Space, Time, and the 'New Hobbit' - C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien discuss science fiction.

Excerpted from the forthcoming literary biography <a href="" target="new">Tolkien and C.S. Lewis</a> by Colin Duriez.

J.R.R. TolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien

Lewis looks thoughtfully out of the window of his big sitting room in Magdalen College on to the deer park it overlooks. It's the spring of 1936. ... On his right hand is the reassuring sight of his favorite path "Addison's Walk" where, five years before, Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and he had had that momentous nighttime conversation that led to his conversion.

He turns to address his friend, who is perched on a threadbare armchair, the room's handsome white-paneled walls behind him. Tolkien reaches for an enamel beer jug on the table and refills his tankard.

"You know, Tollers, there's far too little of what we enjoy in stories. You liked Williams's The Place of the Lion just as much as I did. Really it struck me how rare such books are."

Tolkien exclaims through dispersing wisps of smoke, "Not enough echoes of the horns of Elfland."

He sucks on his pipe to encourage its dying embers. "Some of the Scientifiction [science fiction] around evokes wonder - sometimes offers fleeting glimpses of genuine other worlds. There is some deplorable stuff, too, but that's true of all the genres. Space and time stories can provide Recovery and Escape." He says the last two nouns with sudden loudness, perhaps to emphasize that they should have capitals. "I hope to lecture soon on this as a quality of Fairy Story. I relish stories that survey the depths of space and time."

"To be sure, to be sure," agrees Lewis, drawing attention to the slight Ulster in his vowels. He is unusually quiet this morning. "Take H. G. Wells. Even Wellsian stories can touch on the real other world of the Spirit. His early ones I care for - it's a pity he sold his birthright for a pot of message. These kinds of stories that create regions of the spirit - they actually add to life, don't they? They're like some dreams that only come from time to time - they give us sensations we've never had before. You could say they enlarge our very idea of what's possible in human experience."

"Your Pilgrim's Regress had something of what we like - romance. It's a pity it didn't do well with the public," Tolkien puts in. "Was a bit obscure in places. It can be a deuce of a labor to get it right."

"You know, Tollers," Lewis says decisively, pipe in hand. "I'm afraid we'll have to write them ourselves. We need stories like your Hobbit book, but on the more heroic scale of your older tales of Gondolin and Goblin wars. One of us should write a tale of time travel and the other should do space travel."

Tolkien reminds his friend of a rather similar challenge well over a century ago - Lord Byron, at Lake Geneva in 1816, had challenged Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley to write a ghost story ... and Mary, a mere girl at the time, went on to write Frankenstein. They needed, Tolkien continues, his eyes brightening, stories today that expose modern magic--the tyranny of the machine.

"Let's toss for it, Tollers. Heads, you write about time travel; tails, you try space travel. I'll do the other." Tolkien nods his agreement, grinning.

Lewis fishes in the pocket of his crumpled and baggy flannels and a coin spins in the air.

"Heads it is."

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