Orrin Woodward, in his Top 100 All-Time Leadership Book - RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE - shares a story about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. These two men changed epic fiction writing history and were great friends until jealousy and unresolved conflict ruined their friendship. Check out Orrin's chapter on these two amazing men. The LIFE Business is filled with top leaders who are serving others to raise an army of people who can make a difference. Check out LIFE in a city near you. Here's the post.
Ethan Gilsdorf studied extensively the unique friendship between the two authors, writing, “Intellectually, they craved each other’s companionship. But their relationship had emotional depth as well. They bonded over their harrowing experiences in the trenches of World War I. They shared the loss of their parents, which they had both endured as children. Sorrow over their pasts and their retreat from modernity gave them no where to go but their imaginations. They lost themselves in anachronistic tales and created make-believe places — engaging in what today we might disparagingly call “escapism.” Of course, the realms of Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle-earth are fraught with troubles, wars, and imperfections, at least as much as our so-called real world.” The two authors made each other better, maintaining a close relationship for well over a decade despite major differences in temperaments. Lewis was socially extroverted, outgoing and voluble, developing friends across the world with his professional achievements in books and broadcasting, reaching the pinnacle of worldly success in 1947, when he graced the cover of Time magazine. Tolkien, on the other hand, was socially introverted, being reserved and quiet spoken. Despite his professional competence, writing ground breaking essays on Beowulf and translating many early Anglo-Saxon works, Tolkien did not achieve the same level of professional fame as his younger cohort in his lifetime. Compounding this frustration, Tolkien’s peers, his professorial colleagues at Oxford, unable, or unwilling, to recognize the genius of his Middle earth creation, ridiculed Tolkien’s second life of wizards, dragons and rings, denigrating him, and his work by asking, “How is your hobbit?” At the same time, Lewis’s second life was readily accepted, opening up doors for Lewis wherever he turned. His Christian sermons were entertaining, informative, and thought provoking, not to mention highly popular. In fact, by the 1940s, between his BBC broadcasts and his best selling Screwtape Letters, Lewis was a bonafide international figure. By the time the first Chronicles of Narnia book was released in 1950, fueling his fame even further, Lewis easily eclipsed, at least at the time, the success of his friend Tolkien. In hindsight, there were several unaddressed issues that led to their friendship thaw. The first issue was Lewis’s meteoric rise to success, forcing Lewis to divide his time between his many interests, reducing the quality and quantity of time he could spend with Tolkien. The second issue, Tolkien’s twinge of jealousy, arose when he compared his monumental efforts and moderate successes, with his friends seemingly moderate efforts and monumental successes. Sadly, with a little more understanding and communication on Lewis’s part, plus a willingness on Tolkien’s to discuss his hurts openly, the friendship could have, and should have, thrived through the changing seasons of life.
What makes the poison of unaddressed jealousy so damaging to friendships, is that its acids are poured directly onto the roots of the relationship. Tolkien, by nature, was not a jealous man, but he valued Lewis’s fellowship so greatly, that when fame pulled on his friend’s time, a silent, subtle, but all pervasive hurt, corroded the bonds that bind. Tolkien, the introvert, was troubled because he no longer had Lewis’s undivided attention. But Lewis, the extrovert, was overjoyed his new celebrity status, making new friends everywhere he went. By the time Lewis had departed Oxford, accepting a Chair of Literature at Cambridge, the two friends were speaking less regularly than probably either preferred. Time and distance, plus the unspoken hurts had tempered their fruitful collaborations. What the differences in beliefs, personalities, and opinions could not do to them, cause a crack in the relationship; the move to Cambridge, Lewis’s new friends, and his subsequent marriage did do to them, ripping apart the unity that had made them the best of friends. Fueling the stress, and further dividing the friendship, was Lewis’s prodigious book writing exploits, he literally completed the seven book Narnia series in seven years, a torrid pace, writing a book per year! Tolkien, in contrast, toiled for over seventeen years on the Lord of the Rings, rewriting it numerous times, in the pursuit of perfection, working tirelessly with no applause before releasing it. Eventually, the world would learn of Tolkien’s remarkable gifts, just as it had learned of Lewis’s previously, but sadly, it was too late to repair the frayed friendship. The Lord of the Rings became the fourth best selling book series of all-time, topping Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the fifth best selling series. Lewis would not have been surprised, having predicted his friends success many years before, he wrote in 1954, “This book is like lightning from a clear sky. It represents “the conquest of new territory.” In a letter written to a friend, Lewis shared that the book “would inaugurate a new age.” But Tolkien, having swallowed the poison of his own pain, began to believe that Lewis didn’t like his work, writing in 1967, four years after his friends death, “To tell the truth, [Lewis] never really liked hobbits very much.” Tolkien had grossly misread his friend, nothing could have been further from the facts, as Lewis was enthralled by the Lord of the Rings series, believing in Tolkien and his fantasy fiction years before anyone else had heard of Middle earth, being one of the first people to recognize Tolkien’s genius.
Duriez, in an article he wrote on Tolkien and Lewis, discussed a 1964 letter, where Tolkien described his friendship with Lewis, writing, “‘We saw less and less of one another after he came under the dominant influence of Charles Williams,’ a writer who Tolkien perceived as a wedge between himself and Lewis, ‘and still less after his very strange marriage.’ That marriage was to Joy Gresham, unacceptable to Tolkien because she was divorced and American. Though Tolkien later called Lewis ‘his closest friend from about 1927 to 1940,’ by the early 1950s, their friendship had soured.” For fourteen years, two men were best friends, leading to two of the most prolific and productive works in the written history of mankind. When Lewis accepted the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge in 1954, a position that Tolkien ironically helped him obtain, the fire of friendship smoldered through lack of oxygen, though the remaining embers burned for the rest of their lives. Lewis leaving Oxford was similar to Frodo leaving the Shire, choosing the adventure of unknown in the Undying Lands, rather than the peace and security of the comfortable Shire.
“But I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done,” said Sam, choking on his tears.
Frodo looking at Sam resolutely replied: “So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam.”
Like Frodo, both Lewis and Tolkien were hurt, carrying the unresolved pain to their graves, apparently missing each other dearly, but unwilling to resolve the issues. Near the beginning of their cooling off period, in 1949, Lewis had reached out to Tolkien, writing, “I miss you very much,” but it didn’t lead to reconciliation and an end to the self imposed separation. When Tolkien heard of Lewis’s passing in 1963, he wrote to his daughter that it “feels like an axe-blow near the roots.” Summing up the good with the bad, there are few, if any, friendships in recorded history, that have had as great an impact on both friends as Lewis and Tolkien did on each other. Reflecting upon their lives, the two Oxford professors accomplished what they set out to achieve, creating a lasting legacy through mutually loving, respecting and encouraging one another, utilizing the gifts given to them by the Author of all gifts, fulfilling their God given purposes. The world is a better place today, because on a spring day in 1926, two professors met and became inseparable friends, providing the oxygen to each other, lighting the fire within one another, setting the world afire with that flame, leaving stories of faith, hope, and redemption as their lasting legacy.