Tolkien’s ‘No’ to Narnia

Read my latest article for InsideCatholic here. On the eve of the cinematic release of Prince Caspian, the article analyzes the different approaches of Tolkien and Lewis to Christian fantasy fiction.

  • Éstiel

    Lewis’ great achievement was not his fiction but his apologetics. His academic preparation made of him the penultimate rationalist, and that’s really where his talent lies. I enjoyed The Space Trilogy and all the Narnia tales, but none bears re-reading. On the other hand, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, etc., have all had several trips down from the shelf. Lewis’ faith was both solid and limited, as faith must be for rationalists.Tolkien was the opposite. Outside his letters, his nonfictional prose is hard ploughing. His greatness lay in his fiction–which can be re-read many times over. And, in Tolkien’s Catholicism, there is ample room for mysticism, unlike Lewis’ Anglican Christianity.Lewis’s and Tolkien’s mythopoeic fiction: Narnia doesn’t and can’t work there. Allegory cannot be mythical. Middle-Earth lives there: Myth can be allegorical.Éstiel

  • Maureen

    Respectfully, I think the difference between Middle Earth and Narnia’s worldbuilding principles is more a difference of personality and aesthetics than of Catholic vs. Protestant. Jumbling Father Christmas, Bacchus, and talking mice into a single story is a quintessentially Irish thing to do, in fact. And God love him, but Irish stuff drove Tolkien up the wall. The courtly Irish poetry of the filidhs, and the rougher rhythms of Old Irish epics, both repelled Tolkien. He liked a cleaner aesthetic, like the strong consistent rhythms of Old English poetry or even the Kalevala; and he very much disliked the sort of rush of adjectives and complicated schemes of rhyme and assonance that Gerard Manley Hopkins loved about Irish poetry.And yes, I think it’s pretty darned hilarious that Lewis’ religion and prose was pretty spare, but his writings’ content crammed with Stuff I Like Because I Like It (And Thus Find A Way to Shove It In). Possibly something he got from his admiration for Chesterton, but more likely a personality and background thing. Meanwhile, everybody thinks Tolkien’s prose is incredibly baroque, when really his thought and content is very lean and smooth and consistent…. :)

  • Maureen

    Of course, Tolkien did like complicated rhyme schemes, but he liked them in an English poetry way. Medieval Irish poetry is very logical and has plenty of conventions and forms; but it’s very different in sound than what English poetry leads us to expect. It uses kennings like Norse and Old English poetry does, too, but again it’s in a very different way. It’s very disconcerting, and either you like it or you don’t. Tolkien didn’t.