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Lewis, Tolkien, and Philia

By Martina Juričková
September 22, 2018

In 1960 C. S. Lewis wrote a book, The Four Loves, in which he discussed the different kinds of love: charity, eros, affection, and friendship. While building on the tradition of Aristotle’s philia and Cicero’s De Amicitia and incorporating also Christian understanding, he introduces here some unique insights on the nature of friendship as philosophical and social phenomenon, inspired largely by his experience of relations within his own circle of Oxford friends, the Inklings, as he often exemplified in the text.

Although based on his own theory, it is questionable whether they ever talked about it, and very likely that the other members of this group had a similar if not entirely identical view of friendship. Indeed, some of the characteristics of friendship that Lewis presented can be observed, for instance, in the relationship of the two central heroes of Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam.

What exactly does Lewis say about friendship? First of all, Lewis claims that friendship is the least necessary of loves. A man does not need it for survival on the level of primary needs. It is the least natural love; man can live and reproduce without it. As Lewis says, I have no duty to become a friend with someone else as well as no one has a duty to become my friend. However, friendship is so useful for humans that most people do have at least some friends. It adds a new value to their lives and it becomes necessary for survival on some higher level of preserving one’s mental health (and sometimes even biological, if the friend’s life is threatened).

Friendship is a matter of free choice. It arises from companionship when two people realize that they share the same insights on something, have the same visions or see the same truth. Lewis describes the initiative moment as an exclamation: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” They need not agree about all of them; it is enough that they know or feel something that others do not. So in their interest they are drawn apart from the society and become intimate.

Friendship, like other loves, is based on affection, but contrary to eros, it is uninquisitive and the least jealous, and so it seems to be the most divine-like. Friends do not fear to extend their love to other people when those appear to share the same insights. Unlike Aristotle, Lewis admits that true friendship is not only a two-people relationship, but the more people are included, the better—because some qualities of a particular man can be brought out only by one person, while his other friend can make him show some other equally essential quality. And so the entire beauty of one’s personality is unveiled only in the circle of all his friends.

Friends, in Lewis’s perception, are pictured “side by side, absorbed in some common interest” or quest. However, the interest is not the primary aim of their friendship, but the friendship itself. So they are not ignorant of each other’s needs and feelings, even though they do not talk about their relationship much. They know each other the best; actually, in true friendship people expose to each other their naked personalities and when necessary, they help each other. Lewis says: “A friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies …” But that is not the primary aim of friendship and because Lewis does not understand mutual help as a duty of friends, it has actually no impact on the relationship. By this he probably means that even if help is provided from one side or another, there remains no debtor; the friends are still equals. This idea is clearly derived from the concept of Christian charity.

Lewis also reinvigorates Aristotle’s idea of friends as each other’s mirror, knowing each other so well. Further, he claims that friendship is strengthened by tests, some unfortunate events in the life of one which the other friend fully understands because it is like undergoing them himself. This showed loyalty then causes their reliance, respect, and admiration of each other to blossom. Sometimes the goodness of one’s friends causes him to feel “humility towards the rest. He sees that they are splendid and counts himself lucky to be among them.”

Another thing he has in common with Aristotle is their opinion about how the society perceives friendship. He states that friendship can be either a benefactor or a possible danger to the community. Since friends in their exclusive relationship are in some sense separated from the mass, they see it from a different perspective and can even affect it by their behavior towards other people. They can be beneficial for the society when they promote ideas the society approves of. But when they promote something that contradicts the general ideology of the society they belong to, they present a danger for it. Therefore, the authorities often distrust it.

According to Lewis, every friendship is a sort of rebellion; in its extreme either of “good men against the badness of society or of bad men against its goodness.” In friendship men become allies, support and stand for each other in every situation. It gives strength, increases courage and makes the good people better and bad worse. So men “who have real Friends are less easy to manage or ‘get at’; harder for good Authorities to correct or for bad Authorities to corrupt.” That explains why close friendships were often viewed as a danger and consequently oppressed.

Reading these lines you could probably realize that some of the characteristics also describe the relationship between Tolkien’s Frodo and Sam. Some of its features represent the points in which Tolkien’s view of true friendship corresponded with Lewis’s, even though it is uncertain who inspired whom, considering that Tolkien’s novel was written earlier than Lewis’s book.

Their relation undergoes the usual evolution, beginning as a master-servant relationship, in which no one is bound to become friends with the other. Though life-long companions who shared some common typical hobbit interests, for instance, liking of adventurous tales or food, it was nothing of the kind Lewis talks about. What really made them closer and turned their relationship into a firm friendship was being thrown into a common quest and going through all the tests and peril it provided. Especially Sam, who as a mere gardener, had no duty to become Frodo’s friend and who had many chances to leave him and go back home, but did not do it because of the special kind of love he developed towards Frodo. On top of that, the care Sam provides causes Frodo to admire him all the more, so while at the beginning it was Sam who felt humble (and does so to the very end, as the polite way he still addresses Frodo as “Master” proves) and lucky to be in the presence of someone he thought to be the best person he ever knew (maybe third to Gandalf and Bilbo), by the end even Frodo admires his companion, thinking him the greatest person and himself unworthy of yet lucky to have such a friend. Yet as Lewis states, their mutual affection and admiration do not imply they have to agree about or approve everything the other does, just like Sam dislikes Frodo’s trusting Gollum too easily and too much.

Besides that, the situation between Frodo and Sam perfectly exemplifies Lewis’s idea of friends standing side by side, absorbed in some common interest, and that friendship is useful for the survival of an individual. They are always standing side by side, Sam never leaving his master, and their common interest is the fulfillment of the quest: reaching and entering Mordor, finding the Cracks of Doom, and destroying the Ring. In addition, there were several occasions when Frodo would have died were it not for Sam’s friendship, and the quest would never be accomplished. It is their friendship that helps them survive the journey. And it is again mainly Sam who tends his friend with the greatest care when the need arises, like when Frodo was hurt by the Ringwraith’s blade and lying in fever in Elrond’s house. He gives Frodo his share of food and water when they just have the last bits and stands for him against any enemies that show up, be it Nazgûl, giant spiders, or a tower full of orcs. And though doing for him more than Frodo does in his turn, he does not view it as inequality, just the way Lewis thinks it should be with friends.

Another characteristic shared with Lewis’s understanding of friendship is their openness to other like-minded people, or better-said hobbits, namely Merry, Pippin, and Fatty Bolger. The quality of their relationships in pairs is different for each (Merry and Pippin, Frodo and the younger hobbits, Sam and the secret conspiracy), and again different and better when they are all together, much like Lewis, Tolkien, and the other Inklings. On the other hand, the later happenings show Sam and Frodo as the two friends, this time drawn apart together from herd. For they are first withdrawn from their home environment, becoming outlaws in pursue of their quest, with everyone they meet on their journey their possible enemy; and later they even leave the Fellowship of the Ring, continuing the journey only as a couple, relying solely on each other.

Further, there are some features which are reflected in the way Frodo and Sam interact with each other and which shape their intimacy, too. One of them is the fact that they seldom talk about their friendship, just like Lewis states it. Actually, they never discuss their relationship, nor do they need to affirm to each other that they are each other’s friend. Moreover, their mutual love is uninquisitive. Neither Sam, nor Frodo ever asks the other things that are not necessary or needful to know for the purpose of their quest. For example, they never ask about emotions and feelings, partially because they already know each other so well that they understand it without speaking. So their personalities are, as it were, naked; they know everything about each other and need not hide anything. Moreover, the fact that Sam himself for a while bore the Ring and thus afterward had a clear idea of Frodo’s suffering perfectly illustrates what Lewis meant when he wrote that a friend fully understands his pal’s misfortunes because he undergoes them, too.

But above all, Frodo’s and Sam’s relationship represents the concept that friendship is both a potential benefit and also danger for the society. Their friendship is beneficial for the free peoples of Middle-earth, since as a result, it helps them win the war against evil and preserve their freedom. But on the other hand, it represents danger with devastating impact for Sauron when they penetrate into the heart of his realm and destroy the Ring, the source of his power. Because of this marvelous potency friendship gives to the individual, it forms the nucleus of Tolkien’s world and provides a good example for its readers.


Topics: Fiction, Media / Arts, Theology

Martina Juričková

Martina Juričková is from Slovakia, currently working on her Phd degree in English Studies at Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Slovakia. Her main interest is literature and particularly Tolkien. She also teaches English at a secondary vocational school.

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