J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the books, and film director Peter Jackson has put them on the big screen. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and now The Hobbit have made a huge mark at the box office. But did you know that Tolkien was instrumental in the conversion of C. S. Lewis to the Christian faith?
Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, and Lewis, an atheist, were both veterans of World War One and eventually colleagues at Oxford. Tolkien took a late night walk with Lewis and another friend, during a period in 1931 when Lewis was questioning his atheism. Lewis had a great deal of interest in ancient myths and the truth hidden in such stories. Within days, Lewis committed his life to Jesus Christ, owing much of his conversion to his conversation with his friends.
Tolkien, most notably through his tales of Middle Earth, was an expert on myths. In Middle Earth, Tolkien created an entirely new world with its own mythology, and young people have been absorbed into that world for decades. Tolkien began his work while sitting in the stinking and horrific trenches of France during the “Great War,” and even now his son, Christopher, continues to collate and edit the tales left uncompleted by his father. Yet as the elder Tolkien described it, the work was fundamentally Christian,” unconsciously at first, but consciously in its revision.”
This concept of myth as Tolkien embraced it finds its way into Lewis’ wonderful essay “Myth Became Fact“, which describes the Christian faith as myth that is actually rooted in history. Myths do more than simply tell stories. They fire the imagination, providing ways of thinking that orient the human heart. They give us a moral framework for how we view the world and move in it. To borrow from the French 19th century political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, myths create “habits of the heart”.
This late night walk with Tolkien that changed Lewis’ life is dramatized below. Here is an example of apologetics in action:
Lisa and I recently saw the Peter Jackson film version of the first installment of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I must admit that while I thought the film had some very good elements to it, I was still a bit disappointed. Much of the movie felt like I was watching someone play a video game for over an hour, which tended to diminish what was otherwise a really good story. Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, has this review that pretty much sums up my take on the film, too.
But please, do not let me keep you from the film. My hope is that it will generate enough interest for people to read Tolkien’s books, and perhaps have a greater curiosity and appreciation for this man’s deep Christian faith and the value of friendship grounded in Christ.
It looks like a film company with a Christian vision, Three Agree Films, hopes to release a full-length movie about Tolkien’s and Lewis’ friendship in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death.
See John Paine’s earlier blog entry in Veracity about “Getting C. S. Lewis”.