- “A Particular Cast of Fancy”:Addison’s Walk with Tolkien and Lewis
When the young scholars J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and C. S. Lewis “walked round and round the mile-long circuit of Addison’s Walk beneath the avenues of beeches” on September 19, 1931, they talked of everything from “metaphor and myth,” to “Christianity,” to “love and friendship,” and “back to poetry and books”(Wilson 126; Lewis, Letters, 421). As such topics might be addressed in any conversation between bookish men, this does not seem particularly noteworthy. However, nine days later, Lewis suddenly moved “from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ—in Christianity,” and he claimed that “my long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it” (Lewis, Letters, 425). Since Lewis went on to become what Tolkien called “Everyman’s Theologian,” to those who reverence the Inklings, this particular walk has become an iconic moment of Christian literary history in the twentieth century (Bio, 151).
Although Lewis repeatedly mentions talking about story, the conversation on Addison’s Walk is mostly read as the seminal moment when Lewis’s tenuous theism was buried under the landslide of Tolkien’s Christian worldview. If anyone remembers Dyson, who unfortunately left no written record of the evening, it is assumed he acted as a sort of backup to Tolkien. In any event, the importance of the walk seems mainly theological, and accordingly literary scholars have never been much interested in the ideas that were in play that evening. Insofar as there has been any interest, Humphrey Carpenter’s 1977 biography of Tolkien appears to demystify the issue by providing a virtual transcript based on Tolkien’s poetic response to the evening, Mythopoeia.1 It is well known that the conversation turned around myth or fantasy, and as this field receives only “a kind of embarrassed half-attention in literary criticism,” the conversation has seemed doubly uninteresting to scholars (Pask 11–12). Knowing that “Lewis and Tolkien had found agreement and shared the same philosophy” seems information enough (Pearce 60).
The problem is that assuming that Tolkien and Lewis “shared the same outlook on fundamental matters, whether literary or religious” is a radical misreading (Wood 315). Scholars who tend to assume that the two men were essentially the same have trouble deciding what to make of the fact that Tolkien and Lewis had a kind of falling out later in life, and that, by the time of Lewis’s death, Tolkien regretted that [End Page 45] he was no longer “one of [Lewis’s] intimates” (Letters 341). Tolkien scholars generally point out that, in the same letter to his son Michael just cited, Tolkien attributed the split to both “the sudden apparition of Charles Williams” and Lewis’s unannounced marriage to Joy Davidman (Letters 341). This usually leads to a discussion of Tolkien’s possessiveness over Lewis’s affections, and then to an intimation of how his Catholicism might cause him to look unfavorably on Lewis’s marriage to an American divorcée.2 Lewis scholars dealing with the same cooling of relations generally remark on the fact that, while Lewis continued to praise Tolkien’s work, and apparently to side with a number of the ideas Tolkien advanced in “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien “hated” Lewis’s allegorical land of Narnia, and found it “scrappily put together” (Wilson 222).3 It is argued that Tolkien “also felt an element of resentment at Lewis’s fluency, his ability to get a thing done, and his increasing attractiveness to publishers” (Wilson 222).
The end result of such reflections is that Tolkien appears to be either a possessive friend, a small-minded religious bigot, or simply a jealous man. While not discounting the potential truth of all of these assertions, I would like to suggest that they are, at best, only partial. If Tolkien is to be vindicated of charges that cast him in a negative light, the entire discussion of the difference between him and Lewis must be moved out of the realm of biography and into the world of literary ideas. It is well understood that the...