A Fantasy Friendship: Tolkien and Lewis - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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January 17, 2019

A Fantasy Friendship: Tolkien and Lewis

“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return.”  While many of us can look at our lives and apply these words from the hit Broadway musical Wicked to people and relationships, I think it can also be applied to the stories and literature that stayed with us as we grew up. 

For many of us J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis wrote this kind of life-changing literature.  In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien invites us to travel from Hobbiton to Middle Earth and back with our friends Frodo and Sam.  In The Chronicles of Narnia Lewis allowed us to crawl through the wardrobe with Lucy from the land of “Spare ‘Oom” and into Narnia.  These men created for generations of story-lovers timeless tales of adventure, heroism and most importantly friendship.  Perhaps they could not have done this if the two of them had not themselves lived out the grand adventure of friendship together. 

This adventure began, as so many do, on an ordinary day, in an ordinary place.  Tolkien and Lewis met at Oxford University, where they both taught, in a staff meeting.  Their friendship began with doubts.  The two were opposites in many ways. Tolkien was an atheist, Lewis, a Christian theologian.  Tolkien was a scholar of linguistics, Lewis a scholar of literature. Tolkien was a staunch academic, while Lewis was comfortable as a public figure.

The two soon discovered their mutual love of language and storytelling.  Lewis later played a foundational role in Tolkien’s conversion to Christianity.  And, they also found that they shared similar griefs, both having fought in the trenches or World War I and both having lost their parents at a young age.  They found solace from these griefs in imagination and storytelling.  Tolkien and Lewis, along with other friends and colleagues read mythic tales together, and later began writing their own.  This fellowship of friends is known as the Inklings. 

Lewis was the foundational member of this group.  He was also a well-renowned public figure in England at the time; praised by Oxford University for his sermons and writings, both religious and mythical. Tolkien on the other hand, though equally as successful in the literary realm, received a more mocking acknowledgment for his fantastical works. He was a linguist and a scholar, tales of dwarves, hobbits, rings and men seemed unfitting for a man of such academic prowess.

As a result of some of these things tensions arose between Lewis and Tolkien, particularly in the later years of their friendship.  And, as in most grand adventures, disaster struck.  After the two friends drifted apart, Lewis had a heart-attack.  Tolkien, prompted by the urgency of time, attempted to rekindle his lost friendship with Lewis. 

Actor and writer David Payne is an expert on this portion of the adventure of Lewis and Tolkien.  So much so, he wrote a three-person play centered around this climactic moment.  This play stars Payne as C.S. Lewis, Gregory Welsch as J.R.R Tolkien, and Krystin Larsen as Hattie.  It is a moment in time that will allow the audience to better understand these two men and the friendship they shared.  Payne describes this play as, “a celebration of friendship.”

Join the celebration and learn the end of the tale of friendship January 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. at Geneva College.  The event will be held in John White Chapel.  Tickets are available at www.geneva.edu/academics/crossroads/gvals/index.

For more information about Christ-centered education at Geneva College, please contact the Admissions Office – 800-847-8255 or admissions@geneva.edu.