Lewis and Tolkein: The Lost Road by Robin Brooks

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 22 November 2013
Robin Brooks' charming play worked at several levels.  Superficially it focused on the relationship between C. S. Lewis (Pip Torrens) and J. R. R. Tolkein (Tom Goodman-Hill).  Both worked at Oxford University and spent their leisure-time writing children's stories.  In their early years they were close friends, swapping experiences of World War One as well as commenting on one another's work.  As time passed, however, so their relationship became more distant: Lewis seldom paid much attention to Tolkein's wife, and Tolkein retaliated by ignoring Lewis when the latter married Joy Gresham.  The two were only reconciled in death, when they met up in heaven.
On another level, The Lost Road looked at the reasons why both writers chose to create worlds of their own in their respective works.  For Tolkein the desire to recreate Middle Earth was due to patriotic concerns; in his view Britain lacked the kind of medieval and ancient myths characteristic of other European nations, and he saw it as his responsibility to fill the breach.  For Lewis the world of Narnia not only helped him re-negotiate his relationship to God, but took him back to a childhood world of innocence (purity, perhaps).  The fact that both authors had different reasons for writing helped to create a spirit of competition, which perhaps explains why they became so distant towards one another.
The story was narrated by the Elf Queen (Haydn Gwynne) in mock-Tolkeinesque language, full of inverted verbs and their subjects recalling The Lord of the Rings.  The conceit was not only amusing - drawing our attention to the portentousness of Tolkein's style - but also gave the play a mythopoeic quality.  What we were listening to was not just a bio-drama, but a classic tale of an author-academic's fight to create alternative worlds that were also believable. 
The two central performances from Goodman-Hill and Torrens were both affecting and memorable, supported by cameos from Gwynne, Carolyn Pickles and Harry Jardine.