C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

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C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby 220chrisTian » Sep 22, 2009 10:28 am

I know C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were friends. But I just read an article that listed disagreements between them on theology and fantasy literature that strained the friendship. And the two finally grew apart.

So what are your thoughts on the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien? Do you think each influenced the other's work and, if so, how?

Discuss away! :)
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Re: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby The Old Maid » Sep 22, 2009 3:27 pm

Obviously they had a tremendous influence on each other both as believers and as writers.

The writing part is more obvious. Both had Dwarves, though in Tolkien's Arda the Narnian Dwarfs would probably be considered Noegyth Nibin (Petty-Dwarves; note the different spelling). The Khazad were the dominant Tolkien-Dwarves. Basically the Narnian Dwarfs and Petty-Dwarves were town-builders and building-builders, whereas the Khazad were city-builders. When they built, they built a metropolis. (It's been said that even when Moria was inhabited it took four days to cross the city on foot.) The Khazad also were the most warlike of the three races, and the most greedy, and the most likely to get attacked by dragons. All three races were practical, often to the point of only believing in what they could touch and test and see.

Both writers had a northern waste bordered by hill country called Ettinsmoor. Both writers had a devil-figure. Both writers had small, supposedly helpless protagonists to illustrate their common belief that "God's power is made perfect in weakness."

But Tolkien very much disliked the "mixing" of myth with Christian images. Fauns, centaurs, satyrs, and so forth were part of Greco-Roman mythology and Tolkien complained about their inclusion. I never heard the complaint that Lewis's stories were heavy-handed, though no doubt some might think they are just as some claim Tolkien's Christian references in his books were too subtle. (And I'd love to hear what Lewis said, if anything, about Tolkien inventing Hobbits to give the English-speaking world a mythology! ... which Tolkien unapologetically said he was trying to do.)

Tolkien also was uncomfortable about Lewis's marriage to Joy and also Lewis' friendship with a latercomer to the Inklings whom, for lack of a better term, creeped Tolkien out. (Before this fellow came along, the two men were practically inseparable. In fact, I hadn't heard that Tolkien was deeply upset at Lewis going Anglican. Understandably disappointed, as a good Catholic boy rooting for the home team, but nothing like what the linked article portrayed.)

It may have been during this time that Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters. Tolkien shied away from the book, frequently quoting the admonition he'd used against Saruman: "it is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the enemy." What Tolkien's reaction was when he read the dedication page -- Lewis dedicated Screwtape to Tolkien with words of deep love and gratitude for guiding him back to the faith -- well, you can guess what his reaction was.

But Tolkien felt that Lewis's friendship with the new guy may have been a factor in Lewis's new writing direction. And I would agree that The Screwtape Letters is not a book for babes-in-faith. It has a lot to say about hypocrisy and fake-it-till-you-make-it, but it's not for the faith-newbie.

Despite their drifting apart, Tolkien was heartbroken when Lewis died first. They were a lot like brothers, and that love didn't stop just because they hadn't seen each other in a while.

[P.S. Happy Bilbo-and-Frodo's birthday!]
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Re: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby Erucenindë » Sep 22, 2009 4:11 pm

That was very good explanation Old Maid! Bravo! :ymapplause: :P

I kinda think of it this way: all friends, no matter how alike they may be, will always have at least a few things they do not agree with. Some people simply put aside the differences, others let it grow into a mountain.

They were still friends, but over time, perhaps they let their differences get the better of them. I don't think they ever "diliked" each other, just simply disagreed.

It happens to everyone, it's just whether one agrees to let those differences tear your friendship apart or not.

Could go deeper but think i'd rather not. ;))
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Re: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby 220chrisTian » Sep 23, 2009 10:49 am

Thanks for the info and explanation, The Old Maid! :ymapplause:

The Old Maid wrote:But Tolkien very much disliked the "mixing" of myth with Christian images. Fauns, centaurs, satyrs, and so forth were part of Greco-Roman mythology and Tolkien complained about their inclusion. I never heard the complaint that Lewis's stories were heavy-handed, though no doubt some might think they are just as some claim Tolkien's Christian references in his books were too subtle. (And I'd love to hear what Lewis said, if anything, about Tolkien inventing Hobbits to give the English-speaking world a mythology! ... which Tolkien unapologetically said he was trying to do.)
I'm wondering about Lewis' mixing Christianity and myth as well. I'm not sure whether or not I like it. And like you, I'd like Lewis and others' thoughts on Tolkien's hobbit mythology! ;)
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Re: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby EveningStar » Sep 24, 2009 6:28 am

I know from personal experience that writers develop an arsenal of techniques, a certain set of tools they share with some of their close friends and colleagues.

Successful writers tend to feel that their techniques are keys to success, revelations, cornerstones. And when they share them with another who flatly turns them down, it either feels like the other fellow just doesn't get it (he's dull that way) or he's being an ingrateful jerk.

I imagine that to some degree Tolkein took it personally that Lewis didn't "benefit" from his "vast experience."

That being said, I also address the question of loving someone you don't like. The impression I get is that at first Tolkein loved and liked Lewis and that as time went on he continued to love him but didn't like him that much. We all have relatives like this that we would rush to if they were ever in great need but we wouldn't want them along on the picnic because they'd spoil it for us.

Lastly I address the question of mythology. Children are raised on Bullfinch's Mythology and they believe myths are about gods and goddesses. Myths are about anything mythical. Unicorns are mythical beings yet were never worshipped. Creating a mythology is not tantamount to heresy.
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Re: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby MarkSommer » Oct 10, 2009 6:35 am

Thank you, 220chrisTian, for posting the link and for your post in the other discussion: http://www.narniaweb.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=467&p=12166#p12166

The article you link reminds me of another article that I found last November: http://atheism.about.com/od/cslewisnarnia/a/jrrtolkein.htm (See also my article on Hollywood Jesus: http://live.hollywoodjesus.com/?p=3066)The writer links the difference in their approach to writing with Tolkien’s Catholicism and Lewis’s Protestantism. The difference, he argues, is between one approach that emphasizes logic and reason, and another that empahsizes experience.
Many Protestants will argue, for instance, that God’s primary revelation is the Sacred Scriptures, while Catholics maintain that God’s primary revelation is Jesus Christ. That Lewis produced works that were profound, worthy and beautiful, but less than fully incarnational, while Tolkien produced a masterpiece that incarnated the same truths in a complete, subtle and mysterious way reflects the deeper theological differences that remained between the two men.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Christianity is meant to to be both reasoned and experienced. Which may be one reason I have profited so much from both writers.
I think the growing rift between the two had less to do with their religious differences than it did with their personalities. They were too much alike.
Both had strong opinions about the problems with society and wanted to make a difference with their writing. The difference was in approach. While Lewis appreciated and understood Tolkien's approach, Tolkien never "got" Lewis. He didn't see that both approaches have their place.
When Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Tolkien is quoted as saying something like, "That will never do." However, Lewis had always backed what Tolkien had done, and his encouragement is probably at least partly responsible for Tolkien getting published.
Tolkien also seemed to be frustrated that Lewis's "inferior" Narnia books were being published while The Lord of the Rings, while mostly written during WW2, were not published until the mid 1950's.
The antagonism between the two was more literary than theological. Tolkien had many friends who were of various religious backgrounds, and that did not seem to so adversely affect those relationships.
Nor do I think that Lewis's marriage, per se, was the problem. That fact the Tolkien learned about the marriage third hand probably strained the relationship more than the fact she was a divorcee.
At least that's my opinion based on what I have read.
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Re: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: Friendly Antagonists?

Postby Lirenel » Nov 21, 2009 9:51 pm

Huh, I was just on another thread here about Lewis and Catholicism, where I talked about a journal article that would fit here as well: Eric Sedddon's "Letters to Malcolm and the Trouble with Narnia: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Their 1949 Crisis".

Seddon postulates that the breaking down of their friendship had more to do with Lewis's treatment of Catholicism than anything else. He points out that Tolkien loved Perelandra, which also mixed mythology, religion, allegory, etc. By the time Narnia was published, Lewis had already published many other books, in a quick manner, and yet Tolkien never seemed to have a problem with that, nor with Lewis's popularity. Tolkien knew how Lewis wrote, so it seemed unlikely that he would suddenly be put out by it.

Seddon then goes on to delve into Letters to Malcolm, where Lewis seems to (uncharacteristically) bash Catholicism and Catholic practices. He calls prayers to the saints 'silly'. He attacks John Henry Newman, and Anglican convert to Catholicism and the teacher of Fr. Francis Morgan, who raised Tolkien from the age of 12. Lewis labeled "ready-made prayers" as childish, which would include the rosary which Tolkien prayed. He viewed the resurrection at the end of time as more spiritual than physical, which was at extreme odds with Catholic belief. And, what might have hurt Tolkien the most, was Lewis dismissing the thought of the Eucharist as the actual Body and Blood of Christ, while knowing that Tolkien had a great devotion to the Eucharist.

I, personally, have not read Letters to Malcolm. But if Seddon is right, than the 'blame' for the disintegration of their friendship lay with Lewis as much as with Tolkien (who I feel tends to get the majority of the blame).

Honestly, I think it was probably a clash of hurt and misunderstandings. Tolkien rejected Narnia (Seddon goes into the reasons why, which has more to do with its difference from Catholicism than anything else), which likely hurt Lewis. Lewis then wrote some rather hurtful things about Catholicism than Tolkien likely took personally. And, I would speculate that they didn't talk about it, just let the hurt fester and let their friendship drift apart.
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