When I was in Oxford, England, I had the privilege of interviewing Oxford Professor Timothy Ware (now Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox Church, at the time Bishop.) He is the author of The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way, two of the most popular books in the world on Orthodoxy.
He was also a graduate student at Oxford during the days of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and has a number of insights from interacting with them personally or being well acquainted with their close associates.
The interview was related to gaining background and research for my movie script The Wizard and the Lion, a screenplay about the close friendship being Lewis and Tolkien and their falling out later in life. You can read it here and a summary of the story here. It was endorsed by the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society.
Ware is a great admirer of both Tolkien and Lewis, although he does have insights and recollections that might not agree with the popular hagiographies of the two highly popular authors.
Ware knew Lewis a bit personally, greeted him regularly on the Magdalene campus, and visiting the Socratic Club where Lewis was chairman. He did not interact with Tolkien personally but attended one of his lectures, which was, for Ware, not very well organized or well delivered.
He also attended a lecture of Joy Gresham, chaired by Lewis, before they had any idea there was a personal or romantic connection between them (Lewis married Gresham later in life). Lewis seemed unusually concerned that Gresham lecture be well-received, but Ware found the address to be less than memorable, and her voice “rather gravely.”
A close friend and spiritual advisor of Tolkien told Ware that the Lord of the Rings author was fearful later in life he may go to hell for his inability to guide his wife spiritually. She dropped out of attending the Catholic Church, to which Tolkien was devout to the end of his life.
Other interesting tidbits:
- Lewis and Tolkien both were looked at with some suspicion by Oxford colleagues for not having published much academic materal.
- Tolkien published a couple excellent academic articles early on that helped him gain a full professorship, but not much after … perhaps because he was focusing on his mythology. But also, he had four children and was quite busy.
- Lewis wrote more popular books and his lack of academic writing contributed to his inability to gain a full professorship. This, in turn, impeded Lewis from having the time to write more academic material, as he had to spend much of his time in teaching and instruction.
- Tolkien and Lewis fell out later in life over religion (Catholicism vs. Anglicanism/Evangelicalism), Myth vs. Allegory, and also due to what his peers considered a strange relationship with Joy Gresham.
- They also fell out over Tolkien’s jealousy of fellow Inkling Charles Williams
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware was a very enjoyable interview, as gracious and helpful as one could hope. He is quite proficient in his familiarity with the works of Tolkien and Lewis and Charles Williams. Also, he was very up to speed on the biographical aspects of the two legendary authors, and knew as much or more than I did, having spent the previous two years studying that subject specifically and reading all the available material on their personal lives.
Below is a recording of the interview as well as a transcription.
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
Interview with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware
Professor Emeritus in Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, and Bishop of Diokleia
Interviewed by Dean W. Arnold
January 16, 2007 Oxford, England
DA: The movies have made the idea of a screenplay between Lewis and Tolkien extra fashionable, and there’s going to be several more Narnia movies made over the next several years. And I believe the Hobbit will probably come out in a couple of years as well. So, it’s going to remain hot.
KW: Yes. Yes. Yes. I don’t get very often to the movies. Not on grounds of principle, but I never get around to it. But I did go and see the film of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” And I went to it with considerable reservations because when you like a book, and I’m rather familiar with it, often you find the way it is treated in a film or theatrical presentation, is not at all way you understood the book or the characters. And so sometimes it can be a disappointing experience. Sometimes even I would even avoid going to a film on a book I knew well, but in this case my friend said, “No you should go.” And I thought they did the story very successfully, you know, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I was struck by the fact that they adhered very closely to Lewis’ own story.
DA: I heard that they did a good job with this. Did you see “The Lord of the Rings”?
KW: I haven’t yet, no. No. I want to see the original uncut version, which we’ll see on DVD, but I just have to get around to it perhaps. I don’t have the equipment to look at it yet.
DA: It’s done pretty well, also. Did you see the movie, “Shadowlands”?
KW: Yes. No, I saw it as a play actually. That I didn’t like so much. I thought it was interesting, but parts of it simply didn’t ring true to me, but it didn’t reflect the situation in Oxford as I knew it.
DA: I’d very much like for you to go ahead and talk about that detail because I want to make sure that –
KW: Well, I find it difficult to be specific at this point for it was many years ago. And it may be the film was better, but to me they didn’t convey the … kind of atmosphere that prevailed in Lewis’ time at Oxford College. But again the actor who took Lewis’ part—-because I heard and seen Lewis quite a lot, I did not really know him personally–that didn’t work for me because he just to me, did not look like Lewis or speak like him. And so that was a problem. It would not necessarily be a problem for somebody who didn’t know Lewis.
DA: And that’s excellent because that’s why I’m here today, because I want to hear about your personal interaction with Lewis and get a sense of the man. A couple of thoughts from me. The movie “Shadowlands”, Lewis was played by Anthony Hopkins. And I don’t know because I’ve never met C.S. Lewis, but so far now I’ve done quite a bit of reading on both Lewis and Tolkien’s lives. And I would wager to guess that the character that Anthony Hopkins plays in “Shadowlands” was probably a little more like Tolkien than it was like Lewis. The way Hollywood focuses, they portrayed Lewis as a more timid, shy emotionally suppressed Oxford professor who doesn’t really get in tune with his emotions and his love until he meets Joy Gresham.
But the research I’ve done so far, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but the research I’ve done so far shows that Lewis was quite an emotional man, full of love and had this, as Tolkien calls it, “great capacity for friendship” and was gathering people around him all the time in a relational, emotional, interaction and so he didn’t need Joy to finally get him in tune with all that. Now, perhaps Tolkien could have been a little more that type of person, but that’s my perception.
KW: Yes. I, on the whole, agree. Tolkien was a, first of all strongly, a family man. … And secondly, he was quite strongly I think a college man who was involved with his teaching and his colleagues.
DA: Was he in submission to authority?
KW: Yes. He wasn’t a public figure in the way that Lewis was, though of course with the appearance of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as a whole, he did come into the eye of the public. But Lewis achieved fame at a much earlier date than Tolkien. Lewis became really well known during the war through his broadcast talks. And so far as Tolkien’s scholarly work goes it was for other scholars, which is pretty specialized.
DA: When did you start to interact with them?
KW: But, so far as Lewis goes, he was always concerned to communicate on much more broader public and not through his works of apologetics through “Screwtape Letters”, “The Problem of Pain” and so on.
Yes, so on the theme of who was the more out-going, I would have said that Lewis was much more out-going than Tolkien. Tolkien had a much more narrower circle of friends and was a quieter, more reserved man. Lewis was much more gregarious and enthusiastic, ebullient. Joy Gresham may have brought out the side of Eros in Lewis, but he does not seem to have had any deep relationship with a woman until he got to know Joy. But so far as his general out-goingness goes, he didn’t need her to have that effect on him.
Let me tell you about my own links with Lewis. I came up to Oxford in 1952, to Magdalen College where Lewis was still tutor, fellow and tutor, in English language and literature. And he didn’t go until 1954 to Cambridge to take up his professorship there. So, he was living in college as an unmarried fellow, though he had his house on the hill. In fact he…normally spent the night in college possibly not on the campus here. He was two staircases down from where I was. I was in __building and he was just a little way along.
So, I use to see him around and about. I use to meet him sometimes in the morning. He would go out around half past seven for a walk around the grounds around the water walks and then at eight he would go in to the chapel for morning prayers. And so sometimes, I also took an early walk, not to see him, because I just liked to take the air and we would meet each other in the morning. But never more than that. I never stopped him to engage him in conversation. And he, while friendly enough towards people, was not one to take the initiative to say, “Who are you? And what are you doing?” And in those days of course, there was not quite such close relationships between undergraduate men with our senior members. So, I remember him there. But I never had a personal conversation with him. I never saw the inside of his cottage.
I use to go to meetings of the Socratic Club. And I went as many other people did primarily because Lewis was the chairman. He was a very good debater. He was a very good person at thinking quickly and he could be a little over bearing on occasions. But he had a good mind and used words and ideas with great influence. So, he made the meetings of the Socratic Club an occasion. He was, I think, really the great inspirer of the Socratic Club and the idea was to have discussions there between philosophers and religious people to bridge – to make a bridge between philosophy and religion.
At that time the fashionable philosophy in Oxford was and it still is Logical Positivism, which was by and large not at all sympathetic to religion. And the general astual was expressed by my philosophy tutor in a more, Sir Geoffrey Warnock, who said to me, “I think religion is trying to ask questions that cannot be answered. And anyway, I’m not interested in the questions.” [laughter]
Well, when someone takes that line, it’s not easy to know what you’re going to do next. And Lewis had received the training in philosophy because he had done classics, which is what I did, so he did know about philosophy before he turned to English Literature. But Lewis wanted to bridge this gap and show that religious questions [are] of interest from a philosophical point of view. And the audience was predominately students, and I think of a quite high standard.
I never actually went to any of Lewis’ lectures, which was nomish, I ought to have. I use to go to lectures outside of my own faculty. I was interested in Arthurian legends. I went to lectures of Arthurian material by the Celtic professor Sir Idris Llewelyn Foster. Lewis was interested in the Arthurian legends as well. But Lewis was certainly a good lecturer and a popular lecturer.
DA: Did you meet Tolkien?
KW: Tolkien? I heard him speak once at a lecture and I thought he was not a good lecturer. I thought the lecture was not well constructed. He had too much material. He kept saying, “Well, I’ll leave that out.” But Lewis’ lectures were very well structured, fit into the time exactly. Had a beginning, had an end, were delivered with eloquence. As you can see from his writings.
Tolkien, I knew of because friends of mine drew my attention to “The Hobbit.” But “The Hobbit” was not such a famous book. “The Hobbit” was quite a popular book by those who read high quality children’s literature, but it was a limited circle that read “The Hobbit.” It was with “The Lord of the Rings” that Tolkien burst on the outside world.
DA: And that didn’t come out until ’55 or ’56?
KW: ’54 was the first one.
DA: So there was a real sense for many years where Tolkien was I believe wanting to, wishing he had something to demonstrate, some more gravitas. He was known as, “Oh, Mr. Tolkien you’ve got this little Hobbit.” Where as his contemporaries like Lewis were dealing with grander subjects.
KW: Yes. Now, Lewis, of course from the academic point of view made the great mistake of being copied, because you do not necessarily win esteem from your academic colleagues by writing popular literature. So, people rather looked down on Lewis, his broadcast talks which became “Mere Christianity,” “Screwtape Letters,” “The Problem of Pain.” People didn’t take that so very seriously in the academic world. But Lewis had written one substantial book on a major theme, “The Allegory of Love.” And that was widely read and respected as a work of scholarship.
The other theme work of scholarship Lewis did was his contribution to OHEL, the Oxford History of English Literature. That book didn’t make such an impact. He was working on it for many, many years. I don’t think it’s been so very widely read.
DA: Let me ask a question, if I may that would be – I think this question will be where you will help the most and I’ll give you a little preface of it – the screenplay. The second half of this movie’s screenplay, in a movie, in any story you have to have conflict, protagonist, antagonist. And the second half of the screenplay is easy, it’s Tolkien versus Lewis. They had some struggles. They had some issues. But the first part of the movie is where I’m struggling with that because I believe the conflict is going to be between Tolkien and Lewis as friends, Inklings, best friends, intimates, versus the Oxford – and I don’t know enough about Oxford and them in comparison and contrasting them as colleagues and that’s something that I’d like to get some insight from you. And the last thing I’ll say is Tolkien and Lewis became friends, in part because they were both Christians, but that wasn’t really the thing that bonded them mainly or primarily, it was that they both discovered that they had a fascination and obsession with myths and they had a love for Fairy Tales.
Tell me if I’m wrong because I really need to get this right. Best that I can understand it, they were dealing with these subjects on an academic level. Tolkien had a group of people that were getting together to read Icelandic myths – that sort of thing. But in terms of actually admitting that – “I actually just like the Fairy Tales like children love the stories,” I believe that’s the part that they didn’t really share so much with everybody. But when they got together in person they just kind of admitted that they loved Fairy Tales.
DA: That was their hearts’ passion. That’s where they connected.
DA: But I’m trying to get a sense of how they would have been pitted against their other Oxford contemporaries.
KW: Yes. Well, I can’t tell speak really too much to that because it was before my time. After all, I arrived on the scene in the ’50’s. First of all, this was not your question, to declare my own reason for being interested in Lewis and later Tolkien, what appealed to me in them was their power of fantasy, using it in their fairly technical sense not in a popular derogatory sense. So the books that I initially read by Lewis and enjoyed were the “Space Trilogy”, that was the first thing. I read that when it came out; I was eighteen. I read the Narnia books as they came out. I use to buy them and give them to my sisters, my younger sisters. They are rather valuable now – first editions as they’ve gone the way of children’s books. Then I also liked his other imaginative writings like the “Pilgrim’s Regress.” And “The Great Divorce.” And later on, “Til We Have Faces,” which I think is one of the best books of Lewis’, but it’s interesting that the one he liked best as far as his creative writing was the one that was least successful. The one that’s the least well known. But there it is. That side appealed to me. And therefore, I didn’t really know anything about Tolkien til I came up, but as soon as “The Fellowship of the Rings” was published I bought it and read it, and the other two volumes as well. I was immensely excited by that.
I was not so interested in Lewis’ apologetic writing, though I did go to the Socratic Club, as I’ve said. It was not until many years later that I read his books – “In Defense of Christianity,” “Mere Christianity,” and so on. And they were better than I expected.
DA: Did his reputation proceed him?
KW: I had thought that I wouldn’t like them very much. I thought that perhaps he’d talk down a bit. But I don’t think he did … he was writing to a wide popular audience, a reason to write carefully. The person that I read prior to Lewis or Tolkien was Charles Williams. I was put on to Charles Williams by my school chaplain when I was about sixteen. And in Charles Williams’ writings, what appealed to me were his seven novels again in the realm of –
DA: I checked out two of them.
KW: I liked them very much. I re-read them regularly and they are not exactly in the realm of fantasy, but they do bring in the supernatural – the interaction of time and eternity. This is the age and the age to come. I found them very exciting. I still think that Williams was the most gifted of that group in his intellectual originality, though in the level of his achievement his actual skill as a writer cannot compare to the other two. But that was where I came in to an interest with this group.
Now Lewis then had committed the error of being too popular and was therefore looked down on quite widely. And yes, a number of his lectures and so on had been published and are good. Part of the worldview of the Middle Ages that discarded image is typical of his lectures and his brilliance. But, I think you see, he didn’t produced enough straight scholarship to it to satisfy a lot of people. The allegory of Narnia was a young man’s book, and they were waiting for other books. And there wasn’t really anything substantial –
Again the scholarly air of Tolkien was very limited … He was working all the time inventing his – his mythology behind “The Lord of the Rings.” There’s the whole other world, other things that have been published that I’ve read very few of them. I’m afraid I’ll get bored after a time. I love “The Lord of the Rings” but even that gets too long. When it gets grandly heroic, great battles and so on, I rather lose interest. It’s the early part with the small group of merry men and their adventures that I can identify with. Now, I think in Tolkien’s case you see he got his professorial chair very early on the bases of one or two rather detailed pieces of writing. Good scholarship, but not big books. Long articles, maybe, he didn’t write many large – These are essays though long articles, not major studies. And I think people would have expected him to have produced more.
So, I think that in the scholarly world a lot of the more limited academics who were not writing in other fields, were dissatisfied with Lewis and Tolkien. They thought they were too popular and were not producing enough straight academic writing.
DA: Do you think there was any merit to this?
KW: No, I don’t think there was. In the case of Lewis, we have to recognized that he was teaching about eighteen to twenty hours in term of tutorials. That’s quite a heavy stint. Oxford academics spend far more time in actual hours with their pupils than people who do in other universities where you don’t have one to one tutorials where you just have to give lectures in class. And in addition to those twenty hours a week or so, he would have been teaching which you know from ten until one – he took Monday off – but five other days. And then probably often from five until seven. And then in addition to that he would have had to have sat on university committees and college committees. He would have had his lectures. He would have had to act as examiner. So Lewis had quite a heavy schedule with academic work.
And had he got a professorship earlier he wouldn’t then as professor had to teach under-graduates tutorials, he would have probably had more time for straight academic writing, but he was never given a professorship. He was passed over several times. And that’s very significant that he didn’t enjoy among his colleagues the reputation that he’s had since, and I think they felt that he wasn’t serious enough as a scholar. That was unjustified. He was a good college tutor that he didn’t do enough writing to really get a professorial chair – Also, he offended people.
DA: He had a hard personality.
KW: Yes, and he ran – there was an incident over the election to the professorship of poetry, which you may have heard about, it’s accounted in his biography, where his friend Adam Cox was elected professor of poetry and Lewis I think did down other people who wanted that position. And that annoyed the straight, academic community. So, he suffered for that. When he got his chair in Cambridge, this was really too late. If he had only at fifteen years earlier been given the professorial chair, he could have written much more. But for thirty years, he was doing this heady stint of college teaching.
DA: I guess he’s forgiven after the fact because they realize that he actually was doing something quite significant?
KW: Well, I remember the Professor of Anglo-Saxon in Pembroke was still alive, but retired now, I’m trying to think of his name and it doesn’t matter – but of course that was a chair that Tolkien initially had. I think he was appointed to the Chair of English Literature in Merton, but the Anglo-Saxon chair in Pembroke, he said to me about Tolkien, “A Scandal!” Meaning that all these years, Tolkien was professor first of Anglo-Saxon, then of English Literature … And in all those years, he just produced two substantial arguments, and then “The Fellowship of the Rings,” but people would not see that as academic work. Pop. Fiction. It would be dismissed. So, people felt you know, that – Tolkien was not a light-weight as a scholar; he was a superior scholar, but they felt he did not produce enough. So, I think there was that perception that they were too much engaged in other deterrent projects and weren’t sticking close enough to straight academic material.
DA: Tell me, to what degree was there an us versus them phenomenon between Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, the Inklings versus the rest of Oxford. Tell me, if I’m wrong, to suggest that there was such a phenomenon. Help me understand it.
KW: Yes. I would not exaggerate the degree of alienation. Lewis and Tolkien certainly had their circle of friends. And in the context in the academic world in different colleges, I don’t know who the main critics were of Tolkien and Lewis because again, you see, it’s not my area, so I wouldn’t know who the key figures are. Who were the people who kept Lewis out of getting a professorial chair. I don’t know. But, yes.
We live a different story. He only came to Oxford during the war and he was not a straight academic. He didn’t have a university degree though he did give lectures under the auspices particularly of Lewis …
But you are interested however in the growing apart of Tolkien and Lewis. I can see various stages here. The first was when Lewis underwent his religious conversion, Tolkien expected that he’d probably become a Roman Catholic, and was disappointed and even shocked when Lewis ruled that out. And was quite clear that he was going to be an Anglican.
The Roman Catholic Church in the 1930’s was intellectually quite distinguished in many in tertiary converts like Evalyn Waugh (?) and Tolkien rather despised the Anglicans. He was quite an old fashioned Roman Catholic. So I think that was quite a rebuff to Tolkien who played an important part in Lewis’ conversion. And felt that Lewis had not thought things through. Lewis for his part, was fairly critical of Roman Catholicism.
But then I think a second stage, in their growing apart, would have been the coming of Charles Williams into the Inklings. They knew each other, Lewis and Williams, from the mid ’30’s because as you probably know, it was Charles Williams who worked at the university press who read the manuscript of Lewis, “Allegory of Love.” Had been very impressed by him, both personally, not just professionally, (inaudible). But I don’t think Tolkien was at all under the spell of Charles Williams, and he thought that Lewis was too much inveigled by the great charm that Charles Williams had. And people might think that that hid his strength to choose too much influence of Charles Williams and to not good effect. (inaudible – sounds like: He used much too much violence in his history…) That was stage two.
Perhaps there are other sides to the stories I do not know about. Then of course, what really upset Tolkien was Lewis’ marriage with Joy Gresham. And a lot of Lewis’ Oxford friends could not take that. I think that created considerable animosity between them.
DA: What was the issue?
KW: Well, for Tolkien I think simply he saw Joy Gresham as an adverturess, who had intruded into Lewis’ life. And had more less seduced him. And that he thought of her as – I don’t think he liked her Americanism. Perhaps her Jewishness. And she probably struck him as brash and as having a big cultural gap. Just Tolkien probably thought she was not worthy of Lewis and that this was quite forward – quite out of Lewis’ character to marry anyway. And then for him to marry someone like this – a divorced woman. And the feeling against divorce was strong.
DA: I wonder how much was a moral issue? Of course she was divorced and I think they had to see three different priests before they found one that would marry them.
KW: Yes, the had a civil marriage initially. But I think at that stage, sounds like the judge from the evidence, did not attest this to be a real marriage at that stage. They were friends. And he married her so she could stay in England, but then of course that changed not very much afterwards. Yes, the person who did their church marriage I think in the hospital at Joy Gresham’s bedside was Peter Bide, who I knew, but I don’t think he’s still alive. He was chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall when I knew him, but I don’t know what he was then. Of course Lewis kept the civil marriage with Joy a secret from (inaudible) It was very strange. But I don’t think Tolkien ever got over that.
I can remember hearing Joy Gresham speak. It was at a Sunday meeting in Tuesday House (?) and she had written a book called “Smoke on the Mountain,” but she was not known over here in Britain at all as a writer or a thinker. So, however, Purity House organized Sunday afternoon tea meetings with a talk. And we knew that Lewis was going to be at the chair, so I and others went along and I remember nothing much about her talk. She had a rather low gravely voice and I was not particularly struck by the talk. Just one thing I remember from it she mentioned how Hasieim danced when he prayed.
KW: Hasieim. H-a-s-i-e-i-m
DA: Is that Jewish?
KW: Jewish, 18th century. And that was her Jewish background that she referred to. That’s the only thing I remember. What struck me however was that Lewis seemed personally, strangely protective towards her. He seemed strangely nervous and anxious that we should appreciate it. And of course we hadn’t the slightest notion that – whether they were married then, I don’t know, probably not, but that there was any special relation between them. But I do remember thinking that it was odd that Lewis should seem not just the normal sport a chairman would give to his speaker, but he seemed to have concern that we should appreciate it. And I do remember wondering what – though the truth never entered my head. We didn’t learn until much later about things.
DA: One of the biographers – I can’t remember his name – research was done in the registration (immigration/) office – I forget what you call it. Because ostensibly Joy was not going to be able to stay in England without getting Lewis to -whether the law married her – extensive research was done at the immigration offices and there was never anything found along the lines of her not applying or not being able to come over here. The implication was that it was all a ruse!
KW: So, she suggested to Lewis – so see that was exactly the reaction of people like Tolkien who would have felt that she had ensnared, taken advantage of and I think that is why many of Lewis’ friends were appalled….
DA: The way I perceive the characters and how well I’ll be able to pull this off – I see Tolkien as being the more discerning of the two. Tolkien was also timid and shy in some ways – but he could see more into the character of Charles Williams and see more into the character of Joy Gresham – He was more sensitive and discerning and not going to defend people so easily. He’s more aware of all the nuances. Whereas Lewis had more of a take charge personality that sometimes messes things along the way. I think I have a personality kind of like that so I can relate to it. But I think that Lewis – I see the two contrasted that way. And I also see that while Tolkien struggled with bitterness – and that will clearly be discussed – Tolkien was one of those temperamental, artistic types who struggle with being sensitive but also with bitterness and unforgiveness towards Lewis.
Tolkien may have had legitimate concerns about Lewis from a moral perspective. And I think this is one of the reasons Tolkien felt very betrayed by Lewis, I believe it’s because – I think it’s the Christian ideals that he held so highly during those twenty years they were the best of friends that Tolkien saw something – just wondered –
But you know, Lewis was the – this is the way I perceive it, Lewis really in part – the core of his character was one of reaching to the limits – kind of going all the way with all the gusto, that’s an American phrase, you know, and first he did that with Atheism and then he switched to Christian apologetics and then he sort of switched a bit with fantasy writing, and then ultimately he switched and did it with a woman. He was a man of passion and a man of heart, which is all those things like that. Now the characterization of Lewis as the apologist, the Christian, the arguer or whatever, the Shadowlands kind of character – that’s not really the true character of a man of passion.
Tolkien is the temperamental artist, very brilliant genius and struggles with forgiveness and bitterness. And these are the way I see the two characters contrasted.
KW: Now, I think there’s a lot of truth in this. I think probably as you say, Lewis was not a good judge of character. And he was inclined to become under the spell. And, yes, one thing in Lewis’ background to be taken into account is his Northern Ireland upbringing. And that would come over to a more Englishman as being a bit overbearing even boorish to people. Some of his pupils felt that he was a bit of a bully, and if you were brilliant and could stand up to his argument, but if not he would flatten you with (inaudible) …story of C.S. Lewis and John Betjeman – simply that Lewis did not appreciate someone like Betjeman and Betjeman just felt him as overbearing … As not offering him any encouragement.
So, that is one side of Lewis’ character. His Northern Irishness. His father after all pleaded in court, he was a solicitor, he pleaded in court. He was prosecutor on behalf of the police. So, if you are prosecuting all these petty criminals in court, you have to be quite aggressive.
DA: Ah, so he grew up in this environment –
KW: And I think that Lewis and his father had a difficult relationship after his mother’s death. Found his father aggressive, but other people find Lewis showing the same characteristics of being aggressive. And I could see that.
Tolkien, I think was much – I mean Lewis was an extrovert – Tolkien was much more introverted. But that made Tolkien shrewder. Lewis made such a lot of noise he didn’t notice what the other people were saying.
DA: And then Tolkien was able to win professorships and a little more diplomatic and Lewis not so much.
KW: Well, he did this at a very early date, writing one or two very scholarly articles and doing good apprenticeship work on purely linguistics … which was turned into good effect later in his books. But yes, Lewis didn’t make, in strictly academic terms, such good career (inaudible), was relegated to the treadmill of (inaudible) tutorials.
DA: From a psychological perspective, I’ll pay close attention to the fact that Tolkien’s father died when he was four. And Lewis, though he may have had a difficult relationship with his father at times, he did have a very strong father figure and a brother and plenty of ? to go around. And I believe what happens when Tolkien meets up with Lewis – and Lewis apparently has this ability to discover genius in Williams and Tolkien, but finally someone of the caliber of Tolkien who has the brilliance and the perception for fantasy and myth, all of a sudden Lewis sees the genius in Tolkien kind of culls it out of him, and also challenges him and really plays the fatherly role that someone who’s lost his mother has (?) what happens is they become the best of friends. And Lewis is responsible for Tolkien becoming the great man that he became in publishing all this that he published. (inaudible)
KW: Well, I know, yes. And initially the reaction was this is unpublished, but Lewis did encourage Tolkien. Lewis, there, was generous. Lewis showed I think no jealousy for Tolkien’s success. He genuinely welcomed it. Whereas Tolkien was jealous at an early stage of Lewis’ success.
DA: And jealous of Charles Williams.
KW: And jealous of Charles Williams.
DA: Because of this attachment problem, to use psychological terms, Tolkien had an attachment issue since his father died at four. Otherwise it’s very hard to understand why Tolkien would react so odd by the mere fact that another intimate would – a normal well adjusted person would be able to handle that. He was a genius who had a difficult childhood and had some issues –
KW: Yes, another thing to bear in mind about Tolkien is that his marriage was [difficult]. I don’t know if you are aware of that.
DA: I’ve heard some things.
KW: Of course, you know the story how they were childhood sweethearts. Their guardian, priest looked after Tolkien, did not want him to marry her. Certainly not at such a young age and to wait until he was twenty-one. And then as soon as he could, he did marry. And she became a Catholic in order to marry Tolkien. Now she seems to be jealous of Tolkien’s male friends, felt that he was too much out of the home, and wives in those days were not incorporated in college life. A woman could not be received either as guests at high table – it’s a male world. And she didn’t make all that many friends. She felt she was a bit looked down on. She was not an intellectual. Also, in her later life, she more or less lost her faith. And Tolkien blamed himself for that. But Tolkien was a very strict Catholic and went to mass every day. Old fashioned Catholic. And he felt that he must have set such a bad example to his wife that she – she never abandoned the Roman Catholic church, she just gave up going to church.
DA: First that I’ve heard of this.
KW: No, this you see gave Tolkien tremendous feelings of guilt about faith that he did not manage to transmit his Catholic faith and vision to her.
DA: What I read was that she went to mass with him regularly early on then through the mid years stopped going and then later –
KW: She may have come back a bit.
DA: That’s what I thought I read. That may be in Tolkien’s biography – his authorized biography.
KW: It may be true. I don’t know the details. What I do know is that a friend of mine, a Roman Catholic Jesuit, Robert Monty, who was a friend of the Tolkien family. He said to me Tolkien thought he was going to go to hell because he had not made his wife a better Catholic. Tolkien had a strong impression. Robert Monty, said, “Oh, yes. He was very much afraid of hell.” And the Roman Catholic church (inaudible) So there was that side of things, too, which may have made problems for Tolkien personally, which you know his marriage wasn’t so good.
I don’t think Lewis was in particularly friends with Tolkien’s wife. I don’t think he was given the chance of getting to know her. I don’t think Tolkien invited his men friends back to –
DA: Did you come across the ironic fact that near the end Mrs. Tolkien and Joy Gresham were in the hospital together and they struck up a friendship? Which to me sounds a little bit more like the interview with Joy Gresham would for an opportunity to – but there is some irony there. I maybe able to use that.
KW: It’s interesting. I think that Tolkien’s wife had an inferiority complex. She was just not important. Tolkien was a very good fellow. Loved his sons. And that was good.