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Thread: Tolkien and CS Lewis

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musicimprovedme started this thread with the following post:
posted on 24/2/2003 at 08:27
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Would anyone care to engage in a conversation about the similarities and differences between Tolkien and CS Lewis and/or Middle Earth and Narnia?

It seems a relevant topic because the two authors were contemporaries, even friends...and both transcended the previous standards of the fantasy novel.

I personally think that Middle Earth is a much more detailed place and maybe even more well thought out. And while Tolkien gave his readers the freedom to make any conclusion that they like about what his stories represent, Lewis' ideas were more locked into a religious overtone...what with Aslan giving off SERIOUS God vibes and all and his Godliness is all wrapped up in that one character (Creator/Messiah/Sovereign), whereas Tolkien kind of distributed the divine characteristics throughout his characters. I think Chronicles of Narnia is more within the grasp of a younger reader. I think for me, Lewis tugged a little harder at my heart, whereas Tolkien has been largely a brain exercise for me...so far anyway.

Thoughts from anyone who's read both?




Chronicles of Narnia were written essentially as children's books, like the Hobbit, whilst LOTR was meant for more mature audiences. The shift in style from The Hobbit to LOTR was rather obvious.rrYou're definitely right about Lewis' works being religious. Chronicles of Narnia has been largely hailed as Christian literature. Pretty much everything was based on his beliefs, from the ideology, moral values to the choice of animal. Aslan as a lion was not just to showthe majesty of the ruler, but it was really an interpretation of the "Lion of Judah", or Jesus Christ himself. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the later chapters even had the entire crucifixion of Christ played out through the death and resurrection of Aslan. Lewis intended these books to be Christian literature.rrTolkien on the other hand wanted to create a myth. Hence his works had to have a certain level of detail to make believable.rrAs far as divine characteristics are concerned, I think it's largely due to the fact that Lewis was a Protestant and Tolkien was Catholic. Protestant ideology focused absolutely on the divine nature of the Trinity, emphasizing on the role of Christ. Hence Lewis' approach in the creation of Aslan. Tolkien on the other hand distributed this divine nature as Catholic ideology distributed this nature to the angelic beings as well as to various saints. Furthermore, Tolkien was largely into the study of various mythologies, and this influenced his works greatly.rrI think the chief difference between the 2 postAuthorIDs' works is that Lewis' is more symbolic in approach and Tolkien's is more realistic in nature. Hence the sense that Tolkien's work is more detailed. And the creation of the various languages certainly helped in making it more believable.rr[Edited on 25/2/2003 by Erkenbrand]
I love the way the 2 of you have kept this topic with in the realms of Tolkien. Both posts were very well stated and interesting. Lets be careful to keep it this way.
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I think the chief difference between the 2 postAuthorIDs' works is that Lewis' is more symbolic in approach and Tolkien's is more realistic in nature.


Could you expand on this a little Erkenbrand?

You have explained a lot of the reasons why I felt the way I did about the two stories. And you are right, more than just having religious overtones, Narnia is most definitely Christian with direct representations of different ideas and people. Aslan as the Lion of Judah...heh...I never got that!
The point you made about Protestants and Catholics is interesting Erkenbrand. I do not know very much about this, so it gave me something new to think about.
I definately agree that Narnia is more religous. I personally do not like that, because it seems to limit the interpretations and to some exent the audience of the book. But of course I'm sure some readers can read the religous parts differently, I just can't. LotR is much deeper I think because it was written as a mythology. Tolkien said himself that religion explicitly in writing is 'fateful'. So this may explain why, even though he was a religious man, he did not put a lot of religion 'in your face' with his works.
Tolkien said himself that "The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work ... for the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism".

LOTR is much about symbolism; many of the leading characters take on Christ like roles (Frodo saving the world by carrying the heavy burden of the ring, Gandalf rising as "white" after his supposed death by the Balrog). There are numerous symbolic features throughout the entire work and it is a compelling story of the power of human virtue. It was written in such a way that these images left the reader free to conceptualise the meanings in his or her own way. Although the religious meaning is obviously there, Tolkien did not force it on the reader.

CJ Lewis, on the other hand, wrote his Chronicles of Narnia essentially for children. His religious meaning was much more obvious because of this and he was certainly much more forward in presenting his own views. His characters are definitely more God like and the parallels in the Christ story are very evident in the role his characters play (Aslan essentially taking the role of Jesus).

Both are wonderful, brilliantly written escapism.
Tolkien did not write his epic as a religious allegory. That some readers choose to read it that way is understandable, but it was not his intent as he abhorred allegory in any form. I refer you to the Forward in the second edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course if you have found a refutation of this in one of his letters I might change my mind depending on which came first: the crebain or the orc.

The Chronicles of Narnia are basically morality plays showing the young (and old) readers that the consequences of our actions have a bearing on our future relationships with others and pointing out right from wrong. This can be seen by studying for example, the growth of Edward in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Pole in The Silver Chair, and Bree in The Horse and His Boy.

Oh, and did Tolkien or Lewis name their hobbit village or war horse after the other's? Which came first: the crebain or the orc. Elf With a Big Grin Smilie

I think the Chronicles of Narnia were published first, were they not? But as to who had a certain idea first, how shall we ever know?

Personally, I am not a big fan of Lewis. There is something lacking in the style of the prose for me, although I did like them until I found LOTR.
I think you're right Allyssa that Narnia was published first. But Lewis also read many drafts of LotR and new much about Tolkien's world. From reading Tolkien's letters, I think Tolkien suspected Lewis of imitating him with some of his works (I don't know if these works included Narnia or not). For example, Lewis used the name Numenor, but having only heard Tolkien say it he spelt it 'Numinor' (or something like that). Does anyone know where this word is found?
Wanna hear something funny? The first time I read the Chronicals of Narnia, I had very little knowledge of the Bible or religion in general, and did not even realize they were a religious work until, someone told me. Later, I went back and reread them, and I understood. So, it is possible to read them just for the story, if you have no knowledge of the Christian faith. At the time I thought they were excellent books, but I have to agree that I perfer Tolkien.
I have been researching lately about the religous interpretations of the Lord of the Rings. I found a lot of stuff.
I have read all the LOTR books, The Hobbit, and the first two Narnia book.
I had no idea that LOTR had some religous meanings behind it until recently. Some argue that the death of Gandalf, and his coming back to life represent Christ. I was like, "Wow, I never would have guessed!"
And I read in this forum about the smae represenation of it wiht Aslan. I also never would have guessed. I mean I suspected some things: How the creatures of narnia call humans "The sons of Adam and Eve", also the temptation of the apple tree.
And now i have learned that Harry Potter may have some religous meaning.
I for one do not want to be brainwashed.
WE MUST ALL BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT WE READ, THERE MAY BE MORE MEANING TO BOOKS THAN FIRST GLANCE GIVES YOU!
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I think you're right Allyssa that Narnia was published first. But Lewis also read many drafts of LotR and new much about Tolkien's world. From reading Tolkien's letters, I think Tolkien suspected Lewis of imitating him with some of his works (I don't know if these works included Narnia or not). For example, Lewis used the name Numenor, but having only heard Tolkien say it he spelt it 'Numinor' (or something like that). Does anyone know where this word is found?

The word is one of the three science fiction novels Lewis wrote. I think it was the second one "That Hideous Strength", but I'm not certain.

LOTR was finished by 1949, before Lewis had started Narnia, but it took JRRT 5 years to get LOTR published. (This was partly his fault, as he was insisting that publishers put out The Silmarilien at the same time.) Lewis was very familiar with LOTR by 1949. Almost the entire tale was read to the Inklings as JRRT composed it, and Tolkien always gave Lewis great credit for the encouragement Lewis gave him (even to the extent of doubting he would have finished without Lewis' moral support. Not specifics- Lewis apparently didn't make many recommendations; just more along the lines of, "This is fantastic; you must finish." So the time frame makes it clear that the influence goes more from JRRT to Lewis than the other way around. Still, they had been friends for 20 years, and cross currents are possible. Their relationship was quite complex, and they drifted apart in the last ten years of Lewis' life (JRRT isn't even mentioned in the movie Shadowlands, which is about Lewis' marriage toward the end of his life.) I could go on in this vein for awhile, as the two of them had many connections. Probably a good book could be written on the influence each had on the other.
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I think it was the second one "That Hideous Strength", but I'm not certain.
According to Tolkien's Letter #169 (to Hugh Brogan of 11 September 1955) Lewis used the word 'Numinor', in That Hideous Strength which was actually the third book in his Space Trilogy. If I remember correctly, Numinor (Atlantis) was used as the origin of the soon to be re-awakened Merlin and the source his power. I haven't read the book for a couple of years.
Neither LOTR nor Narnia was written as an allegory. Lewis did write other religious allegory, but made a distinction with Narnia: "...Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways. Bunyan’s picture of Giant Despair does not start from a supposal at all. It is not a supposition but a fact that despair can capture and imprison a human soul. What is unreal (fictional) is the giant, the castle, and the dungeon. The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal; but granted the supposition, He would really gave been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine and His death on the Stone Table would have been a physical event no less than His death on Calvary." Also, I am glad someone finally brought up the Space Trilogy, Lewis' other main fictional works. These were not written for children. However, That Hideous Strength was really slow for me... anyway, these are important because the second one, Perelandra was one of the works that Lewis himself liked the best...
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...And the creation of the various languages certainly helped in making it more believable...
Lewis did this too, and was very good at languages (learning them). The languages are again in the Space Trilogy... Both authors are very good, and yes, Lewis definitely has a more Christian feel. I think it just depends on what you like.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Aragorn as Suffering Servant/Crownless King. I always thought Frodo and Aragorn divided the Christ-figure role between them, and given the degree to which Christianity has influenced modern (and not so modern) culture, it would be hard to find a work that COULDN'T be argued to have a Christ figure (I seem to recall an analysis of Jim from Huck Finn in HS that went like that.) The principle difference, apart from the big one pointed out by Grondmaster, is that Tolkiens religion was less overt than Lewis' in his work, but it's definitely there if you know for what to look. The most notable examples (at least to me) are the parallels between Varda and Mary, or the way in which Morgoths (or Melkors, at the time) attempts to bend the Music of the Ainur to his purposes after his treck into the Void to seek the source of Erus power (which Tolkien points out he doesn't find, because it is in Eru himself) are themselves bent to Erus purposes and only magnify him they were meant to diminish. I certainly don't think there was an attempt to "brainwash" on the part of either author.
i dont believe there are any christ figures in LOTR, just because characters are good and virtuous like christianitys depiction of their christ, doesnt mean that the characters are modelled on any religious figure, theres a man who lives down my street and he is one of the best and most virtuous men someone could ever hope to meet, but is he the supposed second coming of christ? nope. Tolkiens work was born of the imagination of the professor, no more, and no less, in my opinion.

anyway, got a bit off topic there.
Oh, I think the Aragorn/Christ figure has been referred to in other posts, Morambar. Actually, see the thread in the LOTR section about Tolkien's comparisons to religious figures.
Any character in a book that comes to the rescue could be seen by some ppl as a "Christ figure" or "Messiah". Any helpful, pious woman in a book could seen by some ppl as "Mary".

Again, it's applicability, not allegory. Some ppl see LOTR as the old testament, others as the first world war, or second world war (the Ring = atomic bomb, Sauron = Hitler, the Valar = the USA, ...).

I don't care. Ppl can make of it what they want. I for me, just see it as a story.
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I don't care. Ppl can make of it what they want. I for me, just see it as a story.
And let us keep it that way. We aren't allowed to discuss religion here so let's cool it. Please! Moderator Smilie
Now, now, Grondy -- according to Val: Discussions containing religious content are only permitted here if they are conducted within a Tolkien context. So, I think we are okay with the above, and the thread I mentioned as well. Let's not scare people off just yet...
Personally, I've always seen the most WW applicability in the First/Second War of the Ring as First/Second WWs. The dominant force (at least in Middle Earth) in the first were the Elves (EuropeWink Smilie Men (the US) being comparative latecomers who end up tipping the balance of power, while in the Trilogy Men are in ascension in a still Elvish world that by the end of the books is almost entirely dominated by Men. And, of course, virtually all of the Numenoreans cultural identity, even their speech, is derived from the Eldar.

My point on Christ figures was simply that ANY heroic literary figure who undergoes suffering in the course of saving the world is likely to also suffer comparisons in analysis, whether the author intended a parallel or not. How much the similarities of Aragorn and Frodo to you-know-Whom were intended is something only Tolkien himself can answer.
Yep, I agree. Following is what I posted in another thread along those lines:
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...many people, even theologists, would say that Genesis is written in the style of the mythological tradition. This does not mean that it is not true, just that it is meant to be taken at a symbolic level rather than a literal level. I would argue that the Silmarillion as well as LOTR not only harken back to mythology on a Christian level in making Frodo and Aragorn out to be Christ figures, but even further back to the heroic legends and their quests (Jason and Odysseus immediately come to mind), for if we move forward from there, we can see that Christ himself is on a heroic quest of his own, one to save mankind.

Quests may be seen on many levels as a journey through the Self and the creation of identity. Tales such as LOTR in which every aspect does not end in joy and happiness are an important part of our psychological development, and it may be argued that they should not be “dumbed down” as many of them have been (e.g. Disney versions of The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, etc.). These tales were used in the past to teach children and to enable them to deal with situations psychologically before they had to deal with them in real life just as tales from the Bible are and have been used.

The novel is a heroic quest and the characters can be likened to any figure that has been on a heroic quest whether Jason, Odysseus, Christ, or even Little Red Riding Hood. If people can relate these characters to Christ because it helps them identify with them, then so be it. If they can't see it at all and would rather think of these characters as Buddha or Odysseus, so be it. I think as long as people get something out of it, it doesn't matter who they relate the figures to. Ya know?