Here it is: the long-awaited (or at least long-delayed) conclusion to my series of posts on the NPC hobbits in the back room of the Bird and Baby in Michel Delving!
As I have explained in the earlier posts of this series (here and here), these hobbits represent real-life members of the Inklings, an informal circle of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary friends who met regularly in Oxford during the years that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were being written. Owen Farfield is the in-game counterpart of Owen Barfield, and Carlo Williams represents Charles Williams.
I’m sure many people will think I’ve saved the best for last, for our third hobbit, Jack Lewisdown, is really none other than world-renowned sci-fi/fantasy author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis!
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
C.S. Lewis, known to his friends and family as “Jack” (seriously, if your first two names were “Clive Staples,” you might insist on being called “Jack,” too!), was the founder and nucleus of the Inklings. In addition to their weekly morning meetings in Oxford’s Eagle and Child pub, for many years the group also had frequent evening meetings in Lewis’s apartment at Magdalen (pronounced MAWD-lin) College.
Lewis and Tolkien met for the first time at a university function in 1926. Afterwards Lewis wrote of Tolkien in his diary, “No harm in him; only needs a smack or so.” A few years later the two realized they had several interests and views in common; after one conversation that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, Lewis wrote that he felt like a man who up till then had thought his feelings were unique and now crying, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” He later recruited Tolkien into the Inklings, and the two writers had a warm and mutually influential relationship for decades.
For example, Lewis was the first person to whom Tolkien showed an early draft of “The Lay of Beren and Luthien,” and Tolkien incorporated some of Lewis’s suggested revisions into his manuscript. More importantly, Lewis’s enthusiastic reaction to his efforts helped inspire Tolkien to continue the arduous project of creating the history of Middle-Earth.
Lewis’s day job was teaching medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford, and he was one of the most respected scholars in that field, just as Tolkien was. Tolkien’s passion was first and foremost for the epics and sagas of northern Europe. Lewis loved “Northernness,” too, but he ultimately placed more emphasis on the classical world of Greco-Roman civilization, and that flavor is evident in his writings.
Like Tolkien, Lewis is remembered by most today not so much for his scholarship as for his popular writings. After his conversion from atheism to Christianity (an event in which Tolkien played a significant role), Lewis wrote numerous works of popular apologetics, both fictional and non-fictional, and even his works that were not specifically intended for apologetic purposes, such as the Chronicles of Narnia, are suffused with Christian symbolism. Among his best known writings, in addition to the seven-volume Narnia series, are Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and the “Space Trilogy” (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). The hero of the Space Trilogy, a philologist and World War I veteran named Elwin Ransom, was modeled on Tolkien.
As many have pointed out, Lewis’s appeal is broad enough that those who do not share his beliefs often still enjoy his writing and glean important insights about human nature from it. The most obvious example of this phenomenon is the enduring popularity of the Chronicles of Narnia, now the basis of a string of big-budget films from Disney.
Many books have been written about C.S. Lewis, but the best place to start may be The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs. Fans of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films will be interested to know that Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum, has lent his distinctive voice to the role of the demon Screwtape in a new audio production of The Screwtape Letters.
So next time you’re in the Bird and Baby, let old Jack Lewisdown know how you like his stories. I’m sure he’ll be happy to get some reader feedback!