Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tolkien vs Lewis

Tolkien vs Lewis
“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” – J.R.R. Tolkien.
I’ve heard that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends. In any case, they both were faculty at Oxford. I’ve always wondered...did they ever talk about Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles? It seems the conversation might have been a little uncomfortable, judging from the quote above, since Christian allegory is at the very heart of the Narnia tales.
I love it when Tolkien says, “I much prefer history – true or feigned – to the applicability to the thought and experience of the readers.” Tolkien, it seems, was also a fan of the Discovered Story.
Do I think Lewis’s use of allegory was wrong? No. I’ve read the books numerous times and I really enjoy them. But I think the allegory puts a layer of indirection between the characters and the reader. When the reader begins to recognize the allegory, then the reader is drawn out of the story to contemplate the allegory.
So here is my imagined conversation between the literary greats:
“So, Jack [Lewis], this lion named Aslan...he’s actually Jesus then?”
“Yes, Ronald [Tolkien].”
“And you don’t think that’s somewhat heavy-handed?”
“As if your war in Middle Earth isn’t an allegory for the World War.”
“Certainly my experiences in the war are applicable, but no, it isn’t allegory. The reader is free to come to his own philosophical conclusions.”
I understand that the two had a falling out at some point. Maybe this is where the trouble started.