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Tolkien vs Lewis

I don't like books about cancer, but I do like books about books, so I made an exception and read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. It was okay in general (I still don't want to read about cancer) but it really shone when it talked about books I've read and loved. (That's the thing with books about books: they're really best when they're about books you like.)

Here's a bit I particularly liked -  the author's mother (who loved C.S. Lewis) says:

Actually, I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who really liked both Tolkien and Lewis. Everyone seems to like one or the other. [...] But I think your brother and I both envied how much you loved the Tolkien. We liked the Narnia books a great deal - but you were obsessed with the Tolkien. You talked about Bilbo Baggins so much, I felt like he was a member of the family. You started writing everything, including your name, in ancient runes. I drew the line when you wanted to smoke a clay pipe. You were nine.

I have only anecdotal evidence, but I find this to be at least partially true. I like Narnia, but I never got obsessed with it ... in fact, mostly of the books I've only read once. Of Tolkien, I've read the trilogy at least 6 times, the Silmarillion and the Hobbit thrice, and dabbled with the books edited by Christopher Tolkien (once I get the entire set, I plan to read them all in order.) I still use runes to write notes I don't want other people to be able to read, and I still have my Quenya-English dictionary. I even credit my transformation from a mushroom-hater to a mushroom-lover to Hobbits. It's not that I dislike Narnia, but I think it's safe to put me firmly in the Tolkien-loving camp.

So let's have a poll:

Poll #1885746 Tolkien or Lewis?

(dis)prove this theory

I am equally passionate about the works of both messrs Tolkien and Lewis



( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 19th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
I think it's true. I had conversations like this in college, with friends who failed to understand my absolute adoration for everything Lewis and especially Narnia. To them, the Chronicles of Narnia was a children's series and Tolkien is for grownups. I retorted that Lewis is not just for children, but for everybody, that sometimes the most profound truths are found in the simplest form, and that Tolkien totally lacks Lewis's charm.

So yes. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I expect to see the poll overwhelmingly partisan. :-D
Dec. 19th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
I do not like pitting the two against each other in that way - saying Lewis is for kids or Tolkien is inherently better because of reasons. Preferring one or the other is fine, criticizing style is fine ... but I get annoyed when people bring out the "it's for kids!" line. To be good children's lit really just means being cracking good reading for ALL ages.

And that's my book rant for the day. :)
Dec. 19th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
Good point. The guy who used to argue with me in college was kind of an ass, to be honest. And of course I always took the bait. But I hope I've since learned you don't "win" by putting down someone else's taste.

And I couldn't agree more about children's lit.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 19th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
Re: sometimes one, sometimes the other
I wonder if it ever has anything to do with which author one encounters first? I was late (compared to most people I know) discovering both - I suspect I might feel more affection for Lewis if I'd read them earlier.
Dec. 19th, 2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
I am late to the game, too, having read Lewis in college, and only now starting in on the Hobbit (yes, because of the movie). I really really really very much like Lewis, and see no reason why I won't really really really very much like Tolkien's works as well.
(Deleted comment)
Re: sometimes one, sometimes the other - eattheolives - Dec. 24th, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
That passage is SO funny! Personally, though, I really like both. I do have a preference -- I'm absolutely batty about Lewis, and just fond of Tolkien. But it's not the kind of either-or thing the author is talking about.
Dec. 19th, 2012 10:57 pm (UTC)
So far it seems that Lewis generates more love ... but Tolkien more obsession. :)

Honestly, I should reread the Narnia series - it's probably been 10-15 years since I read it - and see how it strikes me as an adult.
Dec. 21st, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
". . . it seems that Lewis generates more love ... but Tolkien more obsession. :)"

I like this thought! :-) Mostly because it describes a type of love that we don't often think of. Beautiful.
Dec. 19th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
Hmm...Well, I'm in the Lewis camp, but while I love Narnia, I really care MUCH more for his nonfiction. And Tolkien doesn't really have anything to offer in that genre (correct me if I'm wrong). So I don't see it as a fair alternative...unless you are specifically saying Narnia vs. Lord of the Rings.
Dec. 19th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
Same here. As a bigger fan of non-fiction than fiction, it's easy for me to say I'm more of a Lewis guy. If it was simply Narnia vs. Middle Earth, it might be harder for me to say. But I couldn't even finish reading Fellowship of the Ring (I have trouble finishing any novels, to be honest). Lewis' non-fiction I can eat up very quickly, though.
Dec. 19th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
Tolkien has some literary criticism, but yeah ... not much to put up against Lewis's theological works. :) Honestly, I forgot about the nonfiction in framing my question.
Dec. 19th, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
My brother might be an exception to this rule. I'll have to ask him about it. I know he likes both authors a lot.

In theory I like Tolkien. I definitely enjoyed the recent LOTR movies, and I even enjoyed the old animated films as a kid. My mom read The Hobbit to us as well when we were kids, and I enjoyed that. But for some reason I've never been good at being able to read long fantasy novels. (Actually, I've never been good at being able to read long novels of any kind at all.) When I do read fiction, it tends to be short science fiction novels, novellas or short stories. (Science fiction has always been my favorite form of written fiction.)

The stuff I love the most from Lewis is his non-fiction. Mere Christianity had a huge impact on me when I was in college, and it's still an influential book for me today. The Narnia books were also influential on me as a kid, and I enjoyed them a lot. But it's really Lewis's non-fiction (and The Screwtape Letters) that make me more of a Lewis fan than a Tolkien fan. Tolkien's Middle Earth has some exciting stories in it, but in general I'm not the kind of person who can get himself easily hooked in to fantasy worlds like that. I guess in part I always felt like it took a certain level of obsession to be a true Tolkien fan that I don't think I have in me. :-)
Dec. 19th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
Well, no one could accuse Tolkien of writing "short" anything. :) So I understand... that's just not going to be appealing for a lot of people. And I think you're right: it seems (from all this anecdotal evidence ;)) that Tolkien tends to engender more obsessiveness in fans than Lewis.
Dec. 19th, 2012 06:32 pm (UTC)
My first thought was, "But I like them both!" But on thinking about it more, I like Tolkien, but I love Lewis. I actually prefer the LOTR movies to the books, because the books spend so much time on scenery and being very detailed about things, but the movies give me what I want (hot guys, battle scenes, pretty Middle Earth) without having to wade through all the description. I'm much more likely to sit down with one of Lewis's books (I could read The Screwtape Letters or The Great Divorce all the time and not get tired of them).

Edited at 2012-12-19 11:39 pm (UTC)
Dec. 19th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
I am really surprised - I honestly didn't expect to find more people picking Lewis! That's my bias showing, though. ;) It's all good. You're very right about all the exhaustive description in Tolkien... I skipped tons of it the first time I read it because I was dying to know what happened next in the story. Since then I really enjoy those parts, though - because I don't want the story to end.
Dec. 19th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
I'm a both-er! A very passionate both-er. I spent my entire 8th grade year learning Elvish, but I wrote a term paper on Lewis's Till We Have Faces. And I think I went to school with a few other people who loved both. But Philip is definitely passionate about Lewis and only likes Tolkien. I'd never heard this theory before, though, and I'm very interested in it.
Dec. 19th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
Also, does it count if we both love best the non-Narnia books? Does that distort the theory in any way? Just trying to be scientific here. :)
Dec. 19th, 2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
Wellll, I honestly forgot about the nonfiction in framing my question. So if we were going to be scientific...
Dec. 19th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
You're a special snowflake! (Oh dear, I can't remember if you watch Lizzie Bennet Diaries or not. If you do, that'll make sense. If not, it might sound insulting: I'm not insulting you! lol.)

Btw, I really, really like Til We Have Faces. Probably more than Narnia. Is that blasphemy?
Dec. 19th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
Lewis thought TWHF was his best book (but his favorite was Perelandra). I list it as one of two whenever someone asks me what my favorite book is (oh perilous, perilous question!). (The other is Brideshead Revisited.)
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Dec. 19th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
Til We Have Faces is one of those books that I can clearly remember when, where, and with whom I first read it ... it really made an impression!
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
Ditto. I very distinctly remember discovering the book when I worked at the library. My coworker's grandmother had just died and he was sorting through her massive book collection. It became routine to come to work and find a stack of books on my desk that he thought I would enjoy. Half of my book collection I probably owe to him.

I was intrigued by a book by an author I admired and by a topic I had fallen for so recently. But the book made a HUGE impact on my personal life. I, perhaps mistakenly, drew heavy parallels between the book and my life. I felt like the relationship with Orual and Psyche mirrored the relationship I had with my close friend. Over and over, I felt such connection with the characters.

My relationship with said friend had serious troubles. But what did not help matters is that she was in love with the boy who was in love with me. And what made it even worse is that I just so happened to tell said boy about how the book made me feel. The problem with comparing myself to Psyche? Is that he had long adopted the moniker of Eros (rather ironically, before being ironic was cool). I had completely forgotten that Cupid = Eros and that typically it is Eros and Psyche, rather than Cupid. Cupid is typically unattached. He took it as a sign that I was also in love with him. Which ended up being true, but I didn't mean it as such.

My Eros and I dated for five years and the Eros and Psyche myth became rather centric to our relationship. I adored the idea of Psyche.. the soul.. going through trials and tribulations in order to be transformed into something beautiful. I felt like it brought meaning to all the bad stuff in my life. -- In fact, I once wrote a poem about Eros and Psyche and transliterated it into Elvish them wrote it up all fancy on paper and framed it and gave it to the boy for a Valentine's Day present (which we very much claimed as our holiday.. yanno.. the whole Eros/Cupid thing).

SO. Now I feel like I should re-read the books without all the self-centric melodrama. :)
(no subject) - eattheolives - Dec. 24th, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2012 01:57 am (UTC)
I checked that I am equally passionate about the works of both messrs Tolkien and Lewis, though it is not quite true. There is definitely a little favoritism toward Lewis. Perhaps it is because I discovered him first and read and reread the Narnia chronicles. I played a game online regarding Narnia where I became entrenched in helping build and develop the game. It required me to learn and dive deeper about the world of Narnia, and dive I did. It was not just the Narnia books, but all his writings, fiction and non. I wrote the story below about how deeply Till We Have Faces impacted me.

I did not discover Tolkien until later. I remember distinctly.. because it was the night I was taken out of my house and put into shelter care. I turned to books in comfort and was intrigued by Tolkien. My little isolated cell had an emergency light that never turned off, even at night (because they regularly made wellness checks on us. Blah). I couldn't sleep when I was there, so I stayed up all night reading Tolkien.

I never delved as deeply into Tolkien as I did Lewis, but it does not mean I loved him less. They're so vastly different in the way they tell stories! And such different stories to tell! I cannot imagine a Narnia through Tolkien's eyes nor can I imagine a Middle Earth through Lewis's.

I'm also told that people are either in the Star Trek camp or Star Wars camp, but not both. I break that rule, too!

Dec. 24th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
I'm firmly team Star Trek (Picard, ooh la la), although I have a special fondness for the Timothy Zhan Star Wars books. :)
Dec. 20th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
VERY interesting! I think there's a lot of truth to it as far as the fictional works - I'm more passionate about LOTR than I am about Narnia (or Lewis's other fiction). But I probably love Lewis's non-fiction as much as I love LOTR. I'll have to think more about this. :) Also, LOL about the nine-year-old wanting to smoke a pipe.
Dec. 20th, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
I cannot vote because I have yet to find time to read Tolkien!

Also, because, in general, I think I really am not a fantasy kind of gal at heart. I did not at all warm up to Narnia as a kid. I did read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a teen--because it was popular and I thought I should--but just didn't get into it. It was only later, after loving Lewis for Mere Christianity and reading more about him that I tried the Perelandra series. I am a bit ashamed to say that it took the Narnia movie trailers to reveal to me more of the heart and power of the characters and Narnian landscape in Lewis' metaphor.

So, yeah, like several others here--and in spite of my Narnia userpics--I love Lewis mostly for his nonfiction. The fiction just provides extra little windows into that.
Dec. 24th, 2012 09:44 pm (UTC)
Totally understandable! My parents are the same, although I can't even get them to try the movies. :)
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )