Kingdom of Priests

I’d never heard these two wonderful anecdotes, reported in a review by Michael Weingrad in the brand new (and quite impressive) Jewish Review of Books:

Although it might seem unlikely that anyone would wonder whether the author of The Lord of the Rings was Jewish, the Nazis took no chances. When the publishing firm of Ruetten & Loening was negotiating with J. R. R. Tolkien over a German translation of The Hobbit in 1938, they demanded that Tolkien provide written assurance that he was an Aryan. Tolkien chastised the publishers for “impertinent and irrelevant inquiries,” and–ever the professor of philology– lectured them on the proper meaning of the term: “As far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects.” As to being Jewish, Tolkien regretted that “I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”

Needless to say, C. S. Lewis wasn’t Jewish either, though he did marry a Jewish convert to Anglican Christianity (played by Deborah Winger in the film Shadowlands). In fact, when one of her two sons from a previous marriage became increasingly observant, Lewis turned to the great Jewish historian Cecil Roth for advice on finding kosher food and shabbat hospitality for his stepson. But of course no one would suppose the author of Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia to have been Jewish himself. Tolkien had famously converted his friend and fellow Oxford don from skepticism to Christianity through a series of conversations that led Lewis to the realization that “the story of Christ is simply a true myth.”

Tolkien and Lewis’s gentility would hardly bear comment were it not for the fact that they are not isolated examples in this regard, but only the most well-known figures within an entire literary genre–perhaps the only such genre–in which Jewish practitioners are strikingly rare.

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