“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” —Helen Keller

1: Together, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia have sold more than 300 million books. These two British authors continue to impact the world of fictional fantasy and leave a footprint on our modern culture.

“But what most people don’t realize is that without their friendship, none of these books would have been written,” write Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy in Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork. “Without C. S. Lewis’s encouragement, it’s doubtful that J. R. R. Tolkien would have ever written The Lord of the Rings. Without Tolkien’s prodding, Lewis may have never converted back to Christianity, which deeply influenced Lewis’s books.”

We tend to assume that both men were lone geniuses.  We think The Lord of the Rings was “always somewhere buried within” Ronald Tolkien, its publication “inevitable.”

In reality, Ronald’s “thoughts were heavily influenced” by Jack Lewis. “Without that meshing of ideas and the confidence that ensued, Ronald could not have written these books,” the authors write.

Ronald met Jack at a faculty meeting in 1926, one year after he began teaching at Oxford University. “They didn’t hit it off initially,” Dan and Ben note. In his journal, Jack described Ronald as “a smooth, pale fluent little chap—no harm in him: only needs a smack or so.”

In time, however, they connected over their shared interest in Norse mythology. They began to meet with a few others “informally in a private back room (called the Rabbit Room) of the Eagle and Child pub on the Oxford campus,” note Dan and Ben. “The literary group, which called themselves, ‘The Inklings,’ would meet to discuss and workshop one another’s endeavors.”

2: On December 6, 1929, Ronald asked Jack to read his poem, The Lay of Leithian, “which consisted of more than 4,200 verses and told the story of the mortal man Beren, who escaped to the world of elves and fell in love with the immortal elf maiden Lúthien,” the authors write. Ronald “had been privately working on this poem for four years. Given the unique nature of his work, [he] was apprehensive to share.”

A day later, Jack wrote to Ronald with enthusiasm: “I can honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight; and the personal interest of reading a friend’s work has very little to do with it.”

He praised the poem and later followed up with a detailed commentary. Shortly after that, Ronald “received a deeply thoughtful and comprehensive list of feedback, from the overarching themes to suggestions for replacements of individual words,” the authors write. Jack “suggested specific revisions and even rewrote sections of the poem.”

Ronald appreciated the suggestions “and heavily revised his poem to include many of [Jack]’s suggestions,” the authors note.

It was “incredibly risky” for Ronald to share his work and “expose his art so deeply,” Dan and Ben write. Later, Jack “took the similar risk of sharing his own poetry with [Ronald], who likewise provided substantial and unsparing critique and feedback.”

Later in life, Ronald wrote of Jack: “He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought The L. of the R. to a conclusion.”

3: In time, Ronald would return the favor. On a fall evening in 1931, Jack went for a walk with Ronald and another fellow Inkling, Hugo Dyson. He was suffering a crisis of his faith. Together, the two men encouraged Jack.

By dawn of the following morning, Jack had decided to return to Christianity, “his re-dedication to which completely revolutionized [his] imagination and creativity, fueling his most important work and legacy,” note Dan and Ben. Without the prodding of his friends, Jack “would have never seen for himself the purpose of striving to convert so many to his faith.”

Jack needed a Who. Ronald needed a Who.

“Without each other, their incredibly important work would not have become what it did. Indeed, their work may have never been known,” Dan and Ben surmise. “It was the encouragement and support they received from each other that ultimately transformed and expanded their individual purposes in life.”

The same is true for us. Our “identity is not fixed, but rather based upon [our] current experiences,” they write. Our “identity and purpose will expand as [we] have experiences of encouragement and support through the right Whos.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Where do I need more Whos to help me accomplish what I ultimately want to do? What relationships do I already have that are being underutilized?

Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.

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