Behind the Pages: The Friendship of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien

Sarah Arthur

If you’re a fan of fantasy, then your top-ten list of fiction probably includes either The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien—or both. But did you know that these two men were close friends at one time? Here’s the story of their friendship, faith, and fiction.


Early Days


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born to English parents in South Africa in 1892, but both his parents died when he was a child. Before her death, Tolkien’s mother converted to Roman Catholicism, and he adopted her faith. A bright pupil with a gift for languages, Tolkien studied at Oxford University and then fought in the first world war. It was in the trenches in France that he first began to sketch out his invented languages and history of Middle Earth. Only one of his closest friends survived the war; so when he returned to England, he began to build new friendshipss at Oxford, where he became a professor of Anglo-Saxon.

Meanwhile, another bright young man returned from the war. His name was Clive Staples Lewis. (Poor guy! No wonder he went by “Jack.”) Like Tolkien, he had been born in another country (Northern Ireland in 1898) and had lost his mother at a young age. He too entered the war in the midst of his Oxford education, arriving at the frontlines on his nineteeth birthday. But unlike Tolkien, Lewis had become an atheist during his teen years and wanted nothing to do with religion.


The two young men met sometime in 1926 at Oxford, where Lewis was an English tutor. Though they were opposites in many ways, Lewis and Tolkien shared a love of stories and languages. Eventually, they formed a group of writer friends called “The Inklings,” who met weekly at The Eagle and Child pub to discuss their writings. The group played a signficiant role in refining Tolkien’s stories of Middle Earth, which later became The Lord of the Rings. In particular, Tolkien credited Lewis for cheering him on in that project, which took Tolkien more than seventeen years to complete!


A Reluctant Convert

Aslan2 TSP 153753167A most signficant event happened in the early years of Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship. Reluctantly, Lewis had given up atheism in his twenties and had become a theist; but he was still unconvinced about Christianity. So when he and Tolkien and their friend Hugo Dyson got together one windy evening in 1931, Lewis argued that Christianity was just another myth, like all the old tales. But Tolkien and Dyson countered, asking: Why did Lewis love the old myths about dying gods but resist the Christian story about Jesus? What if Christianity was the ultimate story—which held an even greater beauty than the old myths—while at the same time being historically true?

Hobbit home2 TSP 181299006This agrument convinced Lewis. Not long afterward, he became a Christian and went on to become one of the most famous and influential Christian writers of the twentieth century. In fact, Lewis was so passionate about sharing the faith that Tolkien was sometimes embarrassed about his friend’s zeal!

Over the years, Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship had its ups and downs. When Lewis died in 1963, Tolkien expressed regret that they hadn’t been closer toward the end. Tolkien died ten years later, firmly established as one of the most famous authors of his time. You could say that if it hadn’t been for Lewis, Tolkien might never have finished The Lord of the Rings. And if it hadn’t been for Tolkien, Lewis might never have become a Christian. You never knows what God might do when friends get together!



Make a list of your closest friends and what you have in common. What do you do together? What do you talk about? If any of these friends aren’t Christians, how might you answer their objections to Christianity? Close your eyes and envision one of these friends. As a way to pray, picture God drawing near to your friend and nudging his or her thoughts toward God. Imagine your friend’s defenses beginning to crumble. Pray for the wisdom to listen patiently and to speak gently the next time you two are together. Who knows? Your friend might be the next C. S. Lewis!

 — Learn everything you ever wanted to know and more about C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, the two close friends and literary geniuses who have encouraged the faith and imagination of people around the world.

Sarah Arthur is the author of youth devotional books based on the words of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, including Walking with Frodo, Walking with Bilbo, and Walking through the Wardrobe.

—from devozine (May/June 2009). Copyright © 2009 by The Upper Room ®. All rights reserved.

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