Did you know that C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were once good friends? After he became a Christian, Lewis said that it was the testimony of Tolkien and another Christian, Hugo Dyson, which led to his conversion. Their shared faith in Jesus and their common love for great literature led to a famous friendship. Soon they started meeting together at least once a week, and later with other Christian writers, both for fellowship and to discuss their writing projects. They called their group the “Inklings.” In their meetings they would take turns reading whatever they were working on, and ask for criticism and feedback. Two of his earlier books which Lewis shared with Tolkien were The Pligrim’s Regress, published in 1933, and The Screwtape Letters (which he dedicated to Tolkien), first published in 1942.
Until he met Lewis, whom he called “Jack,” Tolkien had considered his own writing projects to be no more than a “private hobby.” At first Jack was the only other person who knew about Tolkien’s projects. Tolkien, whom Lewis called “Tollers,” first introduced Lewis to an early draft of The Silmarillion in the early 1930s, shortly after Jack’s conversion. He read it to him out loud. Lewis loved it, and urged him to finish it and get it published. A little later Tolkien began reading chapters from his next book, The Hobbit. With Jack’s urging and encouragement, Tolkien was successful in getting the Hobbit published in 1937. Tolkien later said that he owed Lewis an “unpayable debt” for his “sheer encouragement.” Tolkien explained: “He (C. S. Lewis) 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.”
One reason why the books of Tolkien and Lewis are so popular today is because they speak to a deep hunger in the human heart, a hunger for truth and significance. We live in a materialistic age which denies the reality of heaven and hell, of sin and moral responsibility. Lewis and Tolkien were successful in capturing and describing those lost realities. Both writers described life as a cosmic battle between good and evil, in which the smallest character has a critical part to play, with eternal consequences.
Both writers believed that fiction should not be a meaningless escape from reality. They wrote the kind of books in which the reader identifies with the moral and spiritual struggles of the characters. The heroic decisions of humble, lovable characters, encourages us in our struggles in our own worlds. Reading their works involves our “hearts,” as well as our minds. When Tolkien’s Two Towers was first pubished, Lewis praised the book and said: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart… good beyond hope.”
The stories of Lewis and Tolkien remind us of the truth that no one is an island. All of us are connected in a much bigger story of which God is the Author. They also remind us that this world isn’t our final home. We’re on a quest for something which is eternal and good. As Lewis said: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world… I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find until after death… I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”