This forum was closed on October 1st, 2010. However, the archives are open to the public and filled with vast amounts of good reading and information for you to enjoy. If you wish to meet some Wardrobians, please visit the Into the Wardrobe Facebook group.

Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Plato to MacDonald to Chesterton, Tolkien and the Boys in the Pub.

Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Larry W. » 28 Jan 2006, 16:33

I know this has been discussed here before, but I'm not clear on all of the details. Why did Tolkien not have a very high appraisal of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia? I remember reading that one of the reasons was that he disliked Lewis' combining elements of many mythologies in the stories, e.g. Greek, Roman, King Arthur, Norse, and others. The story ofThe Lord of the Rings seem more as if it came from one single mythology that Tolkien created, whereas Lewis used other sources in creating characters, settings, etc. But I don't think there's anything wrong with the ingredients of the Narnia series-- especially since Lewis was an effective storyteller. Does anyone have a different opinion?

Larry W.
Larry W.
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1721
Joined: Jul 2004
Location: Western Michigan

re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby A#minor » 28 Jan 2006, 18:50

I remember reading that Tolkien thought CON was a mish-mash of mythological characters that didn't belong together. (Dwarves and Satyrs and Father Christmas all together?)

I think he was also slightly jealous that Lewis wrote the books so quickly and easily, and sent them off for publication with very little revision. If I remember correctly, one of the CON books was written in only a few weeks.
Whereas Tolkien spent years writing and revising his manuscripts like the perfectionist he was.

I personally love the mixture of mythological characters in CON, but Tolkien was a purist when it came to that sort of thing.
"My brain and this world don't fit each other, and there's an end of it!" - G.K. Chesterton
Image
User avatar
A#minor
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 7319
Joined: May 2005
Location: Georgia, USA

Re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Finarphin » 28 Jan 2006, 20:01

Larry W. wrote:Why did Tolkien not have a very high appraisal of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia? I remember reading that one of the reasons was that he disliked Lewis' combining elements of many mythologies in the stories, e.g. Greek, Roman, King Arthur, Norse, and others.

A couple of things: I haven't read these books, only seen the movie, which I disliked. It was too juvenile, and it also seemed the symbolic or allegorical aspects interfered with the unfolding of the story -- as opposed to being more character driven. Among other things.

I would therefore presume that Tolkien (who also disliked the Disney stories) would have objected -- at least to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- as being too condescendingly juvenile. He mentioned this general defect in "On Fairy Stories," as well as criticizing himself for it (in the Letters) concerning The Hobbit.

Second, I found the Witch in the movie rather weak. Tolkien criticized the witches in Macbeth as weak: "poor things of their kind."

The story is shallow and weak all the way around, especially for something that wants to qualify as a fairy-story.
Finarphin
 
Posts: 39
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: Tualatin

re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby jo » 28 Jan 2006, 20:42

I can imagine that Tolkien disliked the CON because they were .. well .. I don't know what the word would be. Maybe juvenile, yeah, though they were still very good! But compared to Tolkien's writing I think that they ARE rather weak and I can imagine that Tolkien, being rather a perfectionist, found them lacking. Lewis certainly wrote a great deal at other times :(
"I saw it begin,” said the Lord Digory. “I did not think I would live to see it die"

Wardrobe Wake
User avatar
jo
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 5165
Joined: Aug 1999
Location: somewhere with lots of pink

Re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby A#minor » 28 Jan 2006, 22:10

Finarphin wrote:A couple of things: I haven't read these books, only seen the movie, which I disliked.

I don't see how you can comment at all on why Tolkien didn't like the CON books, if you haven't even read the books. That makes no sense.

The movie is practically a separate entity from the books, and we aren't talking about the movie.
"My brain and this world don't fit each other, and there's an end of it!" - G.K. Chesterton
Image
User avatar
A#minor
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 7319
Joined: May 2005
Location: Georgia, USA

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Larry W. » 28 Jan 2006, 22:55

jo wrote:I can imagine that Tolkien disliked the CON because they were .. well .. I don't know what the word would be. Maybe juvenile, yeah, though they were still very good! But compared to Tolkien's writing I think that they ARE rather weak and I can imagine that Tolkien, being rather a perfectionist, found them lacking. Lewis certainly wrote a great deal at other times :(


Juvenile-- yes they are that, being written for children. But I think there was something that Lewis mastered that Tolkien didn't always do-- tell a story in the fewest words possible and make it easy to understand for all types and ages of readers. Don't get me wrong-- I have always liked Tolkien and think his mythology is great (how many people could create a world like Middle Earth?). I can understand Lewis better because I think he was more of a communicator in ordinary English, in spite of the fact that Tolkien was linguist. I found The Silmarillion to be intriguing, but I found that the many names and places were a bit tedious. The Lord of the Rings was easier to read, but it seemed a bit lengthy, though the story was fascinating. The Hobbit was by far the easiest book, and of course it is for children. So I guess a perfect book might be longer and more complex than a simple children's story. Or is it all just a matter of taste what is considered best by the reader?

Larry W.
Larry W.
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1721
Joined: Jul 2004
Location: Western Michigan

Re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Finarphin » 28 Jan 2006, 23:23

A#minor wrote:I don't see how you can comment at all on why Tolkien didn't like the CON books, if you haven't even read the books. That makes no sense.

A lot of things might not make sense to you and still have some sense about them. There is the possibility that the movie has some overlap to the book, particularly in the matter of tone, as many have noted (not just here). Not only that but inferences might be made about what general sorts of stories Tolkien might have preferred, based upon what he wrote in essays and in the Letters. Nobody I've encountered talking about the story has claimed the book was much different than the movie as a first approximation. Or maybe that's not being precise enough for you? Or maybe you're perturbed I don't like the story.
Finarphin
 
Posts: 39
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: Tualatin

re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Theo » 28 Jan 2006, 23:25

I know most people here aren't big fans of A. N. Wilson's biography of Lewis, but I think some of his comments on this matter are worth quoting (emphasis mine):

A. N. Wilson wrote:Tolkien hated The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He regarded it as scrappily put together, and not in his sense a 'sub-creation'; that is, a coherently made imaginative world. Moreover it was an allegory, a literary form which he never enjoyed. (p. 222)

/.../

Tolkien's aesthetic objection to the Narnia stories is a perfectly valid one if we attempt to judge Narnia by the standards of the Silmarillion. Lewis's books for children show signs of extraordinary haste in composition... But it is a mistake to judge the Narnia stories as if they were a sort of slapdash Lord of the Rings. They are a quite different sort of book, and their readability and fascination stem from wholly individual qualities. The fascination of Tolkien is that his was a finished and enclosed imagination. His world, with its creatures, gods, angels, languages, lost tales and civilizations, is as complete as the 'real' world; perhaps more so. There is never an intrusive moment in Tolkien of two worlds jarring together; no hint, for example... that the legendary figures and dynasties might interconnect with other cycles, such as those of the Edda or Homer. Lewis's Narnia books are quite different. Their whole theme is the interpenetration of worlds, and he poured into them a whole jumble of elements, drawn from his reading, and the world he was inhabiting when he wrote the books. (pp. 225-226)
User avatar
Theo
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 777
Joined: Nov 2005
Location: Uppsala, Sweden

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Monica » 30 Jan 2006, 17:20

jo wrote: I can imagine that Tolkien, being rather a perfectionist, found them lacking. Lewis certainly wrote a great deal at other times :(


If I'd compare Tolkien and Lewis, I'd say Deep and Wide. Tolkien was deep. Lewis was wide. Tolkien had a very narrow range of sympathies in one area, whereas Lewis loved more and more widely. (This doesn't make one better than the other, just different.)
User avatar
Monica
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 273
Joined: Oct 1996

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Stanley Anderson » 30 Jan 2006, 17:26

Monica wrote:
jo wrote: I can imagine that Tolkien, being rather a perfectionist, found them lacking. Lewis certainly wrote a great deal at other times :(


If I'd compare Tolkien and Lewis, I'd say Deep and Wide. Tolkien was deep. Lewis was wide. Tolkien had a very narrow range of sympathies in one area, whereas Lewis loved more and more widely. (This doesn't make one better than the other, just different.)


I suppose one could carry the analogy further with the third member of the "big three" of the Inklings and say that Williams was "thick" -- ie heavier and more difficult to "lift".

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
User avatar
Stanley Anderson
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 3251
Joined: Aug 1996
Location: Southern California

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Leslie » 30 Jan 2006, 21:59

Stanley Anderson wrote:
I suppose one could carry the analogy further with the third member of the "big three" of the Inklings and say that Williams was "thick" -- ie heavier and more difficult to "lift".

--Stanley

Stanley, don't say things like that when I'm eating a sandwich! I almost choked with laughter.
"What are you laughing at?"
"At myself. My little puny self," said Phillipa.
--Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede
User avatar
Leslie
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1809
Joined: Dec 2002
Location: Toronto, Canada

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Lirenel » 31 Jan 2006, 00:34

Larry W. wrote: Don't get me wrong-- I have always liked Tolkien and think his mythology is great (how many people could create a world like Middle Earth?). I can understand Lewis better because I think he was more of a communicator in ordinary English, in spite of the fact that Tolkien was linguist. I found The Silmarillion to be intriguing, but I found that the many names and places were a bit tedious. The Lord of the Rings was easier to read, but it seemed a bit lengthy, though the story was fascinating. The Hobbit was by far the easiest book, and of course it is for children. So I guess a perfect book might be longer and more complex than a simple children's story. Or is it all just a matter of taste what is considered best by the reader?

Larry W.


I agree, the first time I read the Silmarillion I had to keep one finger in the appendix in the back to figure out Fingolfin from Finarfin. Of course, I had a hard time reading LWW the first time when I read it in second grade. :think:
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? - Psalm 27:1

Member of the 2456317 Club
User avatar
Lirenel
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 372
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: Doriath

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Larry W. » 31 Jan 2006, 01:52

Stanley Anderson wrote:
I suppose one could carry the analogy further with the third member of the "big three" of the Inklings and say that Williams was "thick" -- ie heavier and more difficult to "lift".

--Stanley


It was years ago that I read a set of Charles Williams' books, and I remembered very little of them. On the other hand, George MacDonald impressed me, especially At the Back of the North Wind and his children's fairy tales. If MacDonald had lived in Lewis' time, would he have been welcomed in the Inklings or shunned because he was not considered a very good novelist? I liked MacDonald's fantasy because it is forthright, has great moral sensativity, and is easy to understand, though perhaps Williams' books do not have as many flaws.

If the Inklings were a group of snobs, I don't think Lewis would have wanted any part of that literary society. It doesn't seem that Tolkien was a snob either, though he may have been overly critical. It makes one wonder if their discussions were friendly--probably we'll never know what went on there.

Larry W.
Larry W.
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1721
Joined: Jul 2004
Location: Western Michigan

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Stanley Anderson » 31 Jan 2006, 04:33

Larry W. wrote:
Stanley Anderson wrote:
I suppose one could carry the analogy further with the third member of the "big three" of the Inklings and say that Williams was "thick" -- ie heavier and more difficult to "lift".

--Stanley


It was years ago that I read a set of Charles Williams' books, and I remembered very little of them. On the other hand, George MacDonald impressed me, especially At the Back of the North Wind and his children's fairy tales. If MacDonald had lived in Lewis' time, would he have been welcomed in the Inklings or shunned because he was not considered a very good novelist? I liked MacDonald's fantasy because it is forthright, has great moral sensativity, and is easy to understand, though perhaps Williams' books do not have as many flaws.

If the Inklings were a group of snobs, I don't think Lewis would have wanted any part of that literary society. It doesn't seem that Tolkien was a snob either, though he may have been overly critical. It makes one wonder if their discussions were friendly--probably we'll never know what went on there.

Larry W.


Not sure where talk of snobs comes from -- all three were wonderful in their own manner (if my comment about Williams being heavy sounded critical it was not meant that way -- I particularly love Williams' work and style). The Inklings discussions were very intense, but among friends -- friends close enough to be able to give their strong opinions about each other's works without worrying about hurt feelings. It was definitely a brave thing to present your work in front of an inklings audience!

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
User avatar
Stanley Anderson
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 3251
Joined: Aug 1996
Location: Southern California

Re: re: Tolkien's Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia

Postby Larry W. » 31 Jan 2006, 10:27

Stanley Anderson wrote:
Larry W. wrote:
Stanley Anderson wrote:Not sure where talk of snobs comes from -- all three were wonderful in their own manner (if my comment about Williams being heavy sounded critical it was not meant that way -- I particularly love Williams' work and style). The Inklings discussions were very intense, but among friends -- friends close enough to be able to give their strong opinions about each other's works without worrying about hurt feelings. It was definitely a brave thing to present your work in front of an inklings audience!

--Stanley


I just wondered what would have happened if at one of their meetings Lewis would say, "Read this copy of my new book-- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and tell me what me what you think of it. I read that Lewis was modest about his own books, so maybe he wouldn't have asked this question directly. But it's hard to imagine that the Chronicles of Narnia would never have come up in the conversation. But then again there might have just been a few friendly disgreements, e.g. Tolkien saying something "I think a story should have a well-constructed mythology like this-- you can't do without it. Or Williams would say, "I have a new story of heaven and hell, and Mr. Lewis, your book The Great Divorce does it differently, but I think mine has the best idea, and I will explain the reason I wrote it in that way."

Larry W.
Larry W.
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1721
Joined: Jul 2004
Location: Western Michigan

Next

Return to Inklings & Influences

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered members and 1 guest

cron