Tolkien and Friendship
The recent film Tolkien spends relatively little time portraying the works for which J.R.R Tolkien is famous. He does not even begin writing The Hobbit until the last scene of the movie. Instead, the movie focused on his early life, specifically his friendship with three schoolmates to whom he was intensely loyal. Although this might seem like an odd storytelling choice, it provides an illuminating glimpse of Tolkien’s life and presents a clear picture of what friendship can and should be.
Early in the movie, Tolkien meets three other young men, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith, and Christopher Wiseman, who share his interest in literature and art. Together, they form a club called the T.C.B.S. It was through this club that the boys deepened each other’s love for poetry and for each other. The movie shows the boys gathered many times throughout their adolescence to share their writings, art, or musical compositions.
Throughout the years, these boys develop a friendship that is much deeper than most. Their focus on finding beauty through art enables this. Many friendships develop when two or more people who interact regularly find that they enjoy one another’s company. However, when circumstances or interests change, many of these friendships slowly fade until the former friends become little more than strangers. This does not mean that either person did anything wrong, this simply revels the difficulty of building a deep friendship on a shallow foundation.
The members of the T.C.B.S no doubt enjoyed each other’s company. However, the friendship was not about their joy in each other, instead it was about their shared love of poetry and the arts. This meant that the T.C.B.S remained unaffected by the aging of its members or by the changing circumstances of their lives. As the boys get older, two go to Oxford and the other two go to Cambridge. Many friendships would be destroyed by this type of change. However, the time that they had spent reading and writing poetry with each other had knitted the souls of these men together in a way that allowed them to come together again as if nothing significant had changed.
The movie also did a good job of showing how the men of the T.C.B.S. were ennobled by the friendship. There are several scenes that show them acting more courageously than they would have otherwise due to the T.C.B.S. The movie presents two causes of this courage. First, the poetry and literature that the read extols them to courage. At one of the earliest T.C.B.S. meetings, a young J.R.R Tolkien shares with his friends a myth about a hall of punishment for warriors who die in any way other than in battle. Inspired by this myth, the boys pledge to each other that they will strive to live courageous lives worthy of the mythical heroes they read about.
In addition to the inspiration of the literature they read together, the T.C.B.S was able to ennoble its members because they were striving for virtue together. As the boys are preparing to go off to university, a situation develops where courtesy and justice require Rob Gilson to confront his demanding father, of whom he is terrified. Gilson has no inclination to do so, however, because the other members of the T.C.B.S are behind him, reminding him of the man he promised to be, Gilson is able to courageously confront his father.
This is a high ideal of friendship that is not often seen in modern society. Too often, we experience friendship only as enjoyment of common circumstances. Although there is nothing wrong with this, Tolkien, does a good job illustrating the possibility and benefits of a higher type of friendship.