on October 31, 2003
Colin Duriez is one of the greats in Tolkien and Lewis scholarship. He has been writing on the Inklings since at least late 1972 (see, for example, his "C.S. Lewis Meets Professor Tolkien and the Inklings, CRUSADE, January 1973). Over the past thirty-one years, not surprisingly, Duriez has greatly increased in his understanding and knowledge of the Inklings. Duriez's previous book, TOLKIEN AND THE LORD OF THE RINGS, contains many of the best insights on Tolkien's Middle-earth mythology I have yet seen. With a thorough understanding of both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies, as well as Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, Duriez provides a fascinating analysis of the key themes in Tolkien's works. With wit and wisdom, the author explains the meanings of such diverse topics as angels, the Apocalypse, death, evil, the Fall, imagination, light, loyalty, music, natural theology, power, Story, and the Old West in Tolkien's legendarium. There was not a page in this work that failed to provide some deeper understanding of Tolkien's works. Duriez's latest book, TOLKIEN AND C.S. LEWIS, incorporates many of these insights into a well-written and informative narrative. And as with his previous book, TOLKIEN AND C.S. LEWIS is a must-own for any Tolkien scholar or fan. It's been a wonderful pleasure to read. Certainly, Duriez has done his share in putting yet another nail into the coffin of the movement claiming Bloomsbury as the most important literary group of the twentieth century. Long live the Inklings!
on January 22, 2005
This book might have been better titled: "Two Parallel Lives in Oxford." Perhaps it is more a reflection of the English reserve of the two scholars (or a dearth of first person account's of their friendship) than it is some shortcoming in Duriez's research, but given the title of this book I had expected a greater discussion of their friendship. Instead the reader is treated to a bloodless, albeit intriguing, chronicling of two extraordinary writers who lived in close proximity.
While this "dual biography" was adequate introduction for readers like myself who are relatively unfamiliar with the personal life of either man (though I suspect there are more complete examinations of both men's lives out there), I kept wanting more about their friendship. Buriez doesn't give the reader much to go on. I had a hard time figuring out why the seemingly good-natured and much more emotionally generous Lewis would want to be friends with Tolkien, who comes off as a little petty, insecure, myopic and persnicky (especially given some of the condescending remarks made about Lewis' work).
This book is readable because it discusses two fascinating men - not because it reveals much about their friendship.
Just about everyone who knows things about the life of "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien knows that he was pals with fellow fantasy writer C.S. Lewis (author of the "Narnia" series). But where that's usually a sidenote in Tolkien biographies, Colin Duriez makes it the center of double-biography "Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship."
Duriez focuses on Lewis and Tolkien's early lives, the differences in their religious progressions, their wartime experiences, their fantasy works and their involvement in Christian literary club The Inklings. In 1926, the quiet Tolkien ("Tollers") and ebullient Lewis met and became friends over a shared love of Christianity, language myth and imagination.
Duriez's main idea in "Gift of Friendship" is that this friendship created some of the most influential fantasy and science fiction ever, by mutual support. Religious beliefs and "the horns of elfland" were important for them both. For example, it was partly through Lewis's encouragement that Tolkien managed to finish his stories of Middle-Earth, and Tolkien in turn helped with Lewis's more serious works.
Duriez doesn't reveal anything new about the friendship or the men in it, and he focuses quite a bit on the Inklings at large at one point. (Since he wrote a book on them, it isn't surprising) However, he clearly is a big fan of both men and his enthusiasm is obvious. He briskly clears away some misconceptions (for example, Tolkien did not hate the Narnia books, he merely "disliked" them) and throws in some literary analysis of Middle-Earth, the Ransom books and Narnia that doesn't stray too far from the authors' intents.
"Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship" doesn't offer more than a few tidbits that are new, but it's a good focus on Tolkien and Lewis's friendship and how it affected their epic books.
. . . why was this book needed?
As a previous reviewer has noted, George Sayer has written an outstanding biography of Lewis (and to my mind, the best available). Sayer was a student, friend, and confidante of Lewis for 29 years, and knew Tolkien as well. Humphrey Carpenter has written an outstanding biography of Tolkien, with the full cooperation of the Tolkien estate. Carpenter also edited an edition of Tolkien's letters which frequently reference Lewis (including the very poignant "axe blow at the roots" letter to his daughter upon learning of Lewis's death) and also the critically regarded "The Inklings".
All four of these volumes are easily accessible; none fall into the category of dense academic writing.
Then why did Colin Duriez feel that this effort was necessary?
He breaks no new ground -- indeed his little bit of fiction at the beginning seems more odd than contributive. He makes some unnecessary errors -- Lewis was hardly a "Low-Church" Anglican. (While personally eschewing church politics, Lewis attended a "High" parish, and held a very high view of Communion, practiced auricular confession, and believed in Purgatory!)
I guess what troubles me most here, is that any book which purports to discuss the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien, will, inevitably, lead readers to unfair conclusions. Lewis and Tolkien first met in 1926; by 1927 they had become fast friends. Lewis converted in 1931. By the time Lewis died in 1963, the two men had known each other for 37 years! ANY 37 year friendship will have ebbs and flows. Why is this so difficult for authors to accept?
Yes, Tolkien was disappointed that Lewis never became Catholic.
Yes, Lewis's appreciation for Tolkien's fiction was greater than Tolkien's appreciation for much (NOT all) of Lewis's fiction.
Yes, Tolkien was greatly distressed by Lewis's marriage -- and yes, Edith Tolkien became friends with Joy Davidman Lewis!
My question? So what! Such is friendship!
It was Lewis, who, even in the latter years of their friendship, wrote the enormously glowing reviews of "The Lord of the Rings" which still grace dust-jackets today.
It was Tolkien, who, during the same years, was instrumental in procuring a Professorship for Lewis in Cambridge, after Lewis had been so long denied at Oxford.
And it was Tolkien who was one of the very few mourners at Lewis's funeral.
The point is, is that a 37 year friendship is far more than the quirks, disagreements, differences, and even arguments -- and frankly, I'm amazed that more people don't understand that! I strongly suspect that both Lewis and Tolkien would have been most suspicious (at best) at this type of analysis.
The book introduces chapters with fictional vignettes of their lives that might have happened. This approach is a mixed blessing. Who really cares what may have happened in a biography? This approach does make the book an easy read. Duriez presents the lives of both of the men fairly accurately. He even tries to correct the common misconceptions of these two great men. Duriez asserts the men were friends to the end of their lives and they were not estranged by Lewis's marriage to Joy. Duriez writes all long friendships go through peaks and valleys. I tend to agree. I am well read in both Tolkien and Lewis and Duriez summarizes the plot lines of the some of the most well known books fairly well. The book is good as far as it goes. It even reveals some insights that I didn't know before, especially about Tolkien.
However, the book is more like parallel biographies rather than the tracing their friendship and how that friendship influenced their writing. The information in this book is presented far better in other places. Duriez really does not present anything new and interesting about Lewis and Tolkien in these pages. Sayer's biography of Lewis does a better job of presenting the influences on Lewis. Carpenter's book "The Inklings" does a better job of describing the friendships. Carpenter's biography of Tolkien tells the details of Tolkien's life far better. Duriez does not bring a fresh perspective.
I have quibbles about some of the facts in the book. The most glaring one is that Duriez asserts that Tolkien decided to change Bilbo's name to Bilbo from something else while he was writing the Lord of the Rings. "The Hobbit" was already published while he was writing the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien could not very well have changed Bilbo's name. It's possible that The Lord of the Rings was being developed before the Hobbit was published, but from Duriez own words the publisher was pushing Tolkien to write a sequel to the Hobbit and so Tolkien started work on The Lord of the Rings. Duriez must have meant something else or needs to clarify.
If you have not read a biography of Lewis or Tolkien, this book would be a good start. It is slightly repetitious and obvious, but it stays interesting. However, better books are out there on these men.
on December 16, 2003
Colin Duriez's biography is a unique contribution for its specific attention to the two men together. While others have recounted the unusual marvel of the select reading group known as the Inklings that was based on the special friendship between Lewis and Tolkien, it is precisely that central friendship of the two which Duriez brings forward to show the importance of each man for the other, and the many ways that their writing and thinking was each influenced or empowered by the overlap of their lives. To accomplish his focused study, Duriez spends the bulk of the book on the decade of years when Lewis and Tolkien were closest and most collaborative. Though not intended as such, the biography is a guide to their writing, an introduction to what they were trying to do and why from a Christian theological perspective, as well as summarizing the high points of their work, especially in terms of theological significance.
on April 5, 2012
This book is written well enough and it's interesting enough, it's just not what the cover says it will be. It's not about Tolkien's and Lewis' relationship. It's a side by side mini-biography of both them, but there's very little about their actual friendship. I've read bios of both of them and I was really excited to focus on their relationship, but this book doesn't do it. I feel cheated.
I may be the only person in North America never to have read either J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth books or C.S. Lewis' Narnia series (though I have read some of Lewis' theological works). Nevertheless, I find both these men fascinating. The vision of them seated by a fire in an Oxford college in the 1930s, enjoying wide-ranging and casual discussion, is almost iconic. If other readers share this vision, Colin Duriez's "The Gift of Friendship" will be a warmly rewarding read.
Duriez is an expert on Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings. And although, so far as I could tell, he breaks no new ground in this parallel biography, that's not to sell short the value of what he does give us -- especially for non-specialists. Duriez takes the image and makes it real. Both men come through as distinct individuals -- personalities, creators, and friends, with similarities, differences, tensions, estrangements, and reconciliations.
Part biography, part literary criticism, "The Gift of Friendship" goes a lot more deeply into the lives and work of both men than I expected it to. As an introduction to them, their influence on each other, their amazing productivity, and (to an extent) their influence on the wider world, this very interesting and worthwhile book is proof of the Biblical admonition that "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
on September 24, 2011
The book is over-long, and in many stretches is painful to wade through if, like myself, one is not an evangelical Christian. The author's sympathy w/ Lewis' view of Christianity came across to me as cloying, fawning. I read this primarily to gain an understanding of Tolkien's antipathy toward Lewis' Narnia books. This author merely paraphrased Tolkien's words, w/o further explication. It was my impression that this author simply did not understand Tolkien's objections/was mystified that anyone could come to Tolkien's conclusions. Others clearly appreciate this author's efforts; I got very little out of it, though I stuck it out to the end.
on August 20, 2014
(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)
I wasn’t sure how reading a book not written by one of the boys would go, but I enjoyed reading a book diving more into the lives of Tolkien and Lewis. It a lot of ways, it helps me appreciate their works all the more. Now how to keep this discussion from turning into a dissertation…
First off, I think there should be an official holiday on May 11th (1926). This was the day Tolkien and Lewis first meet. All I’m saying is there could be some epic Middle Earth and Narnia mashup shenanigans happening. Or maybe we can all have a pint for the boys :). If these two weren’t a part of each others lives, we wouldn’t have LOTR or Narnia. What a dark and dreary world that would be.
I also feel we need to take a moment to appreciate the fact that it took 17 years for Tolkien to write LOTR. 17 YEARS PEOPLE. Tolkien admitted “it is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.” So I dare someone to say it isn’t a well written or an entertaining story…
This book was a little different than I expected. It not only discusses the friendship between the two, but also looks at key works of each, when they were written and the influence of those novels. Whether it be Till We Have Faces or The Hobbit, Duriez provides overviews of their works, which readers will find helpful if they haven’t read the books discussed. I knew a bit about their friendship before reading this, but there were some things I didn’t have a clue about, so if you’re interested in learning more about these two, I definitely recommend this read!
“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends and old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs – or else sitting up till the small hours in someone’s college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea and pipes.” C.S. Lewis
I think one of my favorite parts was reading all the ways they influenced each other, from Tolkien’s guidance to C.S. Lewis’ spiritual awakening to Lewis’ constant encouragement for Tolkien to finish the Lord of the Rings. I also loved that they each dedicated some of their greatest works to The Inklings. And guess what? They were both avid readers (although I do believe Lewis takes the cake), meaning WE WOULD HAVE BEEN BEST FRIENDS.
Moving on. :)
I’m also pretty sure they were meant to be best friends from birth. Why?
They each have rad names: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Clive Staples Lewis
They both lost their moms at a young age.
Tolkien’s dad died earlier and Lewis’ Dad withdrew after his mother’s death and sent Clive to a boarding school (their relationship would later be restored).
They also both fought in WWI.
It’s pretty crazy to think of early life happenings became a connection point for them later.
Now some facts I deemed worthy to point out (also solidifying my love for these two):
Tolkien commented late life that “he sought to create a mythology for England, but arguably he also tried to create a mythology for the English language.” I vote he was successful on both accounts. I would add he created a mythology for the universe. Unbiased opinion of course.
There had been plans between the two to collaborate on a book together. This project never materialized and I bet it’s because they knew the universe would probably explode from the sheer amount of awesome a book like that would have contained.
I’m sure there will be other books we read about C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity, but I have to point out one fact: after he became a theist in 1929, by 1930, he was exploring Christianity more (with John Bunyan’s works) and decided to start reading the Bible almost daily. He started reading the book of John. What’s so exciting about that? He read it in GREEK. You know, like I’m sure we’ve all done.
I love this quote by Tolkien: “In the Gospels, art has been verified.”
I can barely handle the levels of genius, internet.
“The two friends had a tangible confidence that the separation of story and fact has been reconciled, which led them to continue in a tradition of symbolic fiction, telling stories of dragons and kings in disguise, talking animals and heroic quests, set in imagined worlds.”
Some Items to Discuss
Honestly, I don’t have a ton of questions, but I am curious of any reactions, so here we go!
1. What were some of the most surprising facts?
I was surprised and found it interesting that Tolkien didn’t approve of Lewis’ role as a popular theologian. I understand where it comes from (with different church backgrounds), but still found it interesting. Yet, again, I appreciate how much they still respected each other with the differences.
2. There were several works discussed in this book and I wish I could read them all RIGHT NOW. Were there any that stuck out for you?
I think mine would be The Notion Club Papers. Did you catch the title page?
Out of the Talkative Planet
Being a fragment of an apocryphal Inklings’ saga,
made by some imitator at some time in the 1980s
3. Closing thoughts about friendship:
As I mentioned, there were a few things I had heard before about their friendship, but I felt like people made them much more dramatic than they were. Yes, their friendship shifted in later years, but as the book pointed out, with C.S. Lewis’ death, it was a “wound [Tolkien] knew he [would] not lose, as one loses a falling leaf.” Even years after Lewis’ death Tolkien wrote about Lewis: The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. Same with Lewis (just read his thoughts on friendship). They prove that through thick and thin, friendship is a powerful force we all need in life.
I love that their different personalities, instead of separating them, helped them to connect on a deeper level.
“They were enormously important to each other, and had obvious affinities that helped each to keep alive his vision of life.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about these two!
Originally posted at http://booksandbeverages.org/2014/08/20/tolkien-c-s-lewis-gift-friendship-colin-duriez-inklings-series-discussion