The story of Tolkien and Lewis is fascinating. Without Tolkien, Lewis might never have become a Christian. Without Lewis, the world of The Hobbits would probably have never been published – including The Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit was published in 1937, but it was written between 1930 and 1931. So where was The Hobbit between 1931 and 1937? In the hands of C.S. Lewis. Not the whole time, of course. But during a key junction.
In 1933 Lewis wrote to a close friend exclaiming that he just had a “delightful time reading a children’s story” by Tolkien (p.175), referring to The Hobbit McGrath tells us. Apparently in 1931 Tolkien ran out of creative steam and was unable to come up with an ending. Having eventually drafted a quick ending, Tolkien finally plucked up the courage to ask Lewis to read it, and give him his opinion of it. Lewis declared that he liked it, while having some misgivings about its ending.” (p.198)
As things would turn out, McGrath describes the eventual publication of The Hobbit as “the result of a series of unfortunate accidents.”
“Tolkien had lent the transcript to one of his students, Elaine Griffiths (1909-1996). Griffiths in turn drew the text to the attention of Susan Dagnall, a former Oxford student now working for the London publisher George Allen & Unwin. After securing a copy of the typescript, Dagnall passed it on to publisher Stanley Unwin for his evaluation. Unwin in turn asked his ten-year-old son, Rayner, to read it. Rayner gave it such an enthusiastic review that Unwin decided to publish it.”
Lewis’s contribution to The Lord of the Rings is even greater. The demand for The Hobbit exceeded expectations and Tolkien was asked to write a sequel. Originally he had no plans to write a sequel and soon found himself overwhelmed and unable to sustain his enthusiasm and momentum. Sludging through the last chapter “[t]he plot became more complex, and its tone darker. His ambition to write a more sophisticated mythological work kept intruding. In the end, the writing process stalled.” (p.198).
Not many people at the time, in fact no one else it seemed, was interested in the work. Well, almost no one. As McGrath puts it, “Only one other person seemed to be interested in the work: Lewis.” The story of Lewis hiking through a snowstorm at night to Tolkien’s home to discuss The Lord of the Rings into the wee hours of the morning tells of Lewis’s deep affection for Tolkien, and of Lewis’s ministry as an encourager. It’s hard to overemphasize the critical role Lewis played in helping The Lord of the Rings see the light of day. After Lewis’s death, Tolkien had this to say:
“The unpayable debt that I owe to [Lewis] 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 L. of the R. to a conclusion.” (p.199)
[The quotes above have been taken from Alister McGrath’s forthcoming new biography, C.S. Lewis: A Life, Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet. They are affiliate links. If you plan to buy the book on Amazon (kindle or hardcover), I’d appreciate it if you’d do it through Covenant of Love and support this site. Thanks!]