The Fellowship of Light
Most know J.R.R. Tolkien as the creator of Middle-earth. Some know that he taught Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University for much of his life. But I have come to discover that few know the significant part he played in the conversion of the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis.
Lewis was born in Belfast Ireland near the close of the 19th century. During the early years of his childhood he was a reclusive youth whose only real friend was his brother, Warren. When Lewis’s mother died of cancer in 1908, he abandoned belief in a God who answered prayers. This, combined with a view of Christianity that made religious regime more important than a relationship with God, caused him to reject faith and become an avowed atheist. He would hold to this philosophy until several decades later when he renounced atheism and became an agnostic.
The true seed was not planted, however, until Lewis met J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford University in 1926. Lewis had attained a Fellow in English at Magdalen College, and Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. As he records in Surprised by Joy, Lewis was wary of the relationship from the start: “I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.” Never the less, the relationship quickly grew, and soon the two friends were meeting regularly on Monday mornings. Here, Tolkien first read snippets from his book The Silmarillion, the early stories of the mythical land of Middle-earth.
In late September, 1931, Lewis invited Tolkien and another Oxford friend, Hugo Dyson, to dine with him at Magdalen College. After dinner the three companions went for a stroll down Addison’s Walk, a path that was a favorite of Lewis’s. A conversation ensued regarding the veracity of myths. Tolkien was of the opinion that God’s truth could be communicated through mythical creatures, an opinion Lewis would later latch on to his Chronicles of Narnia. As they walked and talked, a sudden rush of wind swept through the trees about them, and Lewis felt it to be a message from the Lord.
It was not until three o’clock that morning that Tolkien left. Dyson, a Christian himself, continued talking to Lewis about how Christianity worked for the believer. According to Dyson, through belief the believer was put at peace and freed from his sins. God gives him strength in overcoming his faults and being transformed into a new person.
Although Lewis did not immediately confess faith in the Heavenly Father and Christ His Son, the seed had been planted. Three days after the late night walk with Tolkien and Dyson, Lewis was sitting in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle en route to the Whipsnade, the local zoo. Lewis later wrote: “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”
To Lewis, who had spent most of his life a staunch atheist, the transformation was remarkable. He would later write to Arthur Greeves, a good friend and long-time correspondent, saying: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ…My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.”
It was not an emotional conversation by any means. Lewis even stated he was not entirely aware of his reasoning: “It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”
This new faith changed the course of Lewis’s life in many ways. Most demonstratively was the proliferation of his writing. Over the next several decades Lewis would write 25 books on Christian theology and apologetics, in addition to authoring The Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia, both of which are allegorical Christian works. The man who had wholly rejected God was now bringing others back to God. Through the simple precepts he laid out in books like Mere Christianity, Lewis bridged the gap between the denominations and returned Christians to common ground.
If Tolkien and Dyson had not taken the time to share their belief with Lewis, if they had not shown him the true Christ, many would not have returned or found the faith in the 20th century.
Many consider Tolkien’s greatest achievements to be Hobbits and Middle-earth. I think it was a walk he took with a friend in 1931.
© 2003 David N. Bass
David N. Bass is a seventeen-year-old home school graduate from Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a regular columnist at AmericanDaily.com, ARationalAdvocate.com, and RenewAmerica.us, and is a contributing writer to many other on-line sites, including Tolkien-Movies.com.
Christianity and Middle-Earth