Last month, 600 people gathered in Montreat, N.C., for an international symposium on C.S. Lewis. I was among them.
Hearing scholars who had a heartfelt faith speak to the witness and enduring influence of Lewis, the most famous convert in modern times, was inspiring.
For many of the speakers and attendees, Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity” was cited as a significant part of their journey to faith. The book has been named the most important Christian book of the 20th century and it, along with Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, were predicted by some to continue to be transformative through the 21st century.
One presenter, Dr. Diana Glyer, professor and writer, spoke to the unique friendship between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, best known for “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
The two met when Lewis began teaching at Oxford, where Tolkien had been teaching for years. Their common vocation as teachers and writers, along with their shared passion for language and literature, drew the men to each other, even though they couldn’t have been more different. Lewis was gregarious and boisterous, Tolkien, quiet and reserved; Lewis was an avowed atheist and Tolkien a devout Catholic.
At some point Tolkien, in an act of vulnerability, asked Lewis to read a draft of one of his stories. Lewis offered praise for his writing and then pages of substantial, specific critique which Tolkien appreciated. This was the turning point for their friendship, as from then on, they trusted and relied on each another for constructive feedback on their writing.
They also committed to having lunch together weekly, which led to a deeper, more supportive friendship. Lewis credited Tolkien as being instrumental in his journey to faith, and so for those of us impacted by Lewis’s writing, then Tolkien was also a part of our own.
Glyer suggested that Lewis and Tolkien became a creative force because of their differences and the deep friendship they forged – a “dynamic dyad,” she called it, pointing to other such duos whose collaborations changed the world: John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Wilbur and Orville Wright, to name a couple.
This has implications not just for great achievements in literature, art and engineering, but government, civic groups and churches.
We are designed by God for community. In the mystery of the workings of God, through relationships, if we are open, we become more fully ourselves and that has a ripple effect. The creative process is a messy one, and being with those who are different can make us uncomfortable. But where there is a common interest or mission, collaboration is possible, and the results can be far beyond what we can imagine.
We see it in the unlikely friendship of Lewis and Tolkien, whose stories have captured our imaginations, and changed lives.
Glyer discusses this and more in her book, “The Company That We Keep.” Perhaps we all need to expand the diversity of the company we keep.
God might intend it for our healing and wholeness and for that of the entire world.
Rev. Christine Herrin is the senior pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.