Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 1: Creative Breaks that Inspired Tolkien Readers

 tolkien vs lewis pbsIt is a question that has been nagging me for some time: Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship?

Meilaender Taste For The Other 2By this, I do not mean any particular insult to Lewis scholars. I am one, in fact. As I note in some of other writing in various places, we have critical Lewis work of significant note Colin Manlove, Charles Huttar, Gilbert Meilaender, Paul Ford, Marsha Daigle-Williamson, David Downing, Diana Pavlac Glyer, Corbin Scott Carnell, Joe Christopher, Edith Humphrey, Charlie Starr, Monika Hilder, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Don King, Don Williams … oh, and Michael Ward, who some folks might have heard of. Plus the ones I have forgotten, and some that you may appreciate that I haven’t fully considered.

Beyond these critical scholars who have written books of note, there are dozens of really important journal articles. There are also some cool theses now nearly lost in the stacks and interesting popular work by folks like philosopher Peter Kreeft, professor Devin Brown, or pastor Will Vaus. Even listing them–and I have altogether left out the biographers, resource-makers, editors, reception studies scholars, those engaged with Lewis and philosophical thought, and writers of particular studies–puts me in some danger, for a reason that I note below. And there is some work I haven’t gotten to yet, like Steven Beebe’s work on rhetoric (okay, I peeked) or the writing on Lewis and education (except Joel Heck’s book).

tolkien vs lewis 3There are some truly terrible C.S. Lewis studies and popular books, too, though I don’t care to list them here. I’m sure these exist for J.R.R. Tolkien as well. However, I think it is more likely that novelists will write terrible Middle-earthish novels than popularizers bowdlerize Tolkien’s thought, popularize him beyond recognition, or otherwise measure him for peculiar procrustean beds.

Verlyn Flieger splintered lightThough I think the biographies between the two most popular Inklings are largely comparable, there is a rich current within the best of Tolkien studies that is remarkable. I simply have never encountered something in Lewis studies like Verlyn Flieger‘s Splintered Light–a lyrically beautiful critical study, tight and thematically vibrant, invested in the entire corpus and yet completely accessible as a single study of light and darkness, word and language, using two of Tolkien’s lectures to focus the material (Meilaender’s study of Lewis is close, but not as beautifully written). Is there an historical Lewis study comparable to John Garth‘s Tolkien and the Great War? Is there a parallel within Lewis studies to the strong medievalist approach to and with Tolkien? Has there been a Lewis scholar with the prestige (and accent, well, maybe accent) of Tom Shippey–not just an Oxford and Cambridge scholar, but one who is quite literally Tolkien’s successor as a medievalist? And then there are the linguists and lexicographers: there is nothing like them in the world of literary studies, I think, let alone any study like these attending to Lewis’ work in any particular way (except perhaps Joel Heck’s chronology).

Mythopoeic AwardsGo further: take a look at, say, the Palgrave Macmillan catalogue of Tolkien studies and compare it with any imprint with a Lewis catalogue and you can see the difference in scholarly quality of the field as a hold. Or look at the last 5 years of nominees for the Mythopoeic Awards for Inklings Scholarship. It is hard to compare, frankly.

Without denigrating the good Lewis scholarship or neglecting the fact that Lewis scholars have created great popular-level materials, how do we account for the differences? Here are some of my theories as a conversation starter. In Part 1, I talk about four moments in Tolkien readership that resulted in bursts of creative scholarly energy. In Part 2, I take the daring approach of comparing and contrasting the work of Lewis and Tolkien. And in Part 3, I look at other factors, focusing especially on the tools and techniques that Lewis and Tolkien scholars have used.

I have not done anything like a full scan of Tolkien scholarship, so feel free to critique my reasons or enhance my understanding of Inklings studies. You are welcome to use the comment section or social media to challenge me or develop an idea further. If you want to write an essay in response proving me wrong or right, I’ll even give you space here to publish it (if it is well-written). But this is what I would offer as a coffee-time, conversation-starting set of reasons why the fields are different.

Frodo Lives banner1. Tolkien and Lewis Fandoms: The First Break in Tolkien Scholarship

Derrick The Fame of C.S. Lewis audiobookLewis and Tolkien’s fiction has different paths in both the public and in literary studies. As Stephanie Derrick relates in her 2018 reception study, The Fame of C.S. Lewis, Lewis’ growth in popularity was slow, beginning with some note and notoriety for Lewis with Screwtape, then growth of his public profile, and finally a slow evolution of the importance of his Chronicles of Narnia in public view. In particular, it was America that seized upon Lewis as a literary light, especially in education and the Christian community. The UK was begrudging in its acceptance, so that Lewis only received a degree of admiration in the new century. By contrast, Tolkien’s popularity after the publication of The Lord of the Rings was explosive. From “Frodo Lives” movements to local societies, the commitment of Tolkien readers has been clear.

As a result, many of the 25+ posthumously published Lewis volumes and the many reprints are popular and accessible books, largely pitched to Christian readers and thus very essay-laden. Meanwhile, the 25+ posthumously published Tolkien volumes are mostly careful, scholarly tomes of archival materials that contribute to the single Middle-earth legendarium or to Tolkien’s artistic formation. While there are fans in both camps, Lewis readers of these books-after-life gifts to us are largely people trying to grow in their faith or clarify their worldview; Tolkien readers are, simply, nerds. Tolkien scholarship, then, has a built-in early-days rigour to it that Lewis studies did not need.

tolkien vs lewis 22. Tolkien and Lewis as Literary Scholars: The Second Break in Tolkien Scholarship

In the highbrow field of literary studies, the situation is more complex for two reasons: Lewis and Tolkien’s own literary scholarship and the question of whether Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are “literature.” First the question of Tolkien and Lewis as scholars.

tolkien beowulfLewis and Tolkien are each regarded as having made small-but-significant contributions in their respective field: Lewis in the literary history of the 16th and 17th centuries and Tolkien in Beowulf studies. In my reading of things, Tolkien’s work has had more critical engagement than scholars working with Lewis. Lewis’ Preface to Paradise Lost is probably read more often than Tolkien’s Beowulf lecture. In scholarship, however, the Preface is merely there as an interesting point of conversation and an accessible introduction to the poem. It seems to me that medievalists and Beowulf scholars take time to wrestle with the gauntlet that Tolkien threw down in his Beowulf essay far more than Milton scholars take Lewis’ argument serious. Thus, Tolkien’s scholarship seems to invite deeper conversation than Lewis’, which is helpful and enjoyable but does not change the nature of the game as much.

However, I think that these differences are enhanced by the fact that Lewis scholars have not always been attentive enough to what Lewis is doing on a theoretical level. Beyond these two contributions to Milton and Beowulf studies, I don’t think there is any doubt that Tolkien has been more influential in fantasy studies (with his “On Fairy-stories” lecture/essay). However, I think that scholars have simply missed the degree to which Lewis is creating a metacritical framework of thinking about speculative world-building. Likewise, Tolkien is more well-discussed in medieval studies, for excellent reasons. But I argue in my chapter in The Inklings and King Arthur that Lewis is undervalued in thinking about intertextuality, and I argue in my PhD thesis that Lewis suggests a theory of literature that is in strong conversation with the “French turn” of the 1960s. Tolkien scholars are far more adept at considering the consequences of Tolkien’s work in medieval studies than Lewis’ contribution in a quite different way to the same field. Watch the papers at Kalamazoo and you’ll see that I’m not wrong. There are missed opportunities here by Lewis scholars, I believe.

lord of the rings ballantine 23. Is this Literature? The Third Break in Tolkien Scholarship

Brian Attebery Strategies of FantasyIn Strategies of Fantasy (1992), Brian Attebery has a chapter entitled “Is Fantasy Literature? Tolkien and the Theorists.” It is quite a question. In the next Part, I will discuss the question of genre, which partly answers this question–The Lord of the Rings is “literature” in a way that Narnia is not.

However, while I know that I am overstating things a little bit, but Tolkien scholars were far better at making the case in scholarship that The Lord of the Rings is “real” literature that deserves to be taken seriously not just as a phenomenon of readership but as a literary work that warrants deep, critical study. Perhaps Lewis scholarship simply stepped to the side and did the analysis they wanted to do without worrying about what the MLA Hall Monitors thought of their work. There is something admirable about that approach. But in challenging the presumptions of literary criticism–in showing up for the fight–Tolkien reader-scholars were able to enter into a field of discourse that Lewis reader-scholars have rarely entered.

lord of the rings banner4. The Films: The Fourth Break in Tolkien Scholarship

lord of the rings film box setThere is a lot of debate about the quality and faithfulness of the LOTR Peter Jackson films–and the Hobbit films are a clear demonstration that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. There is no doubt, however, that the Peter Jackson LOTR films are far superior to the Narnia films on almost every category of comparison. While some might say that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe makes a fine (though not amazing) Disney film, the trio of films go from fine to terrible to unwatchable. By contrast, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is beautiful, expansive, artistic, and evocative–if not always satisfying.

More than anything, however, the LOTR films inspired an entire generation of readers with great imaginations. Beyond sales and fan clubs, the films inspired a generation of new Tolkien scholars to put their minds and hearts to the task of thinking resonantly about Tolkien, the worlds he made, and the worlds he inspired. Young adults, especially, watched the films, bought the books, and read or reread with new eyes. I am one of these who was made to fall in love again with the Middle-earth stories. In the years after, I was slowly drawn in more and more deeply into Tolkien’s unruly and evocative imagination.

It’s true that the Narnian films and books are, by nature, for children, so may be better at forming the imagination and social life than forming vocation. Still, there is a difference in substance that enhances that development so that the Peter Jackson films have inspired any number of budding intellectuals and authors to turn their critical eye and creative pen to the task of scholarship.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3, where I consider other facts inside the literature and out in the scholarly worlds.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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69 Responses to Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 1: Creative Breaks that Inspired Tolkien Readers

  1. Well done for being courageous enough to take a big bite from this dish of plenty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. key2lock says:

       I tried to post this comment without success: I loved your phrase, ‘MLA hall monitors’! Julia

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS


  3. dalejamesnelson says:

    A couple of thoughts, Brenton —

    1.I’m not sure about the assumption that there is “more” “high-quality” Tolkien scholarship than Lewis scholarship. There’s a quantitative element and a qualitative element to the assumption that would, at least, need some careful discussion.

    2.Assuming for the purpose of a blog comment that the assumption is true, one explanation may be that Lewis’s writings are much more prone than Tolkien’s to confront the reader with Law and Gospel; but the Gospel message smells like death to those who are perishing (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:16, etc.). It is unavoidable in Lewis’s fiction and it’s disgusting to many when they realize what the story implies. Many scholars do not really want the text to turn around and fix them with its glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner’s.

    I thought of something that might be relevant that was written in the 1950s by a very bright young man named Eugene Rose, who became the Russian Orthodox monk Seraphim Rose. Eugene wrote:

    “The academic world – and these words are neither lightly nor easily spoken – has become today, in large part, a source of corruption. It is corrupting to hear or read words of men who do not believe in truth. It is yet more corrupting to receive, in place of truth, mere learning and scholarship which, if they are presented as ends in themselves, are no more than parodies of the truth they were meant to serve, no more than a façade behind which there is no substance. It is, tragically, corrupting even to be exposed to the primary virtue still left to the academic world, the integrity of the best of its representatives – if this integrity serves, not the truth, but skeptical scholarship, and so seduces men all the more effectively to the gospel of subjectivism and unbelief this scholarship conceals. It is corrupting, finally, simply to live and work in an atmosphere totally permeated by a false conception of truth, wherein Christian Truth is seen as irrelevant to the central academic concerns, wherein even those who still believe this Truth can only sporadically make their voices heard above the skepticism promoted by the academic system. The evil, of course, lies primarily in the system itself, which is founded upon untruth, and only incidentally in the many professors whom this system permits and encourages to preach it.”

    Tolkien’s fantasy — quite properly — works within a context in which Christian revelation is “concealed” typologically. (I will email you a paper on this that is due to appear later this year in the fanzine Portable Storage. The article is aimed at nonbelievers who might be willing to give me a hearing.) Lewis works with that context in Till We Have Faces. But the rest of his fantasy has a context in which the Word has become incarnate and all meaning is, ultimately, derived from Him in an explicit not “latent” way.

    And that is off-putting for many scholars, yes, even some who might be nominal Christians.


    Liked by 1 person

    • dalejamesnelson says:

      Rose’s comment was written one year after his graduation from UC Berkeley, by the way.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Interesting to juxtapose that quotation from Rose with Malcolm Bradbury’s first novel, Eating People is Wrong (1959, Penguin 1962), with its satire on self-described “liberal” academics and (graduate) students, and their preoccupation with the “moral” as they define it – the ‘academe’ in which Lewis wrote his De Descriptione Temporum, Experiment in Criticism, His Four Loves, and distilled his decades of lectures into The Discarded Image, and Tolkien spoke his Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford (which remained unpublished till 1979!).


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Sample: an English professor and department head, now nearly 40, says, “one can’t live as amorphously as this for ever. That’s why people convert to Catholicism, or become party members, or marry. At least they have a sense of identity and cause and effect. […] Then suddenly I see myself as some ordinary person sees me… […] I have no real relationships with anyone, though I have this broad and firm faith in human relationships. I contribute nothing at all to them, though. I look for love and can scarcely find it in me. Everything turns to ashes. I am ashes.” I don’t know Malcolm Bradbury well enough to know if he thought this self-described “liberal” (and, indeed, politically, “socialist”) is merely inane in his characterizations of Catholicism, party, and marriage, or not. But that kind of self-satisfied, thoroughly unreflective, glib dismissiveness is presumably not wildly exaggerated, and something Tolkien and Lewis must have encountered regularly.

          Liked by 1 person

    • robstroud says:

      Very thoughtful and, I believe, accurate response to the subject raised by Brenton in this excellent post.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dale, thanks for the response!
      1. Yes, I’m largely granting the distinction for the sake of arguing about the culture of scholarship. However, the distinction isn’t just quantity. Your Garth/Gilchrist distinction is a great example. 2 essential works, but there is simply a difference in what Garth has done in terms of excellence. That’s what I’m talking about. I read lots of good literary criticism, but nothing like Flieger.
      The one area that a writer like yourself might want to push me on, which I don’t address, is that “scholars cannot live by books alone.” I don’t personally see much difference in the quality of Tolkien and Lewis scholarly essays.

      2. This is quite lovely and intriguing: “one explanation may be that Lewis’s writings are much more prone than Tolkien’s to confront the reader with Law and Gospel; but the Gospel message smells like death to those who are perishing (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:16, etc.). It is unavoidable in Lewis’s fiction and it’s disgusting to many when they realize what the story implies. Many scholars do not really want the text to turn around and fix them with its glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner’s.”
      My question, though, is this: Why would that affect the quality of scholarship? Presumably, you aren’t put off by it, I’m not put off by it, so my good Lewis scholars aren’t…. Why then the difference in quality that we grant for the argument?

      I have more illustrations to come over the next two weeks, but I don’t address your question of more or less Christian content–what one person said was Lewis point to something outside the fictional world.


      • dalejamesnelson says:

        A clarification: I do not grant, even for the sake of argument, that the quality of scholarship on Lewis is affected to its detriment by — by anything, really. I am sure that there is very good Tolkien scholarship and there is very good Tolkien scholarship. There is likewise poor Lewis scholarship and poor Tolkien scholarship (a glance years ago suggested that Gracia Fay Ellwood’s Good News from Tolkien’s Middle-earth would be a specimen of the latter; a recent rereading of Ready’s The Tolkien Relation confirmed how awful that was).

        I do grant — ad hoc, for the sake of the discussion — that there may be more pieces of good Tolkien scholarship (books, articles) than there are on Lewis.

        One reason for that has been suggested already, that Tolkien puts off nonbelievers more than Lewis does. We have a good essay by Colin Wilson on Tolkien; he never wrote an essay on Lewis.

        But you are more oriented towards academic scholarship than I am, as we know from other conversations here. These days I read little of the specifically academic work on either author. I’m not qualified to make assessments of the current state of academic work on either author — hence my remarks on what I was prepared, and not prepared, to grant for the sake of discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

        • dalejamesnelson says:

          I wrote, “I am sure that there is very good Tolkien scholarship and there is very good Tolkien scholarship.”

          I’m even more sure there is very bad Nelson proofreading.

          “I am sure that there is very good Tolkien scholarship and there is very good Lewis scholarship.”

          Liked by 1 person

      • Well done, and I’m looking forward to parts 2 & 3!

        Your starting premise is an interesting premise for sure. At first blush, I’d thought you meant that the volume of work about Tolkien is broader than work about Lewis. I did an unscientific study of 10 minutes of searching:

        JSTOR: 8,103 results for Tolkien, ~28,000 results for various iterations of “C.S. Lewis”
        Academia.edu: 16,402 full text results for Tolkien, 587 paper titles; 66k full text, 122 titles for C.S. Lewis
        Project Muse: 3362 for “C.S. Lewis”, 2966 for “Tolkien”
        Google Scholar: Useless anyway

        I’m certain that the results are pulling things by other Lewises, but it made me go back to your article here and read carefully; “strong” is an important word, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of what you mean by it. Perhaps I’m mostly ignorant of the scholarship done and the references you make ought to be enough for me to go “ohhh yeah true true.”

        In any case, I’m very curious about Part 2 in particular. One thing I’ve noticed between Lewis is something that Ursula K. Le Guin points out rather harshly in a few interviews: “I admire the first book of his trilogy, as a novel. He was one of the first writers to invent alien creatures who were truly alien and truly sympathetic. I think those Martians of his are magnficient. And the second two books of his trilogy I consider an abomination, because he started preaching. I do not like to preach, or be preached at” (Freedman 54). Ironically, some of her own work has been criticized on this exact point. And personally I like *That Hideous Strength* the best. Anyway, in another interview she said, “I’m not particularly fond of a story that has *a* meaning; I’d much rather have *thirty* meanings” (119). This is similar, I think, to the reason that Tolkien wasn’t particularly a fan of Narnia.

        In my admittedly limited experience reading Lewis, he often has A Meaning that he is trying to impart to his reader, or a small selection of thematic ideas he’s clearly promoting or that came in early on, barely escaping that “message-ness” of a lot of Christian fiction you mention in another post somewhere, I think. Tolkien, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be too concerned with this, and would rather just “try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them” (LOTR Foreward). If that the author’s intended message or meaning or meanings are very transparent instead of giving readers the freedom to find their own is indeed a differentiating factor between the two authors’ styles, then perhaps that might be a contributing element to the difference in strength of scholarship?

        I’m looking forward to seeing where this whole train of thought leads!


        • Great responses, Maximilian. I don’t know what the data would tell us in bulk–and I take up the reproduction of scholarship as a factor in part 3, a little bit. If I were to guess, peer-review articles and smart book-length studies occur at a 2:1 ratio for Tolkien:Lewis. But just a guess. Basic data can skew things, as can popular materials. There are, after all, 500 Lewis articles on my website alone!
          On Le Guin, there is some irony there but not a tonne of surprise. Here’s the thing: I like Le Guin for 1) her imagistic world-building, 2) her heart-luring characters, 3) her descriptive prose, and 4) her sense of risk. But I also like because she is what I call (loosely) a “theological writer,” her work carries, provokes, and troubles meaning of what it means to be human, a neighbour, and love within the world, along with questions about God or the divine, society, truth, etc. That is the kind of writer I like, so I like L’Engle and Lewis and Rowling, as well as some realistic writers, like C. Bronte, Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, Frederick Buechner, Marilynne Robinson, etc.
          I would put Stephen King on the edge of this camp with his supernatural fiction–but that demonstrates that I don’t just mean that “an author infuses work with meaning(s),” but that it can be an instinctive and emergent phenomenon.
          And I put Tolkien squarely in this camp. Contrast that comment in the LOTR Foreword with a bunch of comments about LOTR and the legendarium in his letters and interviews. It is about death, it is about power (though not always how we think), it is about ennoblement of the humble, it is about virtue, it is a mythology for his people–and … it is about beauty perhaps? Even his quote, he wants to “excite,” to call out–out of what and into what, I might ask? And Mickey Corso’s work on Catholicism with some other scholars has stirred up some degree of other kinds of religious and human connection.
          So is Tolkien a theological writer? I totally think so, in my definition here.
          However, I think you are right that Lewis keeps drawing us back to the centre of something in his work, one way or the other. That’s difference that experiments in race and gender in L’Engle, Le Guin, and Rowling, but I don’t think far off.
          How that affects the scholarship? I argue in the next bit that this has betrayed some Lewis commentators, presuming his work to be deceptively simple or otherwise missing the centre.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 1: Creative Breaks that Inspired Tolkien Readers – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  5. robstroud says:

    This is an amazing column, Brenton. I am delighted to see this subject raised so eloquently, and am eager to read the rest of your argument. I wholeheartedly agree with your general analysis.

    I had two comments I wanted to share, and Dale addressed the first far better than I could have. The law and gospel underpinnings of almost all of Lewis’ writings as a Christian are distasteful to the majority of those in academia. The secularist presumptions of these individuals (who too frequently consider themselves more brilliant and therefore correspondingly more elite than hoi polloi) are far more comfortable with Tolkien’s quiescent religious expressions.

    My second observation is that yes, Lewis’ work may well resonate with a, shall we say, less educated population. But I see this not as a liability (noting that you did not suggest it was). I perceive this as one of the great strengths of Lewis. That he could take deeply serious subjects and communicate truth so clearly to common folk such as me, is not merely a skill… I believe it to be a gift.

    I acknowledge that your point in this fine column is not to argue Tolkien is “better” in any sense than his fellow Inkling because of his “popularity” with serious academics. I accept that the premise for your thesis stands true (although Nelson rightly states above that it remains to be proven)–there is more serious academic scholarship devoted to the writings of Tolkien.

    In my mind, this is due in large part to their different vocations. They each followed where God led them and, in the Lord’s wisdom, their audiences were not identical.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your thoughts on this subject.


    • Thanks Rob, I sent a note to Dale above about that inside, Christian reality. Perhaps let the series sit a couple of weeks and spin through to the end and see if I get at what you are saying. But I intentionally avoided popular level as the specific category. I use a different image next week.
      Just thinking of popular accessibility, it could be that Lewis’ success in being accessible makes the scholarship less necessary and thus weaker.


  6. joviator says:

    My initial answer to this question is the mirror image of Rob’s. Suppose you’re a scholar who has written a book about Lewis. 🙂 The chains of Christian bookstores across the USA exert a powerful gravitational force on any publisher. Those bookstores could sell 20,000 copies of a book about Lewis, but their customers like to have books filled with things that they already know, set out fair and square with no contradictions. No matter how brilliant and original your work is, it won’t sell enough in mainstream scholarly outlets to make the publisher forget what could have been, had you been banal and predictable instead. Lewis is cursed by economic forces.


    • Jo, yes, I have not dealt with that question (today or in parts 2 & 3), except in “Jacksploitation,” which I briefly address. Do Christian bookstores want weak books? Perhaps. They certainly get weak books! But I have kind of set aside the weaker Lewis materials in my mind for the discussion, dealing with what I think are the best things and comparing them with the best I see in Tolkien scholarship.

      Liked by 1 person

    • dalejamesnelson says:

      Joviator’s comment may create a false impression. As I haven’t been in any bookstore — Christian or otherwise — in years (I live in rural North Dakota) — I would hesitate to comment on what’s available about Lewis there. But supposing for the sake of discussion that there are lots of mediocre books about Lewis from Christian publishers in Christian bookstores, that wouldn’t actually indicate that there weren’t good books about Lewis available elsewhere.

      Have people commenting here taken notice of books such as Sanford Schwartz’s book on the space trilogy or Stephanie Derrick’s reception study, both for Oxford UP? A. T. Reyes’s CSL’s Lost Aeneid for Yale? Peter Schakel’s Imagination and the Arts in CSL for U Missouri Press? Several books by Don King for Kent State UP?

      The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to dismiss the notion of Tolkien scholarship as “stronger” than Lewis scholarship, even on a quantitative basis. If one’s going to make a serious attempt to justify that notion, one will have also to deal with the abundance of rather poor books on Tolkien. I mentioned two already. If it’s true that there’s more good Tolkien scholarship than Lewis scholarship, which I don’t personally assume to be true, one must deal with the factor of more poor writing on Tolkien than on Lewis too. We may be headed for little more than an observation about Tolkien being more widely read than Lewis, which will be news to no one, hence more written-upon.

      Incidentally, a factor here also is that post-Christian Britain has been inclined to condescend to Lewis more than to Tolkien. Lewis’s orthodox biblical Christianity puts the wind up a lot of people. I said that before, but here I’m saying that this is particularly true of Britain as compared to America, though this country is catching up real fast.

      The American academy is wary of orthodox Christianity, which could promote less Lewis in courses than Tolkien in courses, hence less academic work.

      Oh, and there’s this — serious account must be given to studies of authors worth reading in their own right but whose recent (re-)entry into view has been largely due to their association with Lewis — I refer to solid works on Ruth Pitter and Joy Davidman, for example. This is an area with plenty of room for exploration. I’m thinking of Martyn Skinner, winner of the prestigious Hawthornden Prize, and Herbert Palmer, to name two.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Dale. I do know those recentish scholarly books you mention. I think the manuscript work in Lewis and Tolkien studies is of a different nature, as I mention it next week.
        The Derrick book, which I rate highly, is a case in a point or two. Her work is solid and should be read with Joeckel’s deep study CSL Phenomenon (and Marsden’s book on Mere Christianity, which is light, interesting, well done). However, I know of very few who have read Joeckel’s game-changing book, and have seen few reference it. And I heard a person mention Derrick’s book and a leading Lewis scholar I’ll not name (because it isn’t in print) completely negate its value in principle. The principle was that there are moments that are critical of the folks in charge of the Lewis estate. Here are examples that show an interesting set of issues in Lewis scholarship, one I address next week (lack of research) and one I hint at in Part 3.d
        In comparing Derrick, Joeckel, and Marsden with the host of pretty intriguing reception studies in Tolkien, I think generally the quality is similar, so a case of simply more good Tolkien scholarship rather than a qualitative difference. The Hammond & Skull work and Rateliff’s, however, might edge that up on Tolkien’s side–even leaving everything else off.


  7. John Gough says:

    As always, Brenton, this is a fascinating topic, and challenge. I am an amateur on both Tolkien and Lewis studies, although twice I defended Lewis from critics, notably David Holbrook — decades ago, and Holbrook thought he got off unscathed. (Maybe he did.) But I hope to offer a few brief responses.
    I am glad to see you mention Paul Ford as a Lewis scholar. His “Companion to Narnia” was relatively early, but very detailed. (Has he done more recent work? Remember, I am an amateur, and have failed to keep up with the emerging literature,)
    Of course you would have mentioned the late Walter Hooper, but he is ubiquitous, and essential, and surely implicit in most of the other Lewis specialists you mention.
    One of the challenges to a comparison between Lewis, overall, and Tolkien overall, and their respective critical appreciations, is that Lewis is far more diverse than Tolkien, and hence less easy for a scholar to grasp. Lewis is, as you know, an autobiographer and memoirist (“A Grief Observed”), a philosopher in his early career, an adult fantasy novelist and a children’s fantasy novelist, a scholar of English Literature (not just Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature: not to demean Tolkien’s achievement, but to define its scope), a poet of many kinds of poetry, an allegorist (“The Great Divorce”, and “Pilgrim’s Regress”).
    Lewis also drew on his philosophical background in his repeated defence of humanist and Classics values, as in “The Abolition of Man”, which evolved from his reaction to a positivist/quasi-materialist-Marxist English language textbook. Ditto in his striking critique of Weston-ism and N.I.C.E. in his “Space” trilogy. A former colleague of mine used “The Abolition of Man” as a prescribed textbook for a unit of study in Educational Philosophy! Repeatedly in his non-fiction and fiction, Lewis discusses schooling and tutoring, defending humanist values, the Classical tradition. Schools and tutors, for example, feature repeatedly in the “Narniad”, as you know.
    Although not a philologist like Tolkien, Lewis drew on his wide and deep knowledge of English in his “Studies in Words”, and other explorations of English Literature (“Preface” to Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, for example).
    Again, not a translator, like Tolkien’s work on “Beowulf” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Lewis was a commentator on the Psalms and other works.
    Importantly, with Lewis’s last major academic work, “An Experiment in Criticism”, Lewis was also a theorist in HOW we read, anticipating Wolfgang Iser’s theory of reading as a process of negotiation between the writer’s words and the reader’s knowledge. Lewis was also a prolific essayist on diverse topics. Crucially, Lewis was diverse in the range of his literary styles and genres.

    All of this means that a thorough appreciation of Lewis’s diverse and prolific output (by comparison, Tolkien published relatively little in his lifetime, powerful though it was, and the bulk of what we now have is due to the scholarship of Christopher Tolkien) requires an academic, or a team of academics with multi-disciplinary skills. I am surprised at how small the recent “Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis” is. Walter Hooper’s larger “C.S. Lewis Reader” is more of a descriptive background summary, and does not pursue the philosophy, theology, literary critical and cultural issues as deeply as they can and should be. Michael Ward does an excellent job demonstrating the penetrating Medievalism through Lewis’s thinking and writing, but that is only one aspect of Lewis’s body of work.

    By contrast, Tolkien was far more focused, in almost all aspects. To be a Tolkien expert requires less of a multi-disciplinary approach.

    And, it must be admitted, Tolkien was also an artist — naive, in some ways, but visually attractive. This provides a very different body of work to be described, displayed, placed in context, and appreciated. (Lewis-as-artist has been touched on briefly in earlier discussion with you, but so far Lewis’s visual expression has not been examined in any detail.)

    You mentioned John Garth’s book on Tolkien and the Great War. Something comparable must be possible for Lewis, who was also a junior officer in the British Army on the Western Front (and Warren Lewis, also). But this would require a diligent military history expert to search regimental records and battalion war diaries, and Lewis’s Army training, and service postings. And then reconsider any of Lewis’s (or Warren’s) letters from the war years, and afterwards that may comment on the war. I recommend that topic for someone else’s future research, better equipped than me, and better placed. (It’s hard to do research on the British Army without being in Britain.)

    While Tolkien was not the first modern writer to work in a quasi-medieval fantasy epic style (William Morris, and E.R. Eddison, for example, have been considered in Lin Carter’s groundbreaking early study of the background to “Middle Earth”, “Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings”), “The Lord of the Rings” has been astoundingly widely imitated by later fantasy writers. By contrast, Lewis has virtually no “imitators”, apart from E.E. Hale’s “Chariot of Fire”, which offers a fresh view of the Dantesque Heaven and Hell and Purgatory that nods, a little, to “The Great Divorce”.
    I suggest that Tolkien’s high”Middle Earth” style, and ethos, is easier to imitate and more attractive to would-be Tolkienesque authors than Lewis’s seemingly plain style — either like H.G. Wells and Edith Nesbit — deceptively plain, as Paul Ford’s and Michael Ward’s rich annotations make abundantly clear.

    I would suggest that the comparison of films is less helpful. Tolkien had his early Ralph Bashki animation of “Lord of the Rings”, and a 1970s “Hobbit” cartoon. As you imply with Peter Jackson’s misguided divergences from “The Hobbit” (novel), and his occasional near-misses in his “Lord of the Rings” cinematic trilogy, Tolkien’s more recent film versions have been, at least partly, questionable.
    Lewis’s “Narnia” in BBC TV (ghastly casting for “Lucy”, alas) and Christian-based movies, and animated films, has so far NOT been sensitively rendered on screen. We should hope for better, in the future.

    Let me try to summarise my rambling verbose response to your four points. Why, you ask, is Tolkien scholarship stronger than Lewis scholarship?
    There is less published material actually by Tolkien, and less diversity within that body of work, than is the case with Lewis.
    There is less academic breadth to Tolkien’s “world” than Lewis’s. (This is NOT a criticism of Tolkien, nor any suggestion of “simplicity”. It is intended as a descriptive statement.)
    In short, it is easier to do academic work on Tolkien than it is with Lewis, for some of the reasons I have waffled on about at length.


    • dalejamesnelson says:

      John wrote, “You mentioned John Garth’s book on Tolkien and the Great War. Something comparable must be possible for Lewis, who was also a junior officer in the British Army on the Western Front (and Warren Lewis, also). But this would require a diligent military history expert to search regimental records and battalion war diaries, and Lewis’s Army training, and service postings.”

      It’s been done — K. J. Gilchrist’s A Morning After War: C. S. Lewis and WWI. I wrote about it in 2005:

      No doubt about it, this book is a must for all libraries with collections about C. S. Lewis. It is without peer for its account of Lewis’s wartime experiences. Lewisians who have read Surprised by Joy and one of the biographies (Sayer’s is a good one) and who would like to know more about Lewis as a soldier should not hesitate to take up this book.

      It is remarkably blemished by errors in style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.


      • John Gough says:

        Thank you, Dale James Nelson, for this information about K. J. Gilchrist’s “A Morning After War: C. S. Lewis and WW I”.
        I wish the US postage was not (initially) prohibitive on a book that, at AbeBooks, is expensive, anyway.
        You say: “It is remarkably blemished by errors in style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation”.
        Did you mean “unblemished”?
        Or should I (rashly) assume that a book that IS “It is remarkably blemished [!!] by errors in style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation” might also be blemished in its factual account?
        Do you know enough about WW I (from a British Army perspective — not the same as a USA perspective of a war that did not begin until 1917 — this caveat is no reflection on the USA’s contribution to the final victory over Imperial Germany, only a caution about Americans’ grasp of the whole long catastrophic slaughter, from 4 August 1914) to vouch for Gilchrist’s research? I am looking for reassurance that US$70+ would be well spent.


        • dalejamesnelson says:

          John, alas, “blemished” is what I meant. I’m not competent to evaluate the military details. But I have found a script of my review, which I will type up and post here.


          • Alas, Gilchrist is super important to me for a project later this year and a book that I cannot afford! Provided that the world stays “open,” library loan will be my source.
            Perhaps save the typing and a camera shot linked? I don’t know if we can share pics….


      • John Gough says:

        Searching for Gilchrist’s book, I came across this later discussion that raises concerns about Gilchrist’s account of C.S. Lewis’s experiences in World War I on the Western Front, and its possible impact(s) on his life and writing:


      • dalejamesnelson says:

        Here’s my review of Gilchrist for the New York C. S. Lewis Society:

        Not What Homer Wrote About

        Gilchrist, K. J. A Morning After War: C. S. Lewis and WWI. New York: Lang, 2005. Xv and 225 pages. Illustrated. ISBN 0-8204-7612-9. $29.95. Reviewed by Dale Nelson.

        In Surprised by Joy, erstwhile Second Lieutenant Lewis wrote that the whine of the first bullet he heard signaled: “This is war. This is what Homer wrote about.” Gilchrist contends that the Great War was, on the contrary, something “radically unique and unprecedented in history” (159). Technological innovations and the immobility of trench warfare created conditions horribly different from the “largely mobile wars” of previous experience. The nerve-shattering experience of continuous bombardment, the horrors of gas and of killing fields whose soil was saturated by fragmentary corpses of horses and men, and boredom, pain, and guilt about killing traumatized many survivors, including, Gilchrist argues, Lewis himself.

        Gilchrist argues that poetic works predating Lewis’s conversion – Spirits in Bondage and Dymer – contain indications of Lewis’s wartime experience and postwar trauma, which Gilchrist believes Lewis was not forthright in discussing in his autobiography. He tries to be as exact as possible about Lewis’s injuries. A notable passage from the unpublished data is taken from Albert Lewis’s April 1919 letter to the War Office, in which he applies for compensation for Jack’s injuries and says, “As a result of Shock he suffers from a distressing weakness which need not be described here in detail” (140). Green and Hooper, in their biography of Lewis, quote “distressing weakness” and suggest the phrase refers to a bladder condition, but Gilchrist doubts that.

        Gilchrist is at his best in tracing, sometimes day by day, Lewis’s combat experiences (at the age of 19) – about a quarter of the book. This material makes the book indispensable for university collections of Lewisiana. Although Lewis’s brother Warren was a career military man, Gilchrist believes that Jack saw much more of the war at its worst (88). He has new things to relate about Lewis’s wartime friendships. He also probes Lewis’s relations with his father and with Mrs. Moore, with whom Gilchrist believes Lewis had a sexual affair.

        Regrettably, the book must be censured for numerous errors of style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Over thirty of the book’s pages contain such errors. Here are some examples:

        …one of the men of whom Lewis remembered fondly, saying (66)
        However, preparation for more significant events were [sic] taking place (96)
        …new technological innovations… (160)
        We arrive, then, at a point where we must ask, what is the means of coping, of eventual resolution – if such may be attained – to such violation of not only one’s person in being wounded and cast into the dire conditions of the Front, but to one’s psyche by means of violating one’s collective assumptions about the cosmos? (168)
        …his fireworks too disturbingly evoked the war for Jack’s tastes to be enjoyable… (184)
        Cold realities squelch lost like a numbing punch (209)

        Gilchrist finds “inexplicable” Jack’s nickname for Mrs. Moore – Minot (37); of course, the nickname was Minto, apparently a brand of candy. However, Gilchrist has a few corrections of errors committed by other authors, such as Humphrey Carpenter, to point out.

        Gilchrist belabors his points at times, but portions, at least, of this book will be read with much interest by many admirers of Lewis.

        (c) 2021 Dale Nelson

        Review of A Morning After War: C. S. Lewis and WWI by K. J. Gilchrist. CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 37:1 (#411), Jan.-Feb. 2006: 18.


        • Hi John and Dale, thanks for this Gilchrist conversation. John, your Brian Melton link gives a critique of Gilchrist’s core psychological thesis.
          Dale, I’m surprised that Peter Lang in that period put out such an error-ridden book, including some howlers! I still need to get my hands on it.
          Fortunately, my library has John Bremer, C.S. Lewis, Poetry and the Great War, 1914-1918. Lexington Books, 2012. Have either of you seen it? I have used it when thinking about Lewis and the war poets, briefly, some time ago–but had forgotten it when I wrote last year on Nov 11th.


          • John Gough says:

            My answer, Brenton, is that I had not heard of “C.S. Lewis, Poetry, and the Great War 1914-1918” by John Bremer.
            I also confess had not heard of most of the recent books on Lewis, or Tolkien, or others on the Inkling periphery (not to belittle in the least someone like Ruth Pitter).
            I will only add, building on my Brian Melton web-link, in his “critique of Gilchrist’s core psychological thesis”, that, as you might well say yourself, we should be guided by what the author — Lewis — wrote, and we read in to that at our peril.
            (Incidentally, Melton, an American author, seems to accept the American view that the Allied victory in 1918 was because of American troops. My reading of WW I and 1918, is that the last German offensive was stopped by exhaustion, and a strong fight-back by Australian and other forces. Then, in July and August, major battles — Hamel and Amiens — led by the Australian general, John Monash, began to push the Germans back. In particular, Monash created the modern all-arms method of attack that integrated infantry, machine guns, artillery, tanks, intelligence, planning, surprise, and air power — creating a way of finally breaking down trench defences. At the Battle of Hamel, contrary to direct orders of the US Commander in Chief, General John “Black Jack” Pershing, several fresh American units trained and fought alongside Australian units, and then took their experience back to their American units, for future use. Pershing ignored this, in his memoirs! But I must admit my Australian citizenship, and apologise for adding unnecessary detail.)
            Yes, I appreciate that Peter Jackson’s films captured enormous ADULT attention, and naturally sent many back to Tolkien’s original books, and thereby raised many questions.
            By contrast, I doubt that, apart from evangelical Christians, the BBC TV versions, or the two Hollywood versions of “Narnia”, did much capturing of adult interest. As loved as it is, “Narnia” continues to be most widely and fondly enjoyed by child-readers — a few of whom move into adult life with continuing adult interest in “Narnia” or Lewis, and specifically Lewis’s books beyond “Narnia”.
            Children’s Literature is like that. It is FOR children, predominantly, and for a small hard core of adult enthusiasts and professionals.
            Having said that, as Lewis himself said, a children’s book that an adult cannot read and enjoy is not a good book (I am paraphrasing).
            The “Narniad” may be (appear to be) a “children’s story”, and seem a simple tale, but is a profoundly GOOD story (Michael Ward throws bright light on this) in many deceptive ways that are, as you know, typical of Lewis’s body of work, fiction and non-fiction.

            Liked by 1 person

          • janetcroft says:

            I read and very much liked Bremer’s book — in fact, I see I wrote a blurb for it, but I haven’t been back to use it for anything. Gilchrist’s book left me thinking that there is still a GREAT deal to be done on Lewis and WWI; there is still no real equivalent of either Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War or my War in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien for Lewis. Even my Baptism of Fire collection only pulled in two articles on Lewis compared to six on Tolkien (and one on Barfield!).


            • Thanks for the recommendation, Janet. Bremer is on the list. And I know the WWI collection. For my own simple brain, I had to leave out essays. I’m simply not on top of Tolkien scholarship as far as essays go. Mythlore, though, seems to me to have lots of both Tolkien and Lewis over the years.
              I suspect that John Garth’s great work has given energy to scholarship of various kinds, like what’s in your volume.


              • janetcroft says:

                I did once analyze the content of Mythlore and figured it’s about half Tolkien. I didn’t break down the other half, though. But I don’t think it quite reaches 25% Lewis. Williams has steadily fallen off over the years. Now THERE’S a project for a bright young digital humanities scholar…. I’ll have to keep that in mind.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Any opinions on Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 – which I have not yet read?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t recommend it. Even allowing for it being written for a popular audience, in my opinion, it’s poorly researched, plays fast and loose with facts, and its theological focus seemed shallow and simplistic to me. (I don’t object to work on Tolkien’s or Lewis’s theology per se, but it had better be GOOD work with some serious meat to it.)


            • Janet and David, I have heard that Jo Loconte’s Hobbit/Wardrobe/War in becoming a documentary has become kind of a living text, that he was very responsive to the scholars he worked with on the project and aimed to present a strong, thoughtful series. I hope that is the result!


              • janetcroft says:

                Yes, Diana Glyer has been involved with this project, as well as Michael Ward and Malcolm Guite, I think. I will give Loconte credit for listening to the scholars who thought his work could be so much better.


    • Hi Joh, as I have dealt with 2 or 3 of your ideas in my own way in parts 2 & 3, I’ll leave that for now. But a quick response.
      Paul Ford also has a great PhD dissertation, which is hard to find.
      The Garth comments have moved on below.
      I think you may not quite have a sense of how influential those Jackson LOTR films were. People saw them and awoke or recovered Tolkien’s worlds in literary form. When they saw those films, they went to the text and saw there were questions to ask, things to saw, work to do–or just the love of stories and words that tumbled them forward into scholarship. I have not met anyone who watched the Narnia Disney films and said, “my, how big and beautiful is Lewis’ imagination; I’ll spend my life on it!”


  8. Nevin Slaughter says:

    What an amazing article and Discussion in the comments!
    I see I don’t have the same qualifications as others have, but I’ll put my two pennies in:

    I really like your part 1 and I agree that the popularity of CS Lewis and JRR Tolken are from fundamentally different sources. It’s interesting though that Tolken gets more scholarly work done, I never really noticed that.

    I can’t get over your question on another comment:

    “Why would that affect the quality of scholarship? Presumably, you aren’t put off by it, I’m not put off by it, so my good Lewis scholars aren’t…. Why then the difference in quality that we grant for the argument?”

    I hope to see you explore that question while I also ponder it.

    See you in Part Two!


  9. Cecilia Zeichner says:

    Hi Brenton,

    Looking forward to this series–part 1 has certainly be interesting!

    As a product of “secular” education (I put it in quotes because there were actually plenty of people of faith at my college!), I have these observations:

    1) Given that Lewis mostly wrote popular fiction, literary scholars might overlook his fiction, depending on how small-c conservative that school’s English department is. I would argue that Perelandra and TWHF should be included in any 20th century fiction class; they’re just waiting to be rediscovered. My college offered a traditional Milton survey course and then a course just about Paradise Lost and adaptations in different media. Reaaaalllly wish I took the course about the adaptations so I could have written about Perelandra. I wasn’t allowed to do so in the survey course.

    Anyway, given the religious nature of most of Lewis’s writing, scholarship might be limited to religious studies departments, which generally are smaller than English departments.

    2) While, yes, Lewis was a medievalist and early modern literature scholar, many of the works he’s credited with “rediscovering” or “re-popularizing”–i.e., The Romance of the Rose and The Faerie Queene–just aren’t as popular or widely taught. By contrast, Tolkien successfully positioned Beowulf as a foundational text of English literature so every student–no matter their specialty–has to read it; it’s no wonder, then, that “The Monsters and the Critics” is still widely read today. I think if The Faerie Queene was more widely taught Lewis’s scholarly matter would certainly be at the center of Spencer studies and well-known to undergrads. As for “Preface to Paradise Lost,” I’m not sure why it isn’t more widely included in Milton scholarship–perhaps it has to do with institutional bias, especially since Lewis’s contemporaries weren’t always so fond of him!

    3) Tolkien has benefited from a large archive and an involved family. I’m not sure if the question you ask in your series shouldn’t be, “Why isn’t there more serious Lewis scholarship” rather than “Why isn’t there more good Lewis scholarship.” Lewis didn’t leave behind a lot of rough drafts or unpublished works–or his archive is scattered across different institutions. Tolkien, on the other hand, left behind a veritable mountain of material and a son who was very interested in preserving his legacy. It seems like the Lewis estate has opted to be more commercial and Hooper’s interest in Lewis, however large, will never be the same as Tolkien’s own children. Now that Douglas has control of the estate, perhaps he will be more open to steering any future Lewis output into more academic territory.

    4) The Lewis estate forces people to pay royalties on quotations which is very WTF??? The only way for literature to survive is to make it accessible, people. Such a bad business decision.

    5) I think a lot of people just misunderstand Lewis and his philosophy. Since you mentioned the LOTR films, I think someone could really make an interesting adaptation of Out of the Silent Planet and play up the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist elements. These values are evergreen and appeal to people of all political stripes. I think Perelandra and That Hideous Strength would be impossible to film because of the nudity in the one and the rampant sexism in the other, but I think Out of the Silent Planet could really revive interest in Lewis! As for the Narnia movies from the 2000s, I thought LWW was well done and PC is really great costume porn so there’s that at least.


    • Intriguing set of comments, Cecilia. I’m supposed to be logged off for 3 days but I was tempted to give a quick response:
      1. TWHF will be in some university lit courses, and will probably stay solidly there over the years. I presume that there will be a stage or graphic novel adaptation that might buoy the book. It would have been a good candidate for a BBC audio back when they were great at that.
      I can’t think of a more relevant 20th c. remake of Paradise Lost than Perelandra–other than Phil Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

      2. Yes, I kind of address this in the weeks ahead, but not as tightly as you put it here: Beowulf remains popular, but most other medieval lit Lewis wrote about isn’t. Except Arthur–that is in some recovery.
      As for “Preface to Paradise Lost,” I think Milton scholars love and hate the book, but I haven’t seen it assigned much–other than the Satan chapter.

      3) This is all written up for Part 3–tho in my own way!

      4) I obviously can’t talk about that! But I do call for help here: https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2016/06/20/a-call-for-literary-patrons/.

      5) “I think a lot of people just misunderstand Lewis and his philosophy.” I think this demonstrates the need.
      OSP adaptation: yes, I think it could be cool. As long as film remains so expensive, though, I’m sure we won’t see the Ransom Cycle. That Hideous Strength could be made contemporary pretty easily. It would lose the sexism for today, but I think it should be heightened. I think the sexism is part of the best of the critique–and at points, some of the gaps in Lewis’ consistency. Reinterpreted for today, how could bureaucracy wrest control of the state from democratic powers? Could be cool and old boy sexism could be effective (esp. faced off against a strange, mystically weirdly egalitarian/non-egalitarian commune).
      Costume porn … well!


      • Ceci says:

        Oh no—didn’t mean to interrupt your Internet sabbatical! I think THS could be a good miniseries and the writers can keep it pretty much as is, just change it so it’d clear that Jane is choosing to not be an academic instead of how it is in the book, where it’s implied that good, Christian middle class wives just stay at home. I think someone could write an interesting article tracking what Jane wears throughout the book—at first, she dresses very severely, presumably in some sort of anti-fashion statement that was popular among academic women, despite her love for frilly hats. Then when she returns to St. Ann’s and she’s still unsure of where she stands she borrows Camilla’s clothes. By the end of the novel, when she is finally settled in her sense of stuff, she picks a feminine but simple gown from the Wardrobe room. Like Mark with the Punch magazines, she isn’t afraid to admit that she enjoys pretty dresses and old books and who cares what the rest of the world thinks. Oh wait, *I* could write that article…

        I hope the comment about the Prince Caspian costumes wasn’t too provocative but the costumes and production design really were exquisite. It’s a shame that same effort wasn’t put into the script.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I wonder how far Lewis’s OHEL volume is regularly referred to, for its various and numerous authors and subjects (e.g., on course reading lists and by students working on papers, or swotting up for ‘doctoral orals’)? I think Allegory of Love has been widely attended to, because it covers so much, because of the general interest in Courtly Love in any study of mediaeval lit in survey or depth, because of its boldness of thesis – and its contrast with the also (I think) widely-read Denis de Rougemont. We certainly read Lewis’s ‘What Chaucer really did to Il Filostrato’ when I was studying Chaucer, and it has been anthologized generally with Chaucer crit. On Tolkien’s side, his edition of Sir Gawain has long been in use (including in updated form). In how far have both been – and are both still – part of (good!) scholarship of their scholarly subjects?

    Lewis has certainly benefitted from Walter Hooper’s attention to his letters to a greater degree than Tolkien has from Christopher’s to his – given Christopher’s unpublished-works priorities: here, Lewis scholarship is – so far, still – surely way ahead!

    I wonder how all the variously good audiobook and dramatization work has benefitted both authors analogously well?

    But I do wish we could all easily get to hear Donald Swann’s Perelandra opera, as (judging by YouTube) easily as we can his Tolkien song settings!

    Another aspect is, how much good scholarship has been ‘multi-Inkling’ or ‘multi-Seven’?

    I enjoyed the BBC Narnia, including Lucy – and only wished it had had a bigger budget for better special effects.

    In how far have both Lewis and Tolkien contributed, by example and (so to say) ‘advocacy’, to the wider reading – and ‘serious reception’ – of science fiction, fantasy, and ‘children’s books by adults’?


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Plus, what of Lewis’s Discarded Image? We had Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture when we were reading Shakespeare in school, for which I am grateful, but Lewis is wider-ranging…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I will just say, hang on in there, O good and faithful Lewis scholar!


  12. Pingback: Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 2: Literary Breadth and Depth | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  13. Pingback: Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 3: Other Factors | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  14. John Garth says:

    I can’t make any fair judgement on the question, or judge whether it’s a fair question, because I haven’t read enough in the field. However, at risk of repeating some points already made, I’ll speak about my perspective. I’ve written books and taught substantial courses on Tolkien; I’ve only written articles about Lewis and taught a short course on both authors.
    Tolkien invites continuous exploration because his work is so vast, complex, and richly realised; and also because every part of it seems to speak, in some way, to every other part. I can’t read one thing without thinking of another, and another, and another. Exercise in that arena for a while and you can build muscles and dexterity you never knew you had. Possibly Lewis’s range and diversity means there is less internal connectivity, or the stretch is sometimes too great.
    Posthumous Tolkien books have come out more or less steadily since he died, and twelve of them (13 counting Unfinished Tales, 14 counting the new Nature of Middle-earth edited by Carl F. Hostetter) are essentially a single chronological study. Anyone old enough to be impressed and intrigued by The Silmarillion when it came out has been able to grow alongside Christopher Tolkien’s literary-archaeological History of Middle-earth. It’s an extraordinary resource, perhaps as unique a literary study as Tolkien was in his writing. And it’s so rich that scholarship is still only just dipping into it or scraping the surface. But again, it’s challenging; you can’t gallop through it and understand it; you build muscles to cope with the task at hand.
    Quality begets quality. I loved Tolkien’s works but did not know how to think about them until I read Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth. Then I read Verlyn Flieger’s A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faerie; it not only inspired me to write Tolkien and the Great War, but it made me feel what could and should be done in such a study. Writing my own was a pretty solitary obsession, but it was as if I had Verlyn and Tom as personal trainers, like a couple of Chariots of Fire Ian Holms.
    Personally I find I need to know a reasonable amount about an awful lot of different things to understand Tolkien. Not just comparative philology, medieval language and literature, the fantasy tradition, various national bodies of myth; but also social history, military history, various local histories and geographies, landscape writing, the development of archaeology. Roman Catholicism, of course, is important; but it is evident that you can not be an expert and yet still write work on Tolkien that people of all creeds and none may value. I’m not sure that’s so with Lewis. I can write and teach about him, but only within certain bounds, because I can’t read and appreciate everything he wrote. I’m more interested in words than the Word.
    I deeply envy Lewis scholars the glorious Collected Letters. Tolkien’s writing always deserves multiple visits, so The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is far from exhausted, but a more comprehensive collection would be an absolute boon. Even the difference between the draft and the sent letter can yield important information, like the fact that Sam Gamgee was modelled not just on the batmen Tolkien knew, but on his own batmen. https://johngarth.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/sam-gamgee-and-tolkiens-batmen/

    Liked by 2 people

    • THanks for the note, John. It has sort of anticipated (strange word here) what I wrote over the last couple of weeks–though in your own way, including Tolkien’s vastness (I chose weaker metaphors) vs. Lewis’ diversity, and some contexts for scholarship.
      Two things you bring up:
      1. There is an exponential effect to scholarship. Shippey & Flieger create in their disciples strength that keeps moving forward. That could bode well for Lewis scholarship as it grows, perhaps. Partly, this series is to jolt us awake a bit on our side of the Bird & Baby table.
      2. The religious centre vs. the mythic, or something like that. I just don’t know how to account for that fully when it comes to quality in scholarship. I’m a theologian, and what shocks me is how instinctively Lewis anticipates the key questions of Christian scholarship in the century to follow, often giving striking images to use. You share how you are drawn into Tolkien’s world for a different reason. I think that difference is good. But I’m not sure why your work within the work of 99 of your colleagues should be stronger than my work within my 99. I haven’t phrased that perfectly–I don’t mean a Thunderdome match between us. I mean that there doesn’t seem to me to be a reason on the inside, granted their differences, that Lewis theological and imagistic scholarship is weaker than Tolkien linguistic and mythic scholarship (to brashly state the difference).
      Except for one point, perhaps: That we are now in a generation where Christians are not working at the calibre of the culture as a whole. That wouldn’t limit me, but it means in the Christian focus on Lewis there is less depth there. This would explain why in the USA, evangelicals writing fiction in the last two generations (and there are lots) simply are not at the same table of the best of the general public. They are writing out of a thin worldview and thus their work is thin.
      Forgive the rambling, just some thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

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