Habits of the Hobbit Heart

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his first children's book about Middle Earth in 1937.  Popular film director Peter Jackson adapted a modern retelling of the tale to the big screen in 2012.

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his first children’s book about Middle Earth in 1937. Popular film director Peter Jackson adapted a modern retelling of the tale to the big screen in 2012.

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.

C.S. Lewis (left) took a late night walk with J.R.R. Tolkien (right) to discuss Tolkien's Christian faith.

C.S. Lewis (left) took a late night walk with J.R.R. Tolkien (right) to discuss Tolkien’s Christian faith. These friends helped to form the “Inklings,” a fellowship of thinkers and writers that made a huge impact on Christian literature in the 20th century.

Additional Resources:

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”.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

One response to “Habits of the Hobbit Heart

  • John Paine

    When people ask me what I mean by personal discipleship, this is pretty much a snapshot. A rainy Saturday morning, a cup of coffee, and a new post by Clarke Morledge with a thought-provoking video clip (don’t you wish everyone could go that deep?) and an essay by C.S. Lewis (what couldn’t he do with an idea?)–life is good. Thanks!


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