Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Margaret
BLESS ME, friends, for I have sinned—a sin of omission. It has been decades since I’ve read the works of the Inklings with any kind of concentration. So much of my reading is ad hoc, and oriented to my next deadline, that I’ve had to deny myself certain pleasures I enjoyed when I was younger.
Yet the Inklings have remained in my life as a kind of background radiation. If I enjoy friendship today—and I do—it is because I learned something about it from Lewis and Tolkien.
I’m not talking about their theorizing or theologizing. I know the great one-liners from The Four Loves. I see them all the time on greeting cards and posters. “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” And: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Just one more day for the annual amount of new monthly memberships to be matched dollar for dollar!
Those lines are lovely and true. But I would not have remembered them if not for the posters. They’re not the background radiation I mean. That comes from the art of Lewis and Tolkien.
Friendship is more than a plot device for them. It is the plot. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of any of their characters in isolation. In my imagination, each lives forever in relation to particular others. In memory they arise with their friends: Lucy Pevensie with Mr. Tumnus, Frodo with Sam.
And the friendship the Inklings mapped in their work, they modeled in life. Both Lewis and Tolkien were strong and distinct personalities; they differed in important ways, and they disagreed about important principles. Yet I cannot think for long about one of them without thinking about the other too.
If you look at the history of their friendship through their letters and memoirs and the accounts of mutual friends, you find out that they hurt each other, misunderstood each other, and second-guessed each other. Their friendship was strained, damaged, changed, and challenged by their words and by their silences—and yet it endured to death and, we may hope, even beyond. Theirs was a relationship as difficult, beautiful, and fruitful as the fourth-century bond between Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian.
Maybe it’s because I’m Catholic, but I cannot help but think of Lewis and Tolkien as much-needed patrons—as icons of friendship—for a time that has lost the art. What they had was not a modern bromance or an old-time buddy film. It was something more rugged and durable. What they had is something we need to learn.
Social media have debased friendship—trivialized it, sexualized it, and commoditized it. They’ve also made it possible for us to self-select communities of ideological purity (supersized thumbs-up!) that will never pose a threat or a challenge to the thoughts we like to think.
This was not the way of the Inklings. It was not the way of the Inklings’ fictional characters. And I daresay it’s not the way of Christian friendship. Screwtape must delight, today, in the high-fiving that goes on in private Facebook groups of ideologically identical Christians.
“I call you friends,” Jesus told the men He knew were about to betray, deny, and abandon him. He also said: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials.”
Friendship isn’t always pretty or easy, but it endures. Lewis and Tolkien knew that because they knew the Gospels. At the same supper when Jesus declared His disciples to be “friends,” He also prayed (three times) “that they may all be one.” And we have to believe that His prayer will be fulfilled.
Such unity begins (in my opinion) not in grand ecumenical statements drafted at some resort in Switzerland or France, but rather in honest friendships that last— even when the friends are Christians who deeply differ and disagree.
Mike Aquilina is the author of many books, husband to one wife, and father to six children (most of them semi-crazed fans of the Inklings). His recent collection of poems is Terms and Conditions. He has hosted two documentary films and nine television series. His songs have been recorded by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists Paul Simon and Dion.