I’m at it again! 😉
I figure if I’m going to comment on one of fantasy’s grandfathers, I should comment on the other as well. Tolkien created Middle-Earth, while C.S. Lewis created Narnia, and their “kids” reproduced and gave us the modern fantasy genre as we know it. Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, J.K. Rowling, and many more big names may likely have never come to be, if not for both of these two men.
C.S. Lewis is a well-known Christian writer, authoring The Screwtape Letters, and, of course, a fantasy author, creating the seven-part series The Chronicles of Narnia. I read these around the same time I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I enjoyed them at least as much.
The first one, the prequel entitled The Magician’s Nephew, was fairly slow and boring, not much really happened, but we did witness the creation of Narnia at Aslan’s voice, and the entrance from another world of the figure who would become known as the White Witch.
The next few, namely 2) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 3) The Horse and His Boy, and 4) Prince Caspian, were less boring, more stuff happened, including battles. Granted, we don’t really see much of the battles, but they are entertaining nonetheless. I can still almost remember the quote about how Peter and the Witch were fighting so fiercely that his sword and her dagger seemed like three swords and three daggers.
The fifth book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, told a story of exploration, much more than of any conflict. I rather enjoyed battles more than exploration at that point in my life, so it was enjoyable but sub-par for me. Looking back, I like it more now.
The sixth book was where things started going downhill for me. The Silver Chair had the protagonists coming into Narnia somewhat deliberately, departing from the norm of accidental or fateful entrances, and told the of the rueful fates of certain characters I liked from the previous books, and involved a quest that ended rather simply with a small scuffle instead of a battle. It was kind of “meh” for a boy who only cared about battles and explosions, LOL.
The seventh book, The Last Battle, told of the ending of Narnia, the entire world. It was also “meh” for me back then, as it involved everyone dying, but it was treated so calmly and academically, it wasn’t like my heart was breaking. I mean, they still existed in the next life, which we got a peek at, but… well, it was not so thrilling.
So, four out of seven, I really liked. Not bad, really, especially considering I’d probably enjoy more of them more if I reread them (which I really should, one of these days).
One thing I hadn’t realized, until I heard The Horse and His Boy being read aloud on tape (rather, CD), is how well-suited Lewis’ writing style is to being spoken aloud. He wasn’t just writing and leaving someone else to figure out how to make it flow and be entertaining, he made it so on his own. This is very much a good thing. While his world-building does not match that of his contemporary, Tolkien, Lewis certainly achieved something Tolkien didn’t quite manage.
A note about the world-building (before fans start throwing things at my head). Lewis did craft a world, and he included so many creatures, most of which we don’t even know what they are, that it rather boggles the mind. However, because we don’t know what they are, and because they are in a smaller world than Middle-Earth, with a history that is only barely alluded to, the world-building trophy certainly goes to Tolkien.
That said, what Lewis did was create a series of stories which bear a strong resemblance to Christianity. I believe he even said something to the effect of, “I imagined a world where Christ came in the form of a lion, and proceeded from there.” (naturally, exactly when I want to find a source to cite, I can’t find the darn thing) I’ve heard plenty about drawing from source material, being inspired by other stories, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of someone simply, and directly, adapting a religion into a new story, and doing so in such a way that it clearly preaches the same message about a divine being who creates the world and sacrifices himself to save his people.
Even some of the prose seems strongly inspired by scripture from the Holy Bible. There’s this one section where the White Witch sends her servants to summon her followers, listing all of the many kinds of creatures she commands, not unlike how they list things in Bible verses. When Aslan identifies himself to a boy, he simply says “I am myself,” reminiscent of “I am that I am.”
I particularly like what could probably be Lewis’ statement to atheists. It’s been years since I read it, but it was basically like this: these atheist dwarves are all dead (we can assume, because everyone is at this point) and there they are in the afterlife, sitting in a circle, eyes open, telling themselves that they are actually in a dark shed, not seeing anything that they are seeing, not seeing Aslan as he walks among them, and that when he breathes on them or growls in their ear, it’s all fake, a ruse, a charade. Aslan says something like, “They are so set on not being taken in that they refuse to be taken out of themselves.”
There is none so deaf as he who will not hear, and none so blind as he who will not see.
In short, while Tolkien drew and on cultural legends and created an entire world with its own mythology and languages, Lewis drew on familiar Christian stories and told them in a different way. It occurs to me that my personal favorite author, Brandon Sanderson, mixes these two methods, and others, on a regular basis. I can think of many worse ideas that drawing inspiration from a pair of masters.
Need I say it again, how Tolkien and Lewise are the grandfathers of fantasy?