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The different worlds of Tolkien (Middle Earth) and Lewis (Narnia)

Rivendell_librarian

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I'm reading William Gray's Fantasy Myth and the Measure of Truth.

In his chapter on Tolkien and the Love of Faery, Gray states that Tolkien found Lewis's use of unmistakable Christian material "distasteful" since they "blurred the ontological boundary between the primary world (where, for Tolkien, Christ had in fact become incarnate) and the secondary sub-created world which had to be kept free of any explicitly Christian ideas.

For Tolkien, this sub-creation was a duty to be creative in imitation of God's creativity. The sub-creation is not real unlike God's creation.
 

Sir Eowyn

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What's fascinating in this is that Tolkien took great, almost neurotic pains to make Middle-earth a consistent place... and Lewis just let 'er rip. Everything, Christian or pagan or what, went into the Narnia pot.

I know that the fastidious Tolkien couldn't abide Edmund Spenser, for instance (author of the Elizabethan epic, "The Faerie Queene"), because of a similar wild caprice. Spenser had no problem having Christian knights and ladies side by side with Zeus, and with no clear sense of geography. The Faerie Land, in Spenser, is basically poetry itself, the spirit of anything can lurk around the corner, you just never know. It's a different spirit of authorship, one that Lewis cheerfully followed in the footsteps of and Tolkien found distasteful. Even though they were friends, I know that old John Ronald never really approved of Narnia. Mr Tumnus' book, for example, on "Nymphs and Their Ways" set him off. Interestingly, he remembered it being more risque than it actually was, which says quite something about him... like the Victorian mind, so filthy it had to drape table legs.
 

Rivendell_librarian

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Thanks for your post Sir Eowyn!

Actually William Gray writes quite a lot about how Spenser's Faerie Queen (FQ) relates to Tolkien and Lewis's works (I haven't read it) e.g. quoting from Tolkien's essay on Smith of Wootton Major:

"Faery is not religious. It is fairly evident that it is not Heaven or Paradise. Certainly its inhabitants, Elves, are not not angels or emissaries of God (direct). The tale does not deal with religion itself. The Elves are not busy with a plan to reawake religious devotion in Wootton"
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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Apt parallel with Spenser, Sir Eowyn. I'd add the fact that he and Lewis were writing more-or-less explicit allegory, which we know Tolkien also detested. Of course, given his goals, Lewis could defend dragging in anything that would help get his point across, no matter how incongruous. I recall Tolkien being especially caustic about having the children's weapons delivered to them by Santa Claus.

I believe the difference between them goes deeper, having to do with a basic opposition in attitude toward the creation of literature, but that can wait.

As for his "Victorian mind", I recall a quote from him: "I have no objection to sex stories; I've written some myself".

It's true that he toned down the story of Eol, but that may have been with an eye on publication. You might find this thread of interest:

 
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Sir Eowyn

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Even so I find the Narnia stories have a naive appeal.
I wouldn't call it naive, exactly---despite his writing ostensibly for children, Lewis to me is as great a writer as Tolkien, every inch. But yes, the kind of detail that went into Middle-earth wasn't Lewis's interest, exactly.

Thank you, Squint-eyed---yes, Lewis and Spenser loved naked, straight-ahead allegory, symbols and whatnot. Again, different strokes. Two powerful 20th-century writers of romance and heroic legend, with two different styles.
 

Rivendell_librarian

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And Lewis wrote more than Tolkien and of greater variety: Christian apologetics and philosophy, a SF trilogy, personal spiritual biography (Surprised by Joy) and the famous radio broadcasts as well as more academic works. Tolkien admits his obsession with getting his creation right in Leaf by Niggle.
 

TrollinSun

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And Lewis wrote more than Tolkien and of greater variety: Christian apologetics and philosophy, a SF trilogy, personal spiritual biography (Surprised by Joy) and the famous radio broadcasts as well as more academic works. Tolkien admits his obsession with getting his creation right in Leaf by Niggle.
Well Tolkien helped convince and convert Lewis to Catholicism. His belief throughout all his life experiences (WWI, etc.) helped Lewis along his conversion from atheism to Catholicism.
 

Olorgando

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Actually, Lewis became "Good ol'" C of E -- to Tolkien's dissapointment.
CS and his older brother Warren "Warnie" Lewis both returned to the practice of their Christian faith in (late) 1931. In origin, this had been (in Ulster, where both were born and grew up) a "Church of (Northern) Ireland" faith. The Church of England was the only available equivalent where they had by now lived for decades. JRRT more than once commented on there being a bit at least of "Ulster" remaining in CSL - and "Ulster" was without a doubt not a complimentary term when uttered by JRRT.
 

Olorgando

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Although Lewis's Mere Christianity was deliberately non-denominational as are Chronicles of Narnia and the SF trilogy.
To us perhaps, even those of us adhering to one or the other Christian denomination.

I would strongly suspect that JRRT, viewing his mother's death (from diabetes, insulin treatment for which was still decades in the future) as resulting at least in part from the persecution, as he saw it, by many on both sides of the family, would be extremely sensitive to any Protestant prejudices vis-a-vis Catholics that he believed to detect. As I am currently re-reading Carpenter's "Letters", some quotes are quite fresh in memory. From letter 261, written 30 August 1964 to Anne Barrett of the Houghton Mifflin Co. (his American publishers):
"[CSL] was after all and remained an Irishman of Ulster. …. He was generous-minded, on guard against all prejudices, though a few were to deep-rooted in his native background to be observed by him." (italics mine).

Now it a sad fact of humanity that especially in times of tension, xenophobia of all sorts is harped on and emphasized by demagogues and rabble-rousers of all ilk. Think of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, and think of how they might have seemed to non-Christians, neutrals as it were, viewing them from the outside. Differences that would seem to them negligible blown all out of proportion, mountains made out of molehills.

These efforts by some of the least savory parts of any society blur the far larger overlap, the commonalities of, in my current example, of the Christian denominations, One can extend this to the other two monotheistic religions of note, then to the Hindu / Buddhist complex, to what could be call the Confucian / Taoist one (these are naturally views of an outsider; Hindus and Buddhist would very likely emphasize the differences they have, as would Confucians and Taoists). In East Asia, Buddhism and Confucianism also influenced each other, as well as local variants like Shinto in Japan. One can extend these areas of overlap to other religions and secular philosophies (themselves also influenced by the religions the cohabit with).

To quote the perhaps most often quoted letter of JRRT's, no. 142 to Father Robert Murray, S.J. [Jesuit] of 02 December 1953:
".... The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. [this is where many quotes stop] That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults and practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."
Fundamentally Catholic; but fundamental also to non-Catholic Christians; non-Christian monotheists; non-monotheists etc.
That is why LoTR has appealed to more than 100 million, perhaps as many as 200 million, readers world-wide. The applicability "residing in the freedom of the reader", not the allegory being the [occasionally ponderous, heavy-handed] "purposed domination of the author." (Foreword to the Second Edition).
 

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