What did J.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald Have In Common?

They were all great writers of fantasy. True, but there’s something more. In reading Devin Brown’s latest book, Tolkien, I discovered something deeper that ties them together. He explains,

“When he [Tolkien] was twelve, he and his younger brother suffered yet another great blow, this one even more devastating. [The first was the loss of his father when Tolkien was only four.] On November 14, 1904, Mabel Tolkien died of complications resulting from Type 1 Diabetes–two decades before the insulin treatment we know today would become available. She was thirty-four.”

“Exactly what the childhood loss of a mother has to do with writing extraordinarily captivating and heartrending fantasy literature later in life can only be speculated, but it seems something more than coincidence that it was a loss three of the world’s greatest fantasy authors each suffered. C.S. Lewis, who would become Tolkien’s close friend and supporter, was nine when his mother died. George MacDonald, whose writings had a major impact on both Tolkien and Lewis, lost his mother when he was eight.”

“Motherless characters would be even more numerous in Tolkien’s fiction than fatherless ones–among them we find Sam, Boromir and Faramir, and Eowyn and Eomer. In addition, Arwen and her two brothers are without a mother, as Celebrian has left Middle-earth and passed over the sea to the Blessed Realm. Most significantly in the Family Tree found in the Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings, we learn that Frodo was twelve when his parents died in a boating accident, leaving him an orphan at exactly the age Ronald [Tolkien] was when he lost his only surviving parent.”

“Later in life, Tolkien wrote that with the death of his mother, he felt like ‘a castaway left on a barren island under a heedless sky after the loss of a great ship.’ C.S. Lewis turned to a similar metaphor to describe his own loss, writing: ‘With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” (19-21)

Tolkien is from Abingdon Press. It is a paperback with 192 pages. I’ve read three other books by Brown (all listed below in his bio) and have enjoyed them all. He is a great writer. It was actually reading his book Inside Narnia (Baker Books) that first attracted me to read The Chronicles of Narnia. So I was a late comer to The Chronicles but I owe a huge debt to Brown for whetting my appetite to read these children’s classics.

Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury University where he teaches a class on Lewis and Tolkien. He is the author of Inside Narnia (2005), Inside Prince Caspian (2008), and Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010). He has spoken at Lewis and Tolkien conferences in the UK and the U.S. Devin has published numerous essays on Lewis and Tolkien, including those written for CSLewis.com, ChristianityToday.com, SamaritansPurse.org, and BeliefNet.com. Devin earned a PhD at the University of South Carolina and currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky.




About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to What did J.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald Have In Common?

  1. ksusanh says:

    Better late than never! “The Horse and His Boy” is my favorite.


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