Tolkien & C.S. Lewis - Colin Duriez (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tolkien & C.S. Lewis - Colin Duriez (Book Review)

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship - Colin Duriez, A-

My enjoyment of this book may have been a foregone conclusion, given my literary loyalties. But Colin Duriez pens a highly enlightening co-biography of the two giants of mythopoeic literature. Predictably, Duriez was at his best when melding the two lives; the most enlightening anecdotes had to do with the relations of Lewis and Tolkien to each other, in the quirks and modulations of their friendship. What most people probably don't realize (I didn't) is that the intimacy the two authors shared, while formative, was bittersweet.

The two pillars of Christian story influenced each other intensely, even as they differed widely regarding the place of the author in Christian thought. Tolkien resented Lewis’ “amateur dabbling” in theology. Lewis regarded Tolkien as somewhat dilatory and eccentric, though clever.

Nevertheless, Tolkien sold Lewis on the essential place of the "mythic" in life and literature, an understanding that would color much of his writing thereafter. (Lewis would later characterize the Christ story as a true myth.) And Lewis, via conversations and, eventually, book reviews, pushed Tolkien to write, and shared with him the appreciation of sehnsucht longing, the piercing northerness, that would so suffuse the Lord of the Rings.

Intriguingly, Lewis and Tolkien's friendship had an academic, sitting-room air to it, washed with tobacco, beer and tea, but seldom exposed to the rigors of non-collegiate life; Edith, Tolkien’s wife, and Lewis were mutually uncomfortable until Lewis’ late marriage. Being a literary genius is apparently no guarantee of social success.

Memorable is a conversation on page 100, where Lewis and Tolkien discuss the kind of books they like: “‘You know, Tollers,’ Lewis says decisively, pipe in hand. ‘I’m afraid we’ll have to write them ourselves.’”

Could there be a lesson there?


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Andy said...

I've had this book on my shelf for awhile - now I need to go crack it open. Thanks for this review. I'm sure I'll post a review...when I finally get to it.

Andrew Simone said...

I will have to check this book out, it looks like a fun summer read.

Also, there is a lesson and here and I intend to learn it.

colleen said...

I've been wanting to read this book for a while...looks like i should get to it. There should be no excuse why not to read about 2 of my literary heroes.

There is defenitely a lesson i have been struggling with for a long time. There have been stories floating around in my head for ages. Madeleine L'Engle wrote once that writing a story (or just plain being a writer, i think) is a risky thing to do. I haven't really been able to pin down exactly what she's probably different for everyone. But i'm finding it absolutely terrifying...!

Andrew Simone said...

It is risky, I think, because a writer, like a preacher, must constantly take a calculated stand in front of people. Although, I suppose that is most likely not the only reason (here I go not taking a stand).

Ariel said...

Writing is all fun and games until you aspire to be a "writer." Then people pull our their magnifying glasses and clubs, and the sky grows dark.

More practically, though, I think Andrew is right. Once you attempt to actually say something, as opposed to typing away like a frivolous amateur, people hold you to a higher standard.

This is why I blog compulsively but never intend to have anything published. ;) ;)

Iambic Admonit said...

Have you read Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings? If so, which would you recommend most strongly? And which biography of Lewis do you think is the 'best'? I'm planning a study of Lewis's letters and would like advice. What is there to be said about Lewis that hasn't been said before?

I appreciated your thoughtful post and would love it if you'd come over to my blog and comment. Any friend of Lewis is a friend of mine....

Ariel said...

Hey Iambic, The Inklings is on my shelf, but I haven't read it yet. My impression is that Inklings takes a more wide-angle approach to Lewis, since the scope of the book includes the whole group of writers.

I wrote a research paper on Lewis last semester, and in doing so I read bits and pieces of several biographies. Traditionally, the strong biographies are Jack, by George Sayer, and C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper.

The Narnian, by Alan Jacobs is a more recent bio that seems pretty insightful. Obviously, Lewis' autobiography is a must-read as well. (Surprised by Joy).

I'm not sure what's left to be said about Lewis... the number of works on him is increasing yearly. With my paper, I focused on C.S. Lewis' view of the Atonement, which seemed like a fairly overlooked topic. There are probably other doctrinal questions that have yet to be addressed at length.

Good luck! If I can be of any more help, let me know. I'll be wandering over to your blog...


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife