Originally published in Winter 2013
On Oct. 2, 1937, readers opened the “Times Literary Supplement” to find a review of a remarkable new book.
“This is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery,” the reviewer explained. He also made the point that the book “will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true.”
The reviewer was C. S. Lewis. The book was “The Hobbit.” Its author was an obscure Oxford philologist named J. R. R. Tolkien.
Of all the things Lewis said in his review, his closing statement — one which must have seemed quite bold back in 1937 — proved to be the most accurate of all. “Prediction is dangerous,” Lewis concluded, “but ‘The Hobbit’ may well prove a classic.”
More than 75 years later, Lewis’s prediction seemed an understatement as fans around the world shelled out $85 million in one weekend to see the first of director Peter Jackson’s three films on Tolkien’s beloved story.
Devin began to come into the confused seas of my consciousness when his name began to appear as one of many ‘C.S. Lewis Scholars and experts’ who crop up, make a small splash for a while and then sink back into nonentity. Devin, however, really is a C.S. Lewis Scholar — and a darned good one at that.
C.S. Lewis’s closest relative and consultant for all of the Narnia films
Asbury English Professor Devin Brown discovered Tolkien’s fiction during middle school while on a camping vacation with his family in Northern Indiana.
“I knew that I was going to be sitting at a picnic table in a state park for two weeks, so before we left I checked out the four biggest books from our library’s fantasy and science fiction shelf,” Brown explained. “I had no idea who Tolkien was. And because his narrator pretends to be reporting a true story, for the first 30 pages I actually thought there once were these little people called hobbits. I only gradually realized that Tolkien had made them up.”
After reading “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” Brown’s interest soon expanded to all things Lewis — beginning with “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Mere Christianity” and shortly afterwards moving on to “The Screwtape Letters.” The two writers became his two favorite authors, and have remained so.
“When I was in college, there were no classes on Lewis or Tolkien like the one I now teach at Asbury,” Brown noted. “I just read as much as I could on my own, and when I met someone who shared my interest, we were instant friends. As soon as I finished my dissertation — which because of the biases of the academy could not be about Lewis or Tolkien — I was free to write about what I wanted, I knew the direction my research would take. I published my first article on Lewis about six months later and never looked back.”