(Tel.) When JRR Tolkien bet CS Lewis: the wager that gave birth to The Lord of the Rings

Once upon a time two friends made a wager. “Tollers,” one said to the other, “there is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves.” At this time CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were “like two young bear cubs… just happily quipping with one another”, in the words of an Oxford contemporary.

Their historic wager to write about space- and time-travel was a vital step on the road to their most famous fantasy works ”“ yet it has never been pinpointed more precisely than 1936”“37. Now, however, we can reveal that the germ of the idea emerged during a few days precisely eighty years ago.

The year 1936 had seen the two Oxford English dons hit their academic zenith with works that still shape medieval literary studies today: Lewis’s The Allegory of Love and Tolkien’s Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. Yet they were also wannabe authors ”“ Lewis, 38, was an unsuccessful poet, and Tolkien, almost 45, an unpublished mythmaker.

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