reluctant prophet

cslewis

The relationship between Lewis and Tolkien is one of the most important of his personal and professional life. They had much in common, in terms of both literary interests and shared experiences of the battlefields of the Great War. Yet Lewis’s correspondence and diary make little save incidental reference to Tolkien until late in 1929. Then evidence of a deepening relationship begins to emerge. “One week I was up till 2:30 on Monday (talking to the Anglo Saxon Professor Tolkien),” Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves, “(who came back with me to College from a society and sat discoursing of the gods & giants & Asgard for three hours).”

Something that Lewis said that evening must have persuaded Tolkien to take the younger man into his confidence. Tolkien asked Lewis to read a long narrative poem he had been composing since his arrival in Oxford, titled The Lay of Leithian. Tolkien was a senior Oxford academic with a public reputation in the field of philology, but with a personal and intensely private passion for mythology. Tolkien had drawn the curtains aside from his private inner self and invited Lewis into his sanctum. It was a personal and professional risk for the older man.

. . . We may safely assume that Tolkien breathed a deep sigh of relief when Lewis responded enthusiastically to the poem. “I can quite honestly say,” he wrote to Tolkien, “that is ages since I have had an evening of such delight.” While we must pause the telling of is particular story as we move on to focus on other matters, it is no exaggeration to say that Lewis would become the chief midwife to one of the great works of twentieth-century literature—Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Yet in a sense, Tolkien would also be a midwife for Lewis. It is arguable that Tolkien removed the final obstacle that stood in Lewis’s path to his rediscovery of the Christian faith—a complex story, which demands a chapter in its own right.

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