *The Magician’s Nephew. One of the delights of speaking rather than writing is that I can quote more than a few lines without having to take out a mortgage:

Then Digory took a minute to get his breath and then went softly into his mother’s room, and there she lay as he had seen her lie so many other times, propped up on the pillows with a thin, pale face that would make you cry to look at. Digory took the apple of life out of his pocket and just as the witch Jadis had looked different when you saw her in our world instead of in her own, so the fruit of that mountain garden looked different too.

There were, of course, all sorts of colored things in the bedroom — the colored counterpane on the bed, the wallpaper, the sunlight from the window, and mother’s pretty, pale blue dressing jacket. But the moment Digory took the apple out of his pocket, all those things seemed to have scarcely any color at all. Every one of them. Even the sunlight seemed faded and dingy. The brightness of the apple threw strange lights on the ceiling. Nothing else was worth looking at.

You couldn’t look at anything else. And the smell of the apple of youth was as if there was a window in the room that opened in heaven. “Oh darling, how lovely!” said Digory’s mother. “You will eat it, won’t you, please?” said Digory. “I don’t know what the doctor would say,” she answered, “But really I almost feel as if I could.” He peeled it and cut it up and gave it her piece by piece, and no sooner had she finished it than she smiled and her head sank back on the pillow and she was asleep, a real, natural, gentle sleep without any of those nasty drugs, which was, as Digory knew, the thing in the whole world that she wanted most.

He was sure now that her face looked a little different. He bent down and kissed her very softly and stole out of the room with a beating heart, taking the core of the apple with him. For the rest of that day, wherever he looked at the things about him and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope. But when he remembered the face of Aslan, he did hope. That very evening he buried the core of the apple in the back garden.

Now if you want to find out the importance of that burial of the core of the apple and you haven’t read the stories, then that’s a way to find out. I’m sorry, I can’t read anymore from the story.

Lewis’s Influence on Tolkien

Now let’s look at C.S. Lewis’s importance to Tolkien, the place of friendship. Given that Tolkien had such a great impact on his friend, what was Lewis’s importance to Tolkien? Tolkien himself answered this question in a letter written nearly two years after his friend’s death. He wrote:

The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not to 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. But for his interest, an unceasing eagerness for more, I should never have brought The Lord of the Rings to a conclusion.

It appears that Lewis did not influence Tolkien in the same way that Tolkien influenced him. Rather, Tolkien found a ready listener and appreciator in his friend. This reading and listening was institutionalized in the Inklings’ Thursday night gatherings. Who knows, had these Thursday meetings continued past 1949, there might exist today a complete telling of some of the tales of the early ages of Middle Earth, approaching the scale of The Lord of the Rings.

Sadly, for various reasons, Lewis did not persist in encouraging the completion of the Silmarillion, especially the great tales in it such as that of Beren and Luthien. One reason might have been the gradual growing apart of the two friends in the 1950s.

The Love of Friendship

Lewis illuminated the nature of his friendship with Tolkien when he wrote his book, The Four Loves, which was published in 1960. The four loves he distinguished were affection, friendship, eros (erotic love), and charity (or agape, divine love).

He felt that it was vital not to lose sight of the real differences that give each love its own valid character, even where one love merges into another, as when friendship between a man and a woman becomes erotic, or when one is called upon to care for a dependent family member and natural affection deepens into self-sacrificial love. Love friendship, like his with Tolkien, involved the “what, you too?” factor — the recognition of a shared vision.

Friendship for Lewis was the least instinctive, biological, and necessary of our loves. In his day, it was hardly considered a love at all, and Lewis sought to rehabilitate it as a virtue. In his book, he pointed out that the ancients put the highest value upon this love as in the friendship, say, between David and Jonathan in the Bible. Lewis actually had a view of friendship that had been common throughout Western history, and which comes over in his book, The Four Loves.

This is the view that friendship is characteristically between man and man. Yet in his life, Lewis had friendships with a number of women such as Joy Davidman, whom he later married, the poet Ruth Pitter, and the writer Dorothy L. Sayers. The ideal climate for friendship, Lewis argued, was when a few people are absorbed in some common interest.

Lovers, Lewis pointed out, are usually imagined as face-to-face. Friends are best imagined side by side, their eyes focused on their common interest. Friendship, as the least biological of the loves, refutes heterosexual or homosexual explanations for its existence, or explanations that see it is based on natural human affection. Friendship, Lewis reckoned, made good people better and bad people worse.

Tolkien largely agreed with Lewis’s view of friendship, especially as it was reinforced by the male character of Oxford society in their day, but he was not as generous as Lewis in the breadth of his friendships. Tolkien was a family man, however, while Lewis was a bachelor for much of his life, even though he participated willingly in his adopted mother’s (Mrs. Moore) matriarchy at the kilns, his Oxford home. This gave Tolkien a wider breadth of relationships to his wife Edith and to his children particularly.

A Shared Faith

An important ingredient in the glue of their friendship, however, was their shared Christian faith with this distinct imaginative cast, as though the friendship became firmly established while Lewis was still a materialist. Increasingly, I’ve come to think that it was Lewis’s recognition of a Christian element in friendship, the Christian element in encouraging friendship, that helped to establish the Inklings. Lewis was prone to describe the group as being Christian and having a tendency to write.

Tolkien and Lewis had a number of shared beliefs on top of the ones I’ve mentioned, deriving from their common faith. In the very foreground of their perspective, the imagination was of huge importance, and this reveals their link with the older romantic movement. They saw imagination, in Lewis’s words, as “the organ of meaning.” That is, imagination is involved in the way we sense reality as a whole, whether perceiving individual things like trees, stones, hills, even particular people, or the world as a coherent world around us. Imagination is not like thought, concerned with abstracting from particular things, or from particular experiences and relationships.

Both Tolkien and Lewis as writers, therefore, valued looking at reality in a symbolic and what they called a “mythopoetic” way, Mythopoeia being the making of myth. Fiction for Lewis and Tolkien was therefore a creation of meaning rather than a literal restating of truths. It reflected for them the greater creativity of God himself when he originated and put together his universe and ourselves.

Natural objects and people are not mere facts. Their meaning comes from their relationship to other objects and from other events and persons, and ultimately from their relationship to God. People have a created unity and their meaning and fullness derives from that. Clyde S. Kilby recorded in his notes of a meeting with Tolkien that he spoke of an idea which he shared with Lewis. He said, “Everything is unique and each thing, however small, when a subject of attention, of necessity becomes the center of the world and requires all knowledge of the entire world to make an adequate explanation of it.”

It follows that what is true of things is also true of our own sensations and experiences. If we focus exclusively on them, we lose their meaning. In their full meaning they point elsewhere to what is not them, to a whole world of people, things, and places. And for Tolkien and Lewis, to things beyond what they called “the walls of the world.”

The desire to write fantasy and other symbolic fiction was fundamental to Lewis and Tolkien, and in a letter Lewis confessed:

The imaginative man in me is older, more continuously operative, and in that sense more basic than either the religious writer or the critic. It was he who first made me attempt, with little success, to be a poet. It was he who, in response to the poetry of others, made me a critic, and in defense of that response, sometimes a critical controversialist. It was he, who after my conversion, led me to embody my religious belief in symbolical or mythopoetic forms, ranging from Screwtape to a kind of theological science fiction. And it was, of course, he who has brought me in the last few years to write a series of Narnian stories for children, not asking what children want and then endeavoring to adapt myself — this was not needed — but because the fairytale was the genre best fitted for what I wanted to say.

Blessed are the Legend Makers

Similarly, Tolkien wrote a beatitude in the poem I quoted from earlier, Mythopoeia, and his beatitude was addressed “to the makers of legend.” Allow me to read a brief extract:

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme of things not found within recorded time. It is not they that have forgot the Night, or bid us flee to organized delight, in lotus-isles of economic bliss forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss (and counterfeit at that, machine-produced, bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair, and those that hear them yet may yet beware. They have seen Death and ultimate defeat, and yet they would not in despair retreat, but oft to victory have turned the lyre and kindled hearts with legendary fire, illuminating Now and dark Hath-been with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

Tolkien is saying that these storytellers are blessed as they speak of things outside of recorded time. Though they have looked at death and even ultimate defeat, they have not flinched and retreated in despair. Instead, they have often sung of victory, and the fire in their voices caught from legend has kindled the heart of their listeners. In so doing, they have lit up both the darkness of the past and the present day with the brightness of suns “as yet by no man seen.”

Lewis and Tolkien’s View of Joy

Now here’s a little bit about Lewis and Tolkien’s view of the other and the quality of joy, which I’m sure you’ll hear much more about this quality of joy during this conference. As well as placing this enormous value upon the imagination, Tolkien and Lewis were alike in welcoming a sense of the other. Great stories, that is, can take us outside the prison of our own selves and our presuppositions about reality, hence the frequent accusations made of escapism. Insofar as stories reflect the divine maker in doing this, they help us face the ultimate Other: God, as distinct as creator from all else, including ourselves.

Lewis’s notion of joy, which is a technical term in his usage, features very much in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and is directed to the supreme Other, God himself. Lewis and Tolkien shared this desire to embody this such quality of joy in their work. An inconsolable yearning or longing in human experience was for Lewis appointed to this joy.

In fact, this longing was for him a defining characteristic of fantasy as he tried to capture the quality of it. Joy is a strong feature in Tolkien too, and is valued by him, as his essay on fairy stories makes clear. Joy is a key feature of fairy stories he believed. It’s part of the consolation that they give. Joy in a story, for Tolkien, marks the presence of grace, coming from the world outside of the story and from even beyond our world. Tolkien writes:

It denies, in the face of much evidence, if you will, universal final defeat, and insofar as evangelian (the gospel), giving a fleeting glimpse of joy, joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief . . . In such stories when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy and heart’s desire that for a moment passes outside the frame, and rends indeed the very web of story and lets a gleam come through.

For Lewis, joy was a foretaste of ultimate reality, heaven itself, or to put it into other words, it was a taste of our world as it was meant to be, unspoiled by the fall of humankind, and one day to be remade. “Joy,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “Is the serious business of heaven.” In attempting to imagine heaven, Lewis discovered that joy is, in his words, the secret signature of each soul. He speculated that the desire of heaven is part of our essential and unfulfilled humanity.

In Tolkien, as I’ve already said, the quality of joy is linked to the sudden turn in the story, the sense of reversal of disaster, or in a term that he invented, the eucatastrophe, which means a good catastrophe. It is also connected to the inconsolable longing, or sweet desire in Lewis’s sense, and I could talk for a long time about how you can find this quality of joy in Tolkien’s writings, for example in The Lord of the Rings.

Recovery and Re-enchantment

Here’s a little about how stories in the view of both men engender recovery and re-enchantment. A further fantasy for both friends was restoration or recovery. Tolkien, like Lewis, believed that through story the real world would become a more magical place full of meaning. We would see its patterns and colors in a fresh way.

The recovery of a true view of the world applies both to individual things like hills and stones, and to the cosmic, to the depth of space and time itself. Through stories like The Lord of the Rings, a renewed view of things is given, illuminating the homely, the spiritual, the physical, and the moral dimensions of the world.

Both friends had a deep affinity too in their preoccupation with pre-Christian paganism, in which their stories are steeped — with the god Baldr, Psyche, Kullervo from Finnish legend, Aeneus, Sigurd from Old Norse Myth. Most of Tolkien’s fiction is set in a pre-Christian world, and one of C.S. Lewis’s stories, one of his greatest stories is as well — Till We Have Faces.

There were, of course, important differences between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They weren’t tweedledum and tweedledee by any means, but the differences were not enough to overshadow their affinities, even when the friendship had its ups and downs and discourses at times, which you would expect over a period of 40 years.

More Than a Moral Lesson

Now, both Lewis and Tolkien believed that good works of imagination cannot be reduced to morals and lessons, and this is because of the way they saw the integrity of imagination in writing fiction, and the way that the laws of such creativity should be followed. This does not mean that lessons can’t be derived from the stories. And in fact, they believed that the truer the work, the greater the applications that could be drawn from them. In terms of a quip, one of the Inklings, Neville Coghill, once said, “Imaginative writers are not to sell their birthright for a pot of message.” In a review of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Lewis noted:

What shows that we are reading myth, not allegory, is that there are no pointers to a specifically theological or political or psychological application. A myth points for each reader to the realm he lives in most. It is a master key. Use it on what door you like.

People might ask, “Why use fantasy to make a serious point when normal realistic fiction could do the job?” Lewis’s answer is that “the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality.” One can see the principle at work in Tolkien’s characterization. Much that would be done in a realistic work by character delineation, is here done simply by making the character an elf, a dwarf, or a hobbit. The imagined beings have their insides on the outside. They are visible souls and man as a whole, man pitted against the universe. Have we seen them at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairytale? The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads, into a myth, we do not retreat from reality. We rediscover it.

Friendship as a Virtue

Now finally, I want to tie up the talk by a brief mention of friendship as a virtue, which was very central to Lewis’s thinking in particular. Lewis’s life in fact was shaped by friendships, as I’ve tried to show in my recent biography. I’m trying to avoid plugging books. Lewis saw friendship as belonging to “that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen.” For both himself and for Tolkien, their friendship with each other was chosen freely.

Friendship, as we saw, was not for Lewis like affection and erotic love connected with our nerves. It was rather the least biological of our natural loves. It was distinctively human love, not shared with the brutes, in Lewis’ words. Friendship, like the fantasy tale, gave a person a vantage point to see the world in a fresh way. Friendship with Tolkien, he found, shook him fully awake out of the cold dream of materialism.

Though he had other close friends, Lewis would not have been the writer and thinker that he was without his friendship with that highly strung visionary author of The Lord of the Rings. As for Tolkien, he found a friend in Lewis that matched his memories of his schoolboy friends in the TCBS who now lay inert in the dead marshes of World War I. He relied upon Lewis’s encouragement, who without him as we have seen, would not have completed his painstaking creation of what he called his “Epic for England”, as he thought of his 1,000-page story. “Of friendship,” Lewis eulogized, “This alone of all the loves seems to raise you almost to the level of gods or angels.” Thinking of the company of friends after a day’s walking, he was certainly including Tolkien when he wrote:

Those are the golden sessions when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze, and our drinks at our elbows, when the whole world and something beyond the world opens itself to our minds as we talk, and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are free men and equals as if we had first met an hour ago. While at the same time an affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life, natural life, has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?

lives in Keswick (northwest England) and writes, lectures, and serves as a part-time tutor at Lancaster University.