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  • Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship
  • Mike Foster
Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez . Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2003. xii, 244 pp. $16.00 (trade paperback) ISBN 1587680262. [Published subsequently in the UK as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Story of Their Friendship. Stroud: Sutton, 2003. £20.00 (hardcover) ISBN 0750935413.]

This readable but redundant study of the synergy between Tolkien and Lewis claims to be the first book on Tolkien and Lewis' "literary as well as personal association" (ix). In fact, readers familiar with the story of the Tolkien-Lewis friendship will find little they didn't already know. Readers unfamiliar with it will get a superficial biographical gloss.

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis relies on already-published accounts, tends to wide-sweeping generalizations, and embellishes the story with make-believe incidents. Lacking photographs or maps, it makes weight by fattening 185 pages of text with 59 of notes, including a reiterative seven-page appendix on the popularity of the authors that seems recycled from a prior presentation. Drawing heavily on previous sources, this book also skimps on quotations. Its plot summaries are unnecessary for experienced scholars and too revealing for beginners, who will discover, for instance, what happens at the end of the Narnia chronicles. The prose style, generally clear, occasionally lurches awkwardly: "He [Lewis], like his brother, wallows in the physicality of the world" (53).

Duriez' imagined vignettes in the lives of these authors begin ten of the book's twelve chapters. Forgiving readers may enjoy these present-tense fabrications. Others will wince, finding such tableaux off-putting. The first, set in summer 1901, depicts nine-year-old John Ronald crouching on a Birmingham railway embankment with his brother Hilary, waiting for a Welsh coal train to pass by. The last describes Lewis' funeral procession passing from church to churchyard in November 1963. Other scripted scenes include conversations between the two, Inklings sessions at the Eagle and Child, life at the Kilns, and telepathic passages like this: "He looks out the bus window, putting his cigarette to his lips and drawing its smoke into his lungs, apparently gazing over Headington Hill Park. The man is C.S. Lewis, and he is starting to grapple with a momentous decision, evoking the whole question of human freedom" (47)

To Duriez and some readers, the playlet chronicling an Inklings pub meeting in 1937 may ring true to the diction and the ideas of these men. Other readers may not be convinced. Would Tolkien really have said "O lor'" (68)? But the staged episodes are less annoying than the glib generality. Duriez hoists himself time and again on the gallows he cobbled when he wrote in his introduction: "I have been astonished at some of the misleading statements that have been made authoritatively, statements that should not go unchallenged" (xi). [End Page 266]

The declaration that "all of Lewis' fiction, after the two met at Oxford University in 1926, bears the mark of Tolkien's influence" (x) is worth challenging. Beyond the tenuous fact that both Till We Have Faces and Tolkien's legendarium are set in a pre-Christian past, Duriez discloses little influence on that book. His statement that Charles Williams The Place of the Lion "enraptured Lewis, Tolkien, and others in 1936" (74) is contradicted by Tolkien's notably unenraptured 1964 letter: "I am a man of limited sympathies…Williams lies almost completely outside them...I actively disliked his Arthurian-Byzantine mythology; and still think it spoiled the trilogy of C. S. L. (a very impressionable, too impressionable man) in the last part." (Letters, 349). Duriez tends to glide over the complexity of the Lewis-Tolkien relationship which that letter suggests.

He likewise begs the complicated question of Mrs. Janie Moore, describing Lewis "quasi-adopting her as his mother while having deeper feelings for her. Whether the relationship went further into sexual intimacy no one really knows" (22). Less perfunctory and hagiographic research could have provided the better answer found in the transcript of Lyle Dorsett's interview with George Sayer in Wheaton (Illinois) College's Wade Center, where Duriez researched this book...