Wednesday, April 22, 2020
On a stormy night in early December of 1929—about two months after the start of the Great Crash—two Oxford professors met to talk about their shared love of English literature and ancient mythologies. “I was up till 2:30 on Monday, talking to the Anglo-Saxon professor Tolkien, who came back with me to College from a society and sat discoursing of the gods and giants of Asgard for three hours…” C.S. Lewis wrote to a friend. “Who could turn him out, for the fire was bright and the talk good.”
The friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis—one of the most consequential friendships in modern times—was forged amid profound struggle, danger, and grief. The more I ponder the legacy of these two friends, the more I find there is to learn from them: not only about resilience, but about moral beauty in the shadow of suffering.
Tolkien and Lewis both fought in the trenches in France during the First World War. Both lived through a second global conflict, one that threatened the survival of Western Civilization. Many in their generation fell prey to the great “isms” of their day: cynicism, agnosticism, mysticism, communism, fascism.
But not Tolkien and Lewis. Both possessed a deeply felt Christian faith, the foundation for all of their great works: their mythic tales of a titanic struggle between good and evil. Their close friendship—which formed the core of a larger circle of Oxford friends known as “the Inklings”—was an essential part of their personal and vocational lives. It is extremely doubtful that either The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, would ever have seen the light of day without their shared experience of suffering—and their common moral vision.
The pandemic crisis has reminded all of us about the centrality of friendship: of how necessary it is for us to be together, to laugh together, to learn from each other, to talk about the things that matter most. From these two intensely creative minds we get a glimpse of what friendship can look like when it reaches for a high purpose and is watered by the streams of sacrifice, loyalty, and love.
Recommended Reading and Resources
As we navigate these uncertain times together, we recommend the discussion and Readings below as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.
- A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War | A Trinity Forum Evening Conversation with Joe Loconte.
- The Golden Key | A Trinity Forum Reading by George MacDonald, introduced by Jerry Root.
- On Friendship | A Trinity Forum Reading by Cicero, introduced by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy.
- A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 | by Joe Loconte.