July 12, 2010
By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Anthony Hopkins portrayed CS (Jack) Lewis, the author of the hugely popular Narnia Tales, in the thoughtful movie ‘Shadowlands’. Since Lewis’ death in 1963, sales of his books have risen to over 2 million a year. For much of his life, Lewis, the son of a solicitor and of an Anglican clergyman’s daughter, was a convinced atheist. While teaching at Oxford College, Lewis formed a lasting friendship with JRR Tolkien. Both Lewis and Tolkien had much in common, as both had been traumatized by the premature death of their mothers and by the horrors of trench warfare in World War I.
At age 10, Lewis saw his mother dying of cancer. “With my mother’s death”, said Lewis, “all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” Tolkien experienced the double loss of both his father at age 3 and his mother at age 12. Tolkien’s strong desire for friendship/fellowship, as with Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin, came from Tolkien’s loss of his three best friends in the trenches. Referring to trench warfare, CS Lewis commented: “Through the winter, weariness and water were our chief enemies. I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still.” Lewis vividly remembered “the frights, the cold,…the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night until they seemed to grow to your feet…”
Both CS Lewis and Tolkien loved the history of the English language, especially as expressed in the ancient tales like Beowulf. CS Lewis commented: “When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (those queer people seemed to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile/steps. They were HVD Dyson and JRR Tolkien. Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices…” Lewis said to Tolkien that tales or myths are ‘lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver’. ‘No’, said Tolkien, ‘they are not lies’. Tolkien went on to explain to Lewis that in Jesus Christ, the ancient stories or myths of a dying and rising God entered history and became fact. Twelve days later, Lewis wrote to another friend Arthur Greeves: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it”.
CS Lewis recalls going by motorcycle with his brother Warren to Whipsnade Zoo, about thirty miles east of Oxford. “When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did”. In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis commented: “In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God…perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”.
When CS Lewis turned to Christ, he was surprised to find the skies bluer and the grass greener.* “Today”, Lewis wrote, “I got such a sudden intense feeling of delight that it sort of stopped me in my walk and spun me round. Indeed the sweetness was so great, and seemed so to affect the whole body as well as the mind, that it gave me pause.” Lewis commented: “I really seem to have had youth given back to me lately.”
Lewis and Tolkien formed an ‘Inklings’ group at Oxford in which they read out and critiqued each other’s manuscripts like ‘Narnia Tales’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. Lewis’ brother Warren said that at the Inklings, “the fun would be riotous with Jack at the top of his form and enjoying every minute…an outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay, and pungent judgement such as I have rarely heard equaled…” The Inklings group was a clear example of that ancient Proverb “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”.
Charles Williams, another author and member of the Inklings group, commented that “much was possible to a man in solitude, but some things were possible only to a man in companionship, and of these, the most important was balance. No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter it and equal it and to save it from conceit and bigotry and folly.” In October 1933, Tolkien wrote in his diary that friendship with Lewis ‘besides giving constant pleasure and comfort, has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual – a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher – and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of our Lord’.
The internationally respected Vancouver author, Dr. JI Packer, says that ‘the combination within CS Lewis of insight with vitality, wisdom with wit, and imaginative power with analytical precision made him a sparkling communicator of the everlasting gospel.’ At bottom, says Dr. Packer, Lewis was a mythmaker. As Austin Farrer commented of Lewis’ writings, “we think we are listening to an argument; in fact, we are presented with a vision; and it is the vision that carries conviction.” Myth, says Dr. Packer, is perhaps best defined as a story that projects a vision of life of actual or potential communal significance by reason of the identity and attitudes that it invites us to adopt.
When Tolkien first shared his ‘Lord of the Rings’ manuscript at the Inklings group, CS Lewis said: ‘This book is a lightning from a clear sky. Not content to create his own story, he creates with an almost insolent prodigality the whole world in which it is to move; with its own theology, myths, geography, history, paleography, languages and order of beings.’ Recent polls have consistently declared that Tolkien is the most influential author of the last 100 years and that the Lord of the Rings is the book of this recent century. Without the Inklings fellowship of Tolkien and Lewis, neither the Narnia Tales nor the Lord of the Rings might have ever seen the light of day. I thank God for the faithful Christian friendship of two pilgrims on a Quest.
*For more information on C.S. Lewis’ Joy, just click.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector, BSW, MDiv, DMin
St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-previously published in the North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.
-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide : Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada
You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide
July 12, 2010
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “ and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Hearing this insight from Frodo and Gandalf in the recent Lord of the Rings movies really touched my heart.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the first movie Fellowship of the Rings as it seemed too violent and traumatic for my liking. So I planned to quietly avoid the second Lord of the Rings movie ‘The Two Towers’ but ended up going along reluctantly in order to spend time with one of my sons. Though I had tried reading the book back in the 1970’s, I couldn’t get into it. The endless details and strange names threw me off. My classic excuse for not reading material like Lord of the Rings was that life has enough fantasy and fiction in it to suit me already.
Amazingly, in watching the second movie Two Towers, the penny dropped and the message behind the message began to break through. It was like being in an AA 12-step meeting where they always say at the end: ‘Keep coming back, it works’. Eventually the penny will drop.
When watching the Two Towers, I, like Frodo, had been going through a rather challenging year that ‘I wish…need not have happened in my time’. Like Gandalf, I had to learn that ‘all we can decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ I have discovered afresh that I am not alone on the journey of Life, and there are resources available to me that I might have never imagined back in the comfort of my ‘shire’.
The Shire in the Lord of the Rings is a symbol of tranquility and safety free from harm and stress. To many of us locally, Deep Cove represents that kind of Shire. Have you ever wondered who the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings really are? JRR Tolkien once said that ‘the hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination –not the small reach of their courage or latent power.’ Tolkien also said the hobbits were ‘just what I could have liked to have been, but never was.” Tolkien was deeply traumatized by the loss of both his father at age 3 and his mother at age 12. So he never knew the safety and security taken for granted by so many other rural English children.
Bill Hybels of Willow Creek wrote an unforgettable book entitled ‘Courageous Leadership’. Where are the courageous leaders in our highly ambivalent third millennium? Elrond said of the hobbits, “This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields, to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it?” Many of us shy away from facing conflict. But the experts tell us that conflict-avoidance only makes it worse and more widespread. It takes courage to stare evil right in the face.
The Lord of the Rings book reminds us that ‘there is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.’ As the journey became more difficult, Gandalf said to Frodo: ‘Courage will now be your best defence against the storm that is at hand—that and such hope as I bring’.
JRR Tolkien warned against allegorizing the Lord of the Rings but believed in ‘applicability’. As I read Frodo’s danger-filled quest, I was reminded of the applicability of Psalm 23: ‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me’. King Theoden of Rohan said to his men: ‘Fear no darkness’. Elrond said, ‘There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it. But you do not stand alone.’
One of the most gripping moments in the Lord of the Rings was when Frodo had fully counted the cost and still courageously said: ‘I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.’ Frodo at that moment was choosing to face Mordor’s wasteland, vicious Orcs, giant spiders, and betrayal by Gollum. The greatest danger that Frodo faced was the ever-present temptation to grasp the Ring for himself, and make use of its vast power for his own benefit. After destroying the ring in the Crack of Doom, Frodo was deeply hurt by his self-sacrifice but reminded his friend Sam that ‘when things are in danger, some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’ Frodo’s selfless actions remind me of the words of Jesus: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it’.
Many people who love the Lord of the Rings don’t realize that JRR Tolkien was a deeply committed Christian whose values permeated his unforgettable trilogy. Tolkien knew the power of Story in touching hardened hearts like that of his friend CS Lewis who, through Tolkien’s influence, moved from hard-core atheism to passionate faith in Jesus Christ. My prayer for those reading this article is that we too may discover the message behind the message in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
p.s. For more on Tolkien, just click