A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18

As biographer George Sayer sums up the mood: “Most tutors encouraged their pupils above all to doubt.

As in Tolkien’s trilogy, Lewis’s Narnia series depicts war not as an opportunity for martial glory, but as a grim necessity. When victories are won, there is a striking lack of triumphalism; we find instead amazement and gratitude for surviving the encounter. Battle scenes, though never lengthy, are described with surprising realism.

Because Tolkien wrote his trilogy during and after the Second World War, when the world had entered the atomic age, many assumed that the story of the Ring was an allegorical warning about the horror of nuclear weapons. Tolkien set them straight: “Of course my story is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of

Beginning in 1907, states such as Indiana passed sterilization laws “to prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.

Both [Tolkien and C.S. Lewis] regarded twentieth-century modernization as a threat to human societies because they viewed the natural world as the handiwork of God and thus integral to human happiness.

Emperor Wilhelm II, who also served as supreme bishop of the Prussian Church, delivered this message to his troops at the outbreak of war: “Remember that the German people are the chosen of God. On me, on me as German Emperor, the Spirit of God has descended. I am His weapon. His sword and His visor.

For the intellectual class as well as the ordinary man on the street, the Great War had defamed the values of the Old World, along with the religious doctrines that helped to underwrite them. Moral advancement, even the idea of morality itself, seemed an illusion. What

Given these postwar sensibilities, how did Oxford become the incubator for epic literature extolling valor and sacrifice in war?50 Why would the works of Tolkien and Lewis, rooted in a narrative of Christian redemption, ever see the light of day? TOLKIEN

He helped Lewis to consider the possibility that our moral intuitions, our aesthetic experiences, could lead us to objective truth: imagination might be as good a guide to reality as rational argument.

Here, then, is one of the most striking effects of the Myth of Progress. Even war itself—a process inherently destructive to human life and human societies—was believed to have regenerative properties.

How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” asks Éomer. Aragorn’s response is unequivocal: “As he ever has judged,” he says. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them.

If you turn Hell upside down, you’ll find ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the bottom.

In Frodo we are meant to see ourselves: our weaknesses, our rationalizations, and our lack of resolve in combatting evil. But we also get a glimpse into a life of courage and perseverance in the ongoing struggle: you resisted to the last. Tolkien’s story reminds us that evil is a sleepless force in human lives, and that the war against it demands constant vigilance. After

In The Lord of the Rings, the followers of Sauron, the Dark Lord, serve him out of fear; they are no more than slaves in his realm. Thus we see the use of genetic engineering—the creation of robotic orcs—to extend the dictatorship of Mordor throughout the world. At its heart, the War of the Ring is a struggle to preserve the essential freedom and humanity of the inhabitants of Middle-earth.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, King Caspian tangles with slave traders who, with statistics and graphs, try to justify their operations as 'economic development.' Caspian wants the trade ended:
'But that would be putting the clock back,' gasped the governor. 'Have you no idea of progress, of development?'
'I have seen both in an egg,' said Caspian. 'We call it "Going Bad" in Narnia. This trade must stop.

In the worlds of Tolkien and Lewis, the choices of the weak matter as much as those of the mighty. Here we are not left as orphans, for a force of Goodness stands ready to help. Here we meet Gandalf the Grey, the wisest and best of wizards, engaged in a titanic struggle against the Shadow that threatens Middle-earth; and Aslan, the fearsome Lion, who will pay any price to rescue Narnia from the “force of evil” that has entered it.

Is everything sad going to come untrue?' asks Sam[wise Gamgee]. Here we find, beyond all imagination, the deepest source of hope for the human story. For when the King is revealed, 'there will be no more night.' The Shadow will finally and forever be lifted from the earth. The Great War will be won.
This King, who brings strength and healing in His hands, will make everything sad come untrue.

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing,” counsels the senior demon in Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

It is one thing to join a struggle against evil in the world, but it is another thing to persevere—to continue to resist the dark temptations inherent in the contest.

Mythmaking, what Tolkien calls “mythopoeia,” is a way of fulfilling God’s purposes as the Creator. By inventing a myth—by populating a world with elves and orcs, dragons and witches, gods and goddesses—the storyteller tries to retrieve the world he knew before man’s fall from grace.

no creatures are born for captivity, and none have a birthright to oppress others.

Part of the achievement of Tolkien and Lewis was to reintroduce into the popular imagination a Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment.

Retrieving the medieval concept of the heroic quest—reinventing it for the modern mind—is one of the signal achievements of their work. Whether in epics such as Beowulf or romances like Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, Tolkien and Lewis both found in medieval literature a set of motifs and ideals worth recalling.81

The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.

This freedom to either fulfill or evade the Calling on one’s life is central to Tolkien’s work—and to his understanding of the human condition.

Tolkien and Lewis offer an understanding of the human story that is both tragic and hopeful: they suggest that war is a symptom of the ruin and wreckage of human life, but that it points the way to a life restored and transformed by grace. In

Tolkien and Lewis were attracted to the genres of myth and romance not because they sought to escape the world, but because for them the real world had a mythic and heroic quality.

Tolkien began work on The Hobbit, a story set “long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green.”111 Its chief character is Bilbo Baggins, a small, half-elf creature known as a hobbit. He displays the virtues and vices of a middle-class Englishman. He has a comfortable life and shows no interest in adventures: “I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” Explained Tolkien: “The Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination—not the small reach of their courage or latent power.

Tolkien shares his Christian belief that evil represents a rejection of God and the joy and beauty and virtue that originate in him.22 Evil is a mutation, a parasite, an interloper. It is an ancient Darkness that fears and despises the Light. At war with the good, it is an immensely powerful force in human life and human societies. “If anguish were visible,” Tolkien once explained, “almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapor, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens!”23

Tolkien’s work lies partly in the fact that contemporary events seemed to conform—tragically—to the pattern of human life expressed in its pages.52 In this, Tolkien understood the problem not merely as the abuse of power: it was the temptation to pride, which the possession of power instigated and elevated into the fatal sin. “It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring,” he explained, “to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power.”53 The possession of such power inevitably placed the unconstrained Self on the throne of the universe.