Book: Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship Review

J. R. R. Tolkien enjoys renewed popularity these days, thanks to the power of Hollywood — the Oscar-nominated film version of his trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.”

But without another power — C. S. Lewis’ friendship — Tolkien might never have found the encouragement to finish his massive, complex fantasy of hobbits, orcs and elves.

Likewise, without Tolkien’s diligent prodding, Lewis might never have converted to Christianity nor become the great communicator of popular theology who is still read avidly today.

For both men — two of the foremost English writers of the 20th century — the gift of friendship proved invaluable.

That gift is the focus of “Tolkien and C. S. Lewis,” an accessible, imaginative retelling of the vital creative link between the two men.

Given Tolkien’s newfound celebrity, Colin Duriez understandably concentrates on Tolkien’s and Lewis’ shared interest in symbolic fiction — the worlds of Middle-Earth and Narnia. But whether Lewis’ fiction is his more lasting achievement remains a matter of debate.

In any case, it’s clear that in their 40-year, on-again, off-again relationship, Tolkien wielded the greater influence.

His passion throughout his lifetime was remarkably single-minded: integrating myth and truth through storytelling. And he tended to be unyielding in other ways as well.

He disdained Lewis’ popularizing of Christian thought, for instance, and he never reconciled to Lewis’ marrying Joy Davidson late in life (which Lewis initially kept secret from him).

Although Duriez reveals little that is new about his subjects, “Tolkien and C. S. Lewis” provides a solid introduction to the legacy of two men whose writings and imaginative prowess continue to hold sway over the 21st century.

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