BOOK REVIEW: Tolkien & C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are literary superstars, known around the world as the creators of Middle-earth and Narnia. But few of their readers and fans know about the important and complex friendship between Tolkien and his fellow Oxford academic C.S. Lewis. Without the persistent encouragement of his friend, Tolkien would never have completed The Lord of the Rings. This great tale, along with the connected matter of The Silmarillion, would have remained merely a private hobby. Likewise, all of Lewis' fiction, after the two met at Oxford University in 1926, bears the mark of Tolkien's influence, whether in names he used or in the creation of convincing fantasy worlds. They quickly discovered their affinity--a love of language and the imagination, a wide reading in northern myth and fairy tale, a desire to write stories themselves in both poetry and prose. Both Tolkien and Lewis were central figures in the informal Oxford literary circle, the Inklings. This book explores their lives, unfolding the extraordinary story of their complex friendship that lasted, with its ups and downs, until Lewis's death in 1963. Despite their differences, what united them was, a shared vision that continues to inspire their millions of readers throughout the world.

My Thoughts:

I am, of course, a fan of both J.R.R Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Their books have had a profound effect on me from a young age. I re-visit their books every half a decade or so, and every year make a pilgrimage to the Bird and Baby pub in Oxford to drink a cider in their memory (the pub is really called The Eagle and Child, and Tollers and Jack used to drink there every Tuesday afternoon with a few of the other Inkling chaps*). I even have framed maps of Narnia and Middle Earth hanging on my sitting-room wall.

I have quite a fine collection of books written by or about them, but am always interested in fresh new perspectives. And I like to read a literary biography every month if I can. Writers and their lives interest me.

This is a great introduction to anyone who would like to know more about Tolkien and Lewis, and their long and fruitful friendship. It is not an in-depth biography, and skims over their relationships with their wives which I thought was a shame. But the book is really about the bond between the two men, their shared love of history, myth and fairy tales, and their influence on each other’s writing; in that respect, it’s superb.

Their friendship was not without tension. Tolkien disliked Narnia, and was perturbed by his friend’s soaring literary popularity at a time when he was doggedly working away on The Lord of the Rings, unsure whether he would ever finish it. Without Lewis’s constant encouragement and support, however, it may well have ended up another unfinished manuscript in Tolkien’s bottom drawer. And Tolkien also did not approve of Lewis’s relationship with Joy Davidman, a divorced American-Jewish writer with decided opinions and metastatic cancer (Jack and Joy’s unconventional marriage has inspired a number of plays and films, including Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.)

Tolkien & C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship is a deftly handled and very readable biography of two great writers, and a brilliant introduction to the Inklings and their work.

(* Tollers was, of course, Tolkien’s nickname. Lewis’s given names were Clive Staples but he re-named himself Jacksie when he was three after his dog of the same name was hit by a car and never answered to anything else for the rest of his life. The Inklings was an informal literary discussion group in Oxford in the ‘30 and ‘40s that centred around Lewis and Tolkien, and also included Roger Lancelyn Green and Charles Williams).

Have you read my review on Half the Perfect World?

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Kate Forsyth
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