The types of friendships that make a lasting impact appear when one least expects it. These are the sorts of friends who have enough in common with you as to relate and go in depth about topics you both love, but are also different enough as to provide a fresh perspective to a problem you may encounter in your life. They challenge, push, and help you into turning a dream or an idea into a reality.
In the world of literature, there were two such friends whose relationship turned sour decades later after they had inspired one another into writing the most legendary universes of fantasy and magic that still thrill adults and children alike.
Ladies and gents, here is the shortened story of the unforgettable friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
T’was the year 1926 at a Merton College English Faculty meeting in Oxford. Despite their separate branches of interest (Tolkien felt at home in linguistics while Lewis was more of a literature man), what first started as a revision of the English syllabus ended up as a philosophical conversation between both professors. They exchanged a series of vastly entertaining letters with one another through the development of their friendship, in which both men fondly nicknamed each other ‘Jack’ (Lewis) and ‘Tollers’ (Tolkien).
What They Shared In Common
Factors such as the loss of their parents at a young age, their collective focus in mythology and fantasy, an informal literary group called the Inklings, and (later on) Christianity were part of what drew the authors together. Not to mention, both Lewis and Tolkien were more than familiar with the sheer horrors of being soldiers stuck in the trenches of France during World War I.
It was Tolkien’s debates with Lewis that inspired the latter into believing reason and imagination could be combined in order to truly understand the happenings of the world–that both seemingly opposite ideas could actually work cohesively with one another. Tolkien helped Lewis find a publisher for his novel, Out of the Silent Planet, while Lewis wrote an extremely favorable review of The Hobbit for The Times magazine.
Rivalry and a Questionable End
When one knows someone for several years, there is a larger chance for resentments to form. Some of these include their varying writing paces (Lewis was faster, Tolkien was slightly slower), and Tolkien’s discomfort whenever Lewis popularized theological topics instead of leaving that privilege to professionals.
Another issue began when Tolkien’s colleagues at Oxford questioned his reputation as a ‘respectable’ scholar; they couldn’t see how the man could be interested in academics while also writing works such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was reportedly a bit of an isolated fellow before Lewis appeared, so when the latter’s work was more widely accepted (at the time) by colleagues and readers alike, and when his popularity skyrocketed with the publishing of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the authors’ friendship took a turn toward indifference.
J.R.R. Tolkien still made an appearance at C.S. Lewis’ funeral, and regardless of how their friendship ended, they still influenced one another into doing the best work they possibly could.
Maybe the main idea here is to make it a point to remember past friendships not with bitterness, but rather for the way that person was there at the time you needed someone exactly like them to accompany you and leave their mark on your existence.
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