If you are a student of literature, and have a special interest in authors spiritual and religious backgrounds, then a these 2 writers will be a fascinating study. These two writers were both converts to Catholicism. One converted early on in his youth, the other converted later on in life after a devastating illness.
J.R.R. Tolkien and his mother both converted at the same time. He was 8 years old at the time. It caused great conflict in the family. His father’s family disapproved and this led to incredibly emotional and financial strife for the mother and her two sons. Tolkien would never shrink from admitting his Catholic background, even stating that his most popular work, The Lord Of The Rings, was essentially a “Catholic work”. Tolkien was also important in the conversion of another English writers, C.S. Lewis. The conversion of Lewis, however did not lead to the Catholic Church, but to the Church of England. The two men had lengthy debates over the years over both religions as well as novelistic techniques to convey religious concepts. Tolkien preferred to be more subtle, whereas C.S. Lewis wanted a very clear and obvious Christian allegory in his work, as is evidenced in his Chronicles of Narnia series.
Walker Percy was born into a Southern family with a tragic history. His paternal grandfather committed suicide, as did his own father. As a child he went to live with an uncle who was a genuine “Southern Gentleman” and expected Percy to enter into Law. Instead, Percy pursued a career in medicine, intending to be a physician. However, he was waylaid after contracting tuberculosis (TB) while working in the morgue. At the time he was an agnostic, and had little interest in religious thought. However, when he was recuperating from the TB at a sanatorium he started to read philosophy, particularly European existentialists such as Camus and Kierkegaard. This line of study lead to Percy reading Christian philosophers such as Aquinas.
When he was released from the rest home, Percy decided that he was no longer interested in working as a physician, and instead wanted to be a novelist. He married, and then the following year he converted to Catholicism.
His novels show the dual influences of European existentialism and Catholic theology. For instance, his first novel, The Moviegoer, was seen as a descendant of Camus’s The Stranger, except Percy included a strong Catholic subtext that allowed for the protagonist to escape his existentialist dread, unlike the counterpart in The Stranger whose dread eventually leads him to the gallows.
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