• Keith Mathison

The Difference Between Tolkien & Lewis


Over the course of many years, I have read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion numerous times and his other Middle-earth related works at least once each. On the other hand, I did not complete C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time until last November (I know. I know. There's no excuse). I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, I think the last page of the last volume contains one of the most beautiful passages ever written, but with apologies to those who prefer Lewis, if I had to choose between Middle-earth and Narnia, my preference remains Middle-earth. Now, admittedly, I have not spent nearly as much time in Narnia, so that probably affects my preference, but it is what it is.


While reading The Magician's Nephew (the first volume of The Chronicles of Narnia), one of the biggest differences between Lewis's story-telling style and Tolkien's story-telling style jumped out at me. At one point in the story, Digory is sent on a quest by Aslan in order to undo the wrong he had done. Aslan tells Digory that he must travel to the Western Wild outside the boundaries of Narnia. Once there, he is to journey through the mountains until he finds a green valley with a lake surrounded my mountains of ice. At the end of the lake, he will find a hill. On top of that hill is a garden with a tree. Digory is to take an apple from that tree and bring it back to Aslan. Digory agrees and tells Aslan that it will probably take some time to make that journey.Then Aslan gives Digory a winged horse to fly him west. Problem solved. Digory and Polly climb on the horse's back and they depart. About five pages later, they arrive at the tree. Another five pages, and Digory returns and gives Aslan the apple he requested.


It occurred to me while reading this that had Tolkien written this story, the journey to the tree would have filled at least 500 pages because Digory and Polly would have walked, and they would have had many adventures along they way. The return journey would have filled another 500 pages. In fact, if Tolkien had written The Chronicles of Narnia, he probably would never have finished all of the volumes.


Obviously, Lewis and Tolkien were writing for different audiences, but it struck me when reading The Magician's Nephew, that Lewis opted to fly the characters to their destination and back. Many sarcastic readers of Tolkien have suggested over the years that Tolkien could have saved his characters in Lord of the Rings a lot of time and trouble by having them ride on eagles to Mount Doom. But for Tolkien, where's the fun in that? The time and the trouble, is the whole point of the story. What is the point of narrating a great quest, if you skip over the journey itself and only talk about the end? As in real life, characters grow and develop along their journey. Suffering builds character (pun most certainly intended). Lewis and Tolkien have different strengths and different styles. I love them both, but I prefer walking to flying.


"I want to see mountains again! Mountains, Gandalf!" and not from 30,000 feet.


Thus my preference for the long walks throughout Middle-earth.


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