So I’ve been in the habit of reading many books at once. I think I’m reading eight right now. That might make me seem like a great reader, but more likely it means I lack focus. It’s not all bad, though. Variety in my reading encourages my creativity. Different books expose me to different stimuli which, when juxtaposed, allow me to form mental connections I might not have otherwise been able to see. I present to you a series exploring some tidbits from these works in the hopes that you might make a few new creative connections of your own.
Tidbit #1: On Friendship
Last summer I read a biography of C.S. Lewis and grew deeply curious about the friendship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; it truly was one of those fascinating connections that changed the world. Without this friendship the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth might never have seen the light of day. A few months ago I began to look further into this remarkable pair. I realized that I knew nothing of Tolkien’s life, so I figured I would start there. In Humphrey Carpenter’s biography there is chapter devoted to ‘Jack,’ the name Lewis went by among friends (Funny aside, there was no real reason for this–it appears Lewis just liked the name as a kid and went with it). Though both men served on the English faculty at Oxford, the two were unlikely friends as they fell on different sides of the Language/Literature divide within the English department. “At first the two men circled warily around on another,” writes Carpenter. “Tolkien knew that Lewis, though a medievalist, was in the ‘Lit.’ camp, and thus a potential adversary, while Lewis wrote in his diary that Tolkien was ‘a smooth, pale, fluent little chap’, adding ‘No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.’ But soon Lewis came to have a firm affection for this long-faced keen-eyed man who liked good talk and laughter and beer, while Tolkien warmed to Lewis’s quick mind and the generous spirit that was as huge as Lewis’s shapeless flannel trousers.”
Carpenter goes on to quote Lewis from The Four Loves on the subject of friendship, and “how the greatest pleasure of all is for a group of friends to come to an inn after a hard day’s walking: ‘Those are the golden sessions,’ writes Lewis, ‘when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze, and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as talk; and no one has any claim or responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life–natural life–has no better gift to give.” Tolkien and Lewis, Carpenter infers, shared and treasured this gift together.
Have you ever enjoyed a friendship like this? I thank God He has given me such friends. I had to smile while reading this passage because it happened to be the morning after a three hour phone call with a dear friend. The phone, I admit, was a setback, since both of us would have much preferred to be together in front of a fire with ‘drinks at our elbows,’ but we have shared moments like this and I am certain we will share more. We know what it’s like to be so engrossed in a subject that our minds feel stretched beyond our own circumstances, like we’re tapping into truths bigger than ourselves, outside of ourselves, and yet common to us and to everyone. We can also laugh about the stupidest stuff, including ourselves. In that same conversation last Friday we made references to Tolstoy and to internet cat videos, and delighted in each. I love that our conversation goes both deep and fluffy, for it is this combination that gives our friendship such richness.
Knowing the story of Tolkien and Lewis’s friendship, I wonder how my friend and I will serve each other in the years to come. Tolkien proved one of the most critical influences on Lewis’s faith. Lewis was Tolkien’s greatest source of encouragement for his creative writings and, it can be argued, was really the midwife for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Neither man would have accomplished what they did without the other. How critical, then, are these friendships that help us see past our own inhibitions and realize our creative potential. We should treasure such friendships, lest we risk living in a Hobbitless world.