J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are household names to Christian thinkers.
Tolkien, the author of “Lord of the Rings” — which is inspiring a new set of movies in the coming years — described the work as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” National Catholic Register said that Tolkien insisted his work wasn’t a formal allegory, but admitted that there was a religious nature to it.
Known as the father of high fantasy, Tolkien was famous for his pioneering work in English literature, especially when it comes to “The Hobbit.” A philologist and a scholar, Tolkien was influential when it came to language, and also was a devout Catholic.
In a 1963 letter to Michael Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with historical knowledge).”
He continued, “... But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanently repeated final act.”
In fact, Tolkien’s faith may have inspired Lewis to become Christian.
Lewis was an atheist when he became friends with Tolkien. He was a lover of literature and became a professor of English literature. He was particularly interested in the idea of myth. Through his shared interests with Tolkien, he developed a friendship with him.
Lewis’ atheism, according to his own writings, was partially due to his belief that God could not create the imperfect world in which everyone lives. Although his family was religious, Lewis became an atheist in his teenage years.
A conversation with Tolkien changed everything.
After Lewis and Tolkien became friends in 1926 over their love of literature, Lewis began chiding Tolkien over his acceptance of the reality of Jesus. According to National Review, Lewis saw Jesus as a myth in the same way that he would have seen Hercules or the Greek pantheon. Lewis had written about the pervasive nature of superstition and saw religion as squarely within that camp.
That is, until he went for a walk with Tolkien.
Lewis recounted his conversion in “Surprised by Joy.” The pair were walking on the grounds of Oxford University on Addison’s Walk, which is along the River Cherwell near Magdalen College. The two were passionately discussing the nature of mythology.
Tolkien argued that mythology is grounded in reality while being creatively imagined. While Lewis agreed with this, he did not feel that the gospels invoked the same passion as other myths. National Review summarized Tolkien’s response, “The pagan stories, Tolkien insisted, are God expressing himself through the minds of poets: They are ‘splintered fragments’ of a much greater story. The account of Christ and his death and resurrection is a kind of myth, he explained. It works on our imagination in much the same way as other myths, with this difference: It really happened.”
After this conversation, Lewis joined Christianity and became “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
According to Faith & Culture, Lewis wrote about that night, “The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference — that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’”
Lewis, then, joined the Church of England in 1931. The friendship of Tolkien deeply influenced Lewis’ decision to convert.
Later, Lewis would write, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Then, Lewis’ writing ensued.
He penned fantasy novels such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and also was responsible for treatises like “Mere Christianity” and “The Great Divorce.” Lewis’ friendship with Tolkien percolated his literary works — he even dedicated one of his most influential works of literature, “The Screwtape Letters,” to Tolkien.
Still considered one of the best and most prolific Christian apologists, Lewis’ journey from atheism to faith has been considered inspiring.
Steven Beebe from Texas State University even stumbled upon an unfinished manuscript that appeared to be jointly authored by Lewis and Tolkien. The manuscript was called “Language and Human Nature,” and was found in one of Lewis’ notebooks that he had called “Scraps.”
Even though Lewis and Tolkien drifted apart as friends, Tolkien went to visit Lewis on his deathbed and wrote about him positively.
Their friendship was a true one. Like Lewis wrote, “While friendship has been by far the chief source of my happiness, acquaintance or general society has always meant little to me, and I cannot quite understand why a man should wish to know more people than he can make real friends of.”