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Tolkien and Lewis as Pre-evangelists

March 20, 2015

I have been reading Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, by Holly Ordway (Ignatius, 2010), the autobiography of her conversion from atheism to Christ. Ordway is a professor of English literature, and her biography provides an interesting insight into the old Tolkien-versus-Lewis debate. As is well known, Tolkien and CS Lewis were friends, although, as is also well known, Tolkien had a strong disliking for Lewis’s style of allegorical writing. Indeed, readers themselves tend to polarize around one or other of the two. Ordway, however, describes how both of them prepared her for her eventual conversion.

Here is some of what she says about Tolkien: “Long before I gave any thought to whether Christianity was true, and long before I considered questions of faith and practice, my imagination was being fed Christianly….At some point in my childhood, I found JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and that changed everything. Not suddenly. Not even immediately. But slowly, surely. Like light from an invisible lamp, God’s grace was beginning to shine out from Tolkien’s works, illuminating my godless imagination with  Christian vision….The Lord of the Rings was where I first encountered the Christian evangelium, the good news….[S]omething took root in my reading of Tolkien that would flower many years later” (24-25).

Here is some of what she says about Lewis: “The idea of a personal God was almost impossible for me to grasp to begin with, let alone the Christian claim that the Creator became a human person…I could understand the definition of the word ‘Incarnation’ but not grasp its meaning….But what if the idea of the Incarnation did not have to be solved like a math problem.. .what if I could get hold of its meaning in a different way? I picked up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: this time not to analyze it for my dissertation but to enter Narnia like a little girl again. And I encountered Aslan….In Narnia I found that the Incarnation was not a bizarre idea, out of place in the world. It infused the very atmosphere. I breathed it in and was strengthened by it. That God would join his creatures by becomng part of creation himself seemed, here in Narnia, as fitting as the fact that winter’s end brought crocuses peeking brightly through half-melted snow…” (86-87).

Ordway also describes how other Christian writers, from Donne to Hopkins, prepared her imagination and worldview for her eventual turn to God and conversion to Christ. But what strikes me in Ordway’s account of Tolkien and Lewis is her ‘both/and’, rather than ‘either/or’, appreciation of them both, for each contributed to her eventual conversion in their own way.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 20, 2015 11:38 am

    Good post. Did you see here 2014 version of Not God’s Type? It fills out her conversion a bit more, though the aspect you are talking about doesn’t change much.

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Vinoth Ramachandra

IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement

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