The Providential Meeting of Lewis and Tolkien

A friendship to bless the world. 


John Stonestreet

Shane Morris

Great stories often involve seemingly fortuitous but ultimately significant meetings. Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus in a snowy wood (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), four hobbits meet the mysterious stranger at the Prancing Pony (The Fellowship of the Ring), two disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus (but fail to recognize him). That last story, of course, happens to be true.  

The other two stories, fantasy though they may be, contain precious truths about good, evil, Christ, and friendship. And it is worth noting that their existence is owed to another providential meeting that took place 98 years ago this month 

As Diana Glyer wrote in her book Bandersnatch, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had their first run-in in 1926, at an English tea with fellow Oxford faculty. By all accounts, the two did not hit it off, in part because Lewis was still an atheist and Tolkien a devout Roman Catholic. Lewis even wrote of Tolkien in his diary at the time: “No harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” 

According to Glyer, Lewis and Tolkien, 

had different interests and personalities. They came from different religious traditions. And they had different academic specialties. … Lewis said that meeting Tolkien triggered two of his childhood prejudices. He explains, “At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a [Catholic], and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.”

However, their disagreements eventually gave way to an unlikely and fruitful friendship that would bless the world. It was their shared love of myth that not only led to their friendship, one sharpened by constant debate and conversation, but was also used by the Holy Spirit to bring Lewis to faith. 

On September 19, 1931, Tolkien, Lewis, and fellow Inkling Hugo Dyson walked the grounds of Magdalen College, eventually turning down a tree-lined path called Addison’s Walk. There, the topic of conversation turned, as it often did, to myth. Though Lewis loved the stories of dying and rising gods and had, by this point, become a theist, he insisted that such myths were ultimately “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.” 

“No,” replied Tolkien. “They are not lies.” The story of Christ, the professor argued, “is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” This realization broke Lewis’ resistance and, soon thereafter, he surrendered his life to Christ.  

Without Tolkien’s friendship, Lewis might have remained outside the faith. If he had, the world may never have known masterpieces like The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, or That Hideous Strength. In a very real sense, we have J.R.R. Tolkien to thank for C.S. Lewis. 

And, in an equally real sense, we have Lewis to thank for Tolkien. As Colin Duriez wrote in Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, Lewis was Tolkien’s listening ear and most unfailing encourager in finishing The Lord of the Rings and other beloved works. In fact, Tolkien wrote of his friend Lewis after his death: 

The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not “influence” as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him [did I] ever get the idea that my “stuff” could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought [The Lord of the Rings] to a conclusion.

Perhaps Lewis was thinking of his friend and fellow author when he wrote in The Four Loves, 

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” 

Lewis and Tolkien were not, thank God, the only ones who loved myth. Because of their providential meeting almost a century ago, we, thank God, have the mythical worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth, this legacy of iron sharpening iron, and the unique insights from these two friends about the One who orchestrated and authored their friendship. 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 


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