A little over fifty years ago, in the English town of Oxford, there was a famous friendship between two men who are some of your favorite authors. One of them wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the other wrote The Chronicles of Narnia series. Do you know who they are? Yes, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis! Now, both men were authors, but their primary job was teaching English at Oxford University. They spent most of their time lecturing, tutoring, and researching. At night, when work was done, they would write the wonderful stories for which they are now known and loved. Though both men lived very ordinary lives, they ignited the imaginations of children and adults around the world.
You may be wondering how these two authors first met each other. One day, in 1926, they were both attending a teachers meeting at Merton College. They quickly hit it off. C.S. Lewis humorously wrote in his diary that evening, “[Tolkien has] no harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” Their friendship deepened through many common interests. Both men loved languages, stories, and myths. Neither paid attention to pop culture. Like many academics in Oxford, they did not own cars, but walked everywhere in town. They even had nicknames for each other. Tolkien called C.S. Lewis “Jack,” and he called Tolkien, “Tollers.”
When Tolkien first met Lewis, Tolkien was a Christian and Lewis was not. They had many long talks about religion and myth. Finally, Lewis realized that the truth found in stories around the world pointed to the real truth found in the Bible. Lewis became a steadfast Christian and brought much hope and moral inspiration to England during World War II.
Despite their busy schedules, Tolkien and Lewis made time every week to meet weekly with a few other likeminded friends. They called their informal club “The Inklings.” They met every Tuesday evening, usually at the small Eagle and Child pub, which was near where they lived. First they would have dinner, laughing and talking about things either funny or serious. Then around 9:00, Lewis would boom out, “Well has anyone got anything to read?” One by one, each member would read something he had been writing. It could be long or short, serious or funny, scholarly or whimsical. Everybody enjoyed listening and then would offer some constructive criticism. During the evening discussions lasted for hours, one would hear Lewis’ booming laugh and Tolkien’s quick and lively voice in conversation. The Inklings’ meetings were times when friends could relax as well as improve each other.
Because Lewis and Tolkien were friends, they often poked fun at each other’s writing. Lewis thought Tolkien’s was too long and complicated, and Tolkien thought Lewis’ allegory was too simple and was surprised it was so popular. Their differences did not prevent them from respecting each other’s work and enjoying each other’s company. In fact, mutual criticism made each a better writer. We would probably not have either The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia without the encouragement and criticism that Tolkien and Lewis gave each other.
Last week I told you about the Clapham Circle of friends that supported one another in many good works. This week, I told you about the Inklings that supported each other with constructive criticism. Next week, I’m going to talk about the Wesley brothers who wrote hymns and created cell groups based on friendship. Friendship is being together. Friendship is reading poetry and great literature together. It is laughing at jokes and questioning life. It is a state of mutual support and trust. Think about how you can support someone this week at this school and be a good friend.