Monday 20 August 2012

Timing and causes of the breakdown of Tolkien and Lewis's close friendship and alliance

Note added 14 February 2021: Since reading Tolkien's Modern Reading by Holly Ordway (2021) I am persuaded that my account below, about the Narnia stories coming-between Tolkien and Lewis, is wrong; being based on selective and distorted information. Further explanation can be found at my review of Ordway's book:

The critical rift in JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis's friendship can probably be dated to early 1949, when Tolkien heard Lewis read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

This fact was forcefully brought home to me by Lars Walker's blog posting at Brandywine Books -

Lewis later remarked that Tolkien disliked the book intensely, and Roger Lancelyn Green confirmed this from a meeting with Tolkien about the end of March 1949.

But if early 1949 was the critical incident, then we need to understand the background to the incident (and why it caused a rift) and also understand why the rift was not repaired.

This can, I think, be understood from studying the Chronology section of The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006) by Christina Scull and Wayne G Hammond - in conjunction with the biographical material relating to CS Lewis and Warnie Lewis's journals.


I have several points to make:

1. The rift was due to Tolkien - as will be seen...

2. The background was Tolkien having substantively finished writing The Lord of the Rings (LotR) sometime between 14 August and 14 Septenber 1948, on vacation at his son Michael's house in Woodcote near Oxford.

3. The rift was Narnia-induced in early 1949

4. The rift was not repaired because Tolkien withdrew to retype and revise LotR and also because Tolkien went through a psychological 'breakdown' (similar to the breakdown of 1945-6, documented elsewhere in this blog).

5. The end of the strong friendship is confirmed by the the end of The Inklings (i.e. the Thursday evening meetings) on October 27th 1949 - when Warren Lewis wrote in his journal that 'No-one turned up.'


Point 2. Finishing LotR

I believe that strong friendship between men is typically a by-product of an alliance, a joint-project.

From about 1936-1949 Tolkien and Lewis had a joint writing project - initiated by the idea of Lewis writing a Space Travel novel (which became Out of the Silent Planet and the following series) and Tolkien a Time Travel novel (which became the unfinished Lost Road and Notion Club Papers and the 'hobbit-sequel' which grew into LotR).

When Tolkien finished the first draft of LotR he did not need Lewis in the way that he had. Indeed, he now needed long periods of time alone to work on typing and refining the draft, pulling together the threads and removing inconsistencies.


Point 3 - Narnia

At a point when Tolkien no longer felt he needed the stimulus and editorial input of Lewis, but on the contrary needed to spend more time alone, Lewis revealed that he was not working along the same lines as Tolkien.

By writing LWW Lewis had (or so I infer Tolkien felt) broken-off their joint project which was initiated in 1936 - a project which was a continuation of Tolkien's long term project - dating from his his TCBS days from school, university and the army - and which might be described as a recovery of myth for modern England - a reconnecting of history with mythology intended to save the modern world from nihilistic materialism.


(In reality, Lewis was so productive, and so diverse in his output, that his writing of one type of book did not imply he had 'broken-off' the idea of writing another type of book. And Lewis's main project being non-denomenational Christian evangelism - including via the Narnia tales - does not imply that he would have stopped working on the long term joint project with Tolkien. So this interpretation of LWW would have been a mistaken inference on the part of Tolkien - if, as I am assuming, this was the reason for Tolkien's response to Narnia.)


Point 4 - Tolkien's state of mind

Reading through the Chronology for 1948-9, it is clear that Tolkien was again going through a disturbed period of psychological turmoil. From Feb 12 1948 he has three weeks leave of absence from work at the University, and goes to Brighton with his son Christopher - presumably to rest.

On 20 March 1948 he says in a letter that he has been unwell since October with 'poisonous' teeth accounting for some of the problem (presumably, a chronic dental infection - which might indeed produce long term symptoms of fatigue, demotivation and a depressed mood).

Yet, more than a year later, in a letter of 12 May 1949, Tolkien is still reporting 'indifferent health', trying to arrange two terms of leave, and has still not had the 'poisononous' teeth removed. (They were eventually extracted in March 1950.)

Then, in Autumn 1949, commences what is (for me) the single most embarrassing, and indeed disgraceful, episode of Tolkien's biography: the year-plus period of tortured maneuverings by which he tries to place The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion with the editor Milton Waldman at the publisher Collins - and where he chronically deceives, misleads and manipulates his long terms friends and colleagues at George, Allen and Unwin publishers.


So, the rift between Tolkien and Lewis was created and sustained by Tolkien by a coincidence of push and pull factors.

On the one hand, the pull between the two men was diminished by the completion of the Lord of the Rings - and on the other hand, the men were pushed apart by Tolkien taking offence at Lewis opening-up a new line of fictional work with the Narnia chronicles - then by Tolkien's need to work alone on revisions plus his disturbed state of mind - perhaps a depressive reaction to chronic tooth infection, and perhaps a moral lapse of yielding to the temptation of sacrificing his friendships in order the better to promote his literary works.

I think it is very likely that the rift was down to Tolkien not just for the above reasons, but because Lewis was a man incapable of taking offence or burning his bridges. While Tolkien was touchy and easily offended, Lewis retained friendships (such as Arthur Greaves and Owen Barfield) through great difficulties over many years - he also had friends of many types, both sexes, and continued to make new friends right up to the end of his life (e.g. Walter Hooper).


However, although Tolkien is, in a sense, 'to blame' for the rift with Lewis - there is also the fact that he suffered far more from the rift - in the sense that he never found a replacement for the stimulus and editorial input of Lewis.

When his alliance with Lewis dwindled, and the Inklings ended their Thursday evening meetings, then Tolkien found himself unable to complete large scale works for the rest of his life.

My impression is that, psychologically, Tolkien's alliances shifted from Lewis to his son Christopher - although naturally the relationship was of a qualitatively different kind.

While Lewis effectively got Tolkien to finish and publish his friend's work without excessive delay, Christopher himself finished and himself published his father's work - but after his father died.

These were the two great literary relationships of JRR Tolkien's life, and beyond.


Note added:


Wurmbrand said...

Responding to this posting will require more than one comment!

Lewis did continue to write mythopoeically, both with the Narnian books and Till We Have Faces.

The latter represents Lewis's return to the "Southern Thing" -- ancient Greek myth rather than the Northern European imagination to which Tolkien was more single-mindedly attached.

The Narnian books are am appropriation for 20th-century children of the Spenserian imagination. The "mixture" of mythologies, folklore, and Christianity that Tolkien disliked is like Spenser's Faerie Queene. Lewis had always loved The Faerie Queene; in the Narnian books he is connecting with it, just as he connects with Greek myth in TWHF. I don't know if Tolkien had any use for Spenser. I imagine he would have disliked the FQ on three counts: its "mixture" as just noted; its allegory; its Anglicanism.

Lewis had loved allegory. During his time of closest friendship with Tolkien (who alleged that he disliked allegory), he seems to have restricted his creative work such that he worked with allegory only in relatively minor efforts. The space trilogy is not allegorical.

The Narnian books are Anglican, not Roman Catholic. None of the doctrine implicit in them is Roman: there is no papacy, no invocation of saints, no clerical hierarchy, no purgatory, no Marian devotion, etc. in the allegory; everything is aligned with Anglican Reformation theology and practice. When Lewis allowed himself to express, imaginatively, his attachment to Anglican and Reformation convictions, he exploded with creativity. Tolkien would have detected this and not liked it at all.

It may be that Lewis became more his own man, and Tolkien wasn't comfortable with that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - interesting points so far - keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

Tolkien did indeed dislike The Faerie Queen.


Wurmbrand said...

This is just speculation, but I wonder if Lewis didn't feel that he had done his bit when, at last, Tolkien had a reasonably complete draft of LOTR. Could it be that Tolkien did not feel that Lewis was encouraging him as much as he might, vis-a-vis the Silmarillion material? That Lewis was enormously enthusiastic about LOTR (and Hobbit) we know, but just now I have been wondering if Lewis's feelings about the First Age material (or the "Numinor" material) & his own commitment to helping Tolkien see it through to publication, fell short of what Tolkien would have liked? But Christopher was deeply committed to the Silmarillion material always, was he not?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - That is an interesting thing to consider. We know that it was the Silmarillion legends which brought Lewis and Tolkien together - Lewis providing detailed feedback on poems etc - so we must assume that Lewis valued them highly at that time.

But it is possible Lewis may have had an ambivalent attitude about the S. as time went by, or as a consequence of T.s attitude - or something of that sort.

The other things is that the Silmarillion was 'finished' as a work, some three decades before 1948 - and 'only' required revising and harmonizing with LotR (of course, this matter turned out to be a Herculean task - but Tolkien did not suspect that at the time) - and this was work only Tolkien could do and which Lewis could not (and would not want to) help with.

More relevant, I think, is that Tolkien was only one of a spectrum of friends for Lewis; not as close as Warnie, Greaves and Barfield; and had not even been his closest friend among the Inklings while Charles Williams was alive. Lewis would 'hardly notice' when Tolkien withdrew or dropped-out from his circle of friends and diversity of activities.

While Lewis was - for that period of mid-1930s to 1949 - Tolkien's only really intense and regular friend - and indispensable to writing LotR as the primary 'audience'.

(Having said that, Tolkien must have been delighted to discover that Warnie Lewis loved the book so much - because Warnie was more of a 'plain man' than his brother, and this indicated the new book may have a much wider appeal than initially suspected.)

JRRT Reader said...

I can't imagine that Tolkien, Catholic that he was, could have been much in favor of the Faerie Queen. All aesthetic judgment aside, anti-Catholicism is quite prominent as a theme. Never mind that that it is Anglican; that in itself might have been less of an issue than the fact than it is brutally anti-Catholic.

I have, though, thought it curious that Spenser borrowed medieval themes, motifs, and imagery for a work so very opposed to the religious/cultural/intellectual outlook of that same era! (Indeed, much of my own interest in the ancient and medieval periods has to do with the fact that they can be called "A world without Protestantism.") I simply cannot conceive of a Protestantized Middle Ages.

So, while I don't know Tolkien's specific published or stated thoughts on Spenser, I think it reasonable to infer that they would have been quite negative. The anti-Catholic angle alone would have been strong enough medicine, but I would think he would have been thoroughly disgusted that Spenser appropriated medieval trapping to express it. Further, that such a work would then be presented as an English national myth/ethos could not have helped to displease him.

JRRT Reader said...

I can't imagine that Tolkien, Catholic that he was, could have been much in favor of the Faerie Queen. All aesthetic judgment aside, anti-Catholicism is quite prominent as a theme. Never mind that that it is Anglican; that in itself might have been less of an issue than the fact than it is brutally anti-Catholic.

I have, though, thought it curious that Spenser borrowed medieval themes, motifs, and imagery for a work so very opposed to the religious/cultural/intellectual outlook of that same era! (Indeed, much of my own interest in the ancient and medieval periods has to do with the fact that they can be called "A world without Protestantism.") I simply cannot conceive of a Protestantized Middle Ages.

So, while I don't know Tolkien's specific published or stated thoughts on Spenser, I think it reasonable to infer that they would have been quite negative. The anti-Catholic angle alone would have been strong enough medicine, but I would think he would have been thoroughly disgusted that Spenser appropriated medieval trapping to express it. Further, that such a work would then be presented as an English national myth/ethos could not have helped to displease him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale and JRRTR - I find this discussion of Spenser and Faerie Queen very interesting - partly because I am quite incapable of reading the thing.

But this difference of taste, and differences between Protestant/ Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism cannot have anything immediate or proximate to do with Tolkien and Lewis falling-out, because they pre-date the falling-out by many years.

Tolkien and Lewis very close friends and 'collaborators' from the mid-1930s to mid-1940s - by 1948 Lewis had published his Allegory of Love, his 'Mere Christianity' books, Screwtape and other things which Tolkien disliked - but this did not dent the friendship.

Lewis had also long since failed to become a Roman Catholic; and the Inklings was very much taken up with theological discussions including RC, Anglo-Catholic, Protestant-Anglican and even Theosophist angles - so denominational differences are not the key either.

Wurmbrand said...

BGC -- Take a look at Lewis's 3-page paper "On Reading 'The Faerie Queene'" in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. While it might not convince you to take up the poem again, you will be reminded of what Lewis saw in it.

The Faerie Queene seems to have been the main object of Lewis's scholarly thinking in the last phase of his life, but I suppose he always loved it. Penelope Fitzgerald wrote a few evocative sentences about Lewis lecturing on the FQ before WWII. She wrote in her copy of The Poetic Works of Spenser: "C.S.L. says forget courtly Spenser dreamy Spenser -- think of rustic Spenser English Spenser [!] homely Spenser, kindled lust, worldly muck, bagpipes, goat-milking." She adds: "Although I didn't like Lewis's theology or his politics, his marvelous lectures impressed me at the time as they did everyone who heard them -- they made us see Chaucer & Spenser in a totally different light and they influenced me not only during my final exams but even to this day." Her comment appears in a collection called We Remember C. S. Lewis, ed. by David Graham. In the same book see also Roger Poole's "Lewis Lecturing."

I'm working my way towards a hypothesis -- that Lewis needed distance from Tolkien in order for his Spenser scholarship to flourish and in order that, in the Narnian books, he might give to generations of children perhaps the best possible introduction to a "Spenserian" imagination. Once I saw Spenser as "Narnian" I was able to get into the FQ (I am oversimplifying, of course). If one approaches the FQ hoping for something akin to LOTR, the former probably would be unreadable.

JRRT Reader said...

Dr. Charlton-Oh, certainly the differences regarding thoughts on Spenser were not to blame for the personal falling out. I was just speculating about the Spenserian (how often does one get to use that adjective!) perspective being fundamentally incompatible with that of Tolkien. It would take, I sincerely feel, an incredible feat of mental gymnastics to even come close to reconciling them.

Alas, I have not finished the Faerie Queen, nor do I intend to do so. Like you, I find it unreadable. However, I did languages and literature as an undergraduate-hence I had to suffer through sections of it for a few weeks, all the while lamenting that we couldn't return to Anglo-Saxon elegies, Chaucer or the Pearl Poet. I will grant that Spenser's love sonnets are more or less readable, but they have that dainty, affected and cute Renaissance flavor which I find a bit cloying.

In any case, perhaps one could make a good argument about the differences between Tolkien and Lewis as how the approach modernity. CSL, arguably, was more firmly rooted in the Renaissance compared to his medievalist associate.

At the risk of heading off-topic, Gogol offered an interesting take on the issue of modernity. He viewed the medieval period as a sort of golden mean between the less desirable extremes of ancient and modern times. Gogol, who was thoroughly religious and well antiquated with European culture, felt that the fullest and deepest expression of Western, Christian civilization could be found in the Middle Ages.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - I have already ready many of CSL's pieces on Spenser (including the section in Sixteenth Century Literature) and I had a shot at it reading it again last year, but without success.

I certainly perceive the poetic greatness in FQ and other works of his - the technical aspects, especially rhyming, of Epithalamion amazed me when I encountered it.

But the sheer *amount* of FQ defeats me, before I can even get started!

Bruce Charlton said...

@JRRTR - did Gogol refer to Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox, Middle Ages as the ideal mean?

JRRT Reader said...

Mr. Nelson-quite insightful commentary, though I cannot profess to share your love of Spenser due to reasons that I have already laid out.

I suspect that my views vis-à-vis Tolkien and the medieval parallels in some ways your perspective on MSSRS Spenser and Lewis. Tolkien piqued my interest in the medieval and even epic poetry more generally. I now think Tolkien might even, somewhat paradoxically, serve as the best introduction to literature of the Middle Ages. After some familiarity with JRRT, the modern reader will have a deeper appreciation for Beowulf, Culhwch and Olwen, the Norse Sagas, the Kalevala, etc. The man's keen understanding of and feeling for language spurred me to dabble in a wide variety of medieval languages
(sad to say, most of it I've now forgotten). That lead me to to an even greater appreciation of both his work, and that of the period.

So, when I approached Spenser, I was actually hoping, not for LOTR, but more something Gawain and the Green Knight or something out of Chaucer. Even something along the lines of La Chanson de Roland might have done in a pinch! That, I suppose, was the source of my disappointment with the work as literature. The heavy-handed anti-Catholic allegory certainly didn't help matters.

Wurmbrand said...

I take it, JRRTR and BGC, that you are not persuaded by Lewis's remark that to read Spenser is to grow in mental health!

JRRT Reader said...

Mr. Nelson-no, in fact, reading Spenser as an undergraduate was probably more of a detrimental to my mental health! I hope that I do not come off as a mere opinionated bigot concerning the poet. I feel that I have given him a fair shot, and an affection never developed. I do change my mind about some writers, and still haven't made up my mind about Wordworth! In the end, though, I fear Spenser is forever lost upon me.

Now, on CSL, I was never able to truly get him either, though I should hasten to add that I haven't read much of his non-fiction-with the exception of The Abolition of Men (which did rather impress me) and none of his apologetic work. Even as a child, I simply could not get into Narnia which bored me immensely. Now, I did find the first of the Space Trilogy an entertaining enough read, and am in sympathy with the "message" of That Hideous Strength, though some parts of the plot are a bit wanting. Indeed, some of he aspects of the story are even slightly embarrassing. However, it is probably that same lack of allegory which you note that allowed me to appreciate those books on some level. (Never got around to reading the second one, for some curious reason.)

But, most importantly, I think you are correct that there was some interplay between the philosophical differences between Tolkien and Lewis and their personal falling out, even if one cannot FULLY articulate the precise relation at work here. A patient writer might well be able to do a book or thesis concerning the Medieval or hazy "age of myth" outlook of Tolkien and Lewis's Reformation/Renaissance and modern perspective as mirroring aspects of the ultimate failure of their working relationship.

Wurmbrand said...

Let me warmly recommend, to anyone who is still open to the possibility of reading Spenser, Graham Hough's Preface to The Faerie Queene. This book does for Spenser what C. S. Lewis's Preface to Paradise Lost does for Milton.

Buck said...

I think you are too late in tracing a tipping point in the cooling of their relationship. I would place the significant break as beginning to form with the arrival of Charles Williams in Oxford during the war. As one of the comments pointed out, Lewis had many more friends and types of personalities surrounding him than did Tolkien, and the immediacy which Lewis and Williams became intimate friends provoked some jealously on Tolkien's behalf--perhaps he felt replaced? This coupled with Tolkien's dislike for Williams's style were the beginning stages of the rift, I think. Indeed, they drifted so much that Tolkien had to find out Lewis had gotten married from a third party, because Lewis never told him himself! (Lewis realized Tolkien would not approve of the marriage as well, which I'm sure made him reluctant to mention it to him.)

Buck said...

In support of what I just said, consider the following letter of Tolkien's:

252 From a letter to Michael Tolkien (draft)
[Not dated; November or December 1963]
I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis's death on the 22nd has preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as one of his intimates. Alas! that ceased to be so some ten years ago. We were separated first by the sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me; I learned of it long after the event.1 But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the deep affection that it begot, remains. He was a great man of whom the cold-blooded official obituaries only scraped the surface, in places with injustice. How little truth there may be in literary appraisals one may learn from them – since they were written while he was still alive. Lewis only met Williams in 1939, and W. died early in 1945. The 'space-travel' trilogy ascribed to the influence of Williams was basically foreign to Williams' kind of imagination. It was planned years before, when we decided to divide: he was to do space-travel and I time-travel. My book was never finished,2 but some of it (the Númenórean-Atlantis theme) got into my trilogy eventually. Publication dates are not a good guide. Perelandra is dated 1943, but does not belong to that period. Williams' influence actually only appeared with his death: That Hideous Strength, the end of the trilogy, which (good though it is in itself) I think spoiled it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@buck - It is an error, although commonly repeated, that Tolkien was jealous of Williams' friendship with Lewis.

There is not a scrap of contemporary evidence to support the idea, indeed everything written during Williams' life supports the idea that Tolkien was very fond of Williams (and of his participation in the Inklings), and that this fondness extended until after Williams death with the preparation of Essays Presented to Charles Williams.

I have argued elsewhere that Tolkien's Notion Club Papers attempted-novel of 1945-6 (after Williams death) was heavily influenced by Williams.

Yet later on, from around 1960, there was these retrospective comments from Tolkien about him not having much liked Williams, and that Williams was Lewis's friend.

The most plausible explanation is that Tolkien read one or both of two books which contained biographical material on Williams and which were published at the end of the 1950s: Anne Ridler's Image of the City and other Essays, or Alice Mary Hadfiled's An Introduction to Charles Williams - both of which revealed aspects of Williams biography of which Tolkien had probably been unaware, and of which Tolkien strongly disapproved.

Thus, Tolkien retrospectively changed his opinion of Charles Williams, and 're-wrote' the history of their relationship in correspondence etc. published post-1960.

What aspects of Williams' life, revealed by Ridler and Hadfiled, might have provoked this change? A couple of candidates are Williams involvement with occult magic societies (related to the Golden Dawn); and/ or Tolkien may have picked-up on the hints about Williams' 'Tantric' philanderings with various women - e.g. if Tolkien asked around, he could have heard about the Lois Lang-Sims episode (documented in Letters to Lalage) which actually happened in Oxford during the era of Inklings meetings - yet was surely concealed from Tolkien (and Lewis).

In sum, Tolkien was great friends with Williams all of Williams life, cherished his memory for more than a decade after Williams death; but Tolkien reacted to posthumous revelations concerning Williams biography (understandably - albeit somewhat dishonestly) by convincing himself that he had never much liked Williams, and suggesting that Williams had been forced into the Inklings by Lewis.

This makes Tolkien sound as if he was jealous of Williams friendship with Lewis, and led to the myth of this being an early factor in the breakdown of Lewis and Tolkien's friendship.

But going from contemporary evidence, Tolkien was great friends with Williams (meeting him frequently in Inklings, with Lewis on MOnday mornings, and sometimes just the two of them); and also that Tolkien remained great friends with Lewis until around the time that the Narnia books were written.

Buck said...

John Rateliff has given a more authoritative word, if coming from Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as a very sensible perspective (over on the Mythsoc Yahoo group list). (He seems endowed with great sense, judging from his postings.) I had felt because of Tolkien's later letters (e.g., no. 252 to his son Michael) and Carpenter's biography (and Colin Duriez and others who follow him) that the 'cooling' (word first used by Carpenter?) in Tolkien and Lewis's relationship began or was accelerated by the arrival of Charles Williams in Oxford during the war, and the immediacy with which he and Lewis became intimate friends. It is popular knowledge of course that Tolkien wasn't fond of the Narnia stories, but I had never encountered the opinion offered by Bruce Charlton here that Lewis's writing of The Chronicles was the breaking point in their relationship, or that Tolkien saw that as a violation of their original pact to both write some fiction where the chief characters discover or enact myth, which Lewis finished in good time (his Ransom trilogy under the theme of space-travel) and Tolkien--'that great but dilatory and unmethodical man', as Lewis commented in a letter on whether Tolkien's contribution to their agreement would ever be completed--never did (his The Notional Club Papers, under the theme of time-travel). Neither did Tolkien approve of several other of Lewis's works and certainly was bothered by Lewis's (mostly unsought) position as a popular articulater and defender of 'mere Christianity' to a generation (I think because he thought it improper for one without professional theological training to assume such a role (Austin Farrer would have been better suited, from the Anglican position, I assume Tolkien would say (indeed if he did not say so himself somewhere))--even if such a role was foisted upon Lewis--and he disagreed with many of Lewis's theological views due to their differing from traditional Catholic dogma--for example, in Letter 83 (1944) Tolkien commented that 'there is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself'; and Tolkien was working on a commentary of objections to views presented Lewis's Letters to Malcolm which he never finished or shared with him, but which he was privately referring to as 'The Ulsterior Motive'). I would still guess (though Charlton has disagreed) that Tolkien was somewhat jealous over Lewis's quick and intimate friendship with Williams, which somewhat displaced him as an influence on Lewis, as well as Lewis's productivity and growing popularity beginning with his war broadcasts and the publication of The Screwtape Letters (1942), which incidentally was the only of his works ever dedicated to Tolkien. That, based on my limited exposure to the literature, is the explanation of the beginning of the 'cooling' with the most evidence, including Tolkien's own recollections about the arrival of Williams in Oxford and his (spoiling) influence over Lewis's writing (again see Letter 252). But Rateliff's common sense observation certainly also seems right, that 'friendships are complicated, and the ending of a long-time one is tragic but hardly unprecedented or strange', and so accumulative and thus difficult to trace to a specific event or point in time, as well as the apparent testimony of Roger Lancelyn Green Rateliff relayed by Rateliff that 'the cooling of the Lewis/Tolkien friendship was mutual, which seems to be far more likely than that Tolkien didn't like something Lewis had written and unfriended him on the spot'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Buck - I don't think anything here prompts me to change my mind on this topic. Of course, this is not the kind of thing that one can be *sure* about; but I think the Narnia hypothesis is better than any of the others I have encountered.

And I don't see any common sense in John Rateliff's comment you quote that "seems to be far more likely than that Tolkien didn't like something Lewis had written and unfriended him on the spot'."

This comment is not a matter of scholarship (at which Rateliff is far my superior) but of human observation (where my opinion is at least as valid as JR's); and from my experience I don't see anything at all unusual or implausible in a friendship quite suddenly taking a turn for the worse for a reason that may seem trivial to other people, but which was perhaps extremely important to JRRT - indeed, I think it is very clear from what we know of JRRT, and his reaction to Narnia, that that this was indeed a very important reason for him.

It may be a something as small and light as a straw that finally causes the camel's back to break - but it was that straw that broke the back.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting discussion. I think you give too little attention to the impact of Joy on their friendship. CSL was just busier with her. And I'm surprised that in all of this discussion of elements in CSL's fiction (Narnia, in particular) you talk mostly about Spenser, when Gower is the writer that I've always felt was most influential on CSL's style and approach. Look what CSL says in _Allegory of Love_ about him, but most of all, read _Confessio Amantis_. And the Neo-Platonists.
--David Lenander

Unknown said...

Rift? What rift? Distance might be a better word. With success they both got busy and had less time. Doug Gresham who lived with Lewis says there was no rift. In 1954 Tolkien helped Lewis get and accept the professorial chair at Cambridge. In 1961 the Nobel Prize committee asked Lewis to nominate someone for the Prize in Literature. He nominated Tolkien.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SS - You can quibble over the best word to describe it and discuss the reasons, but Tolkien and Lewis went from meeting each other several times a week and having an intense,active and engaged friendship, down to going for months between meeting.

mikchick said...

so? lots of friendships do that without there being a "rift" reason, like David said, he did get married and even had a step-son besides - from what I understand, I'm just glad JRRT's sons had a good relationship with him since it seems he stayed holed up in his study writing LOTR rings all the time he was home

Bruce Charlton said...

@DP - Because I am interested, and this was an important friendship. It could not have been CSL's marriage because the rift had already occured - Lewis did not even inform Tolkien that he was married.

Anonymous said...

I’m an Anglican, but I deplore Spenser’s anti-Catholic bias!
However, aside from that, I like Spenser’s Faerie Queene; and I’m convinced that Tolkien drew on a number of ideas from Spenser’s poem.
Compare Tolkien’s evil wizard Saruman with Spenser’s evil wizard Archimago. We first think both wizards are good guys. Gandalf goes to Saruman for advice, but Saruman turns out to be a satanic character who imprisons Gandalf on his tower, organizes the invasion of Rohan, and burns much of Treebeard’s forest. Archimago first offers food and shelter for the night to the Redcross Knight and Una, but after supper alienates Redcross from Una, then summons the witch-demon Duessa, who gets Redcross beaten up and imprisoned by the giant Orgoglio.
Also I think Tolkien’s warrior princess Eowyn is similar to Spenser’s warrior lady Britomartis in Book 3 of his poem. They both are heterosexual, but are forced to wear men’s war gear, because the men don’t respect them as female warriors.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RH - "forced to wear men’s war gear, because the men don’t respect them as female warriors." - I would say that wasn't the main reason for Eowyn being refused service in the cavalry: she had a political leadership job to do which was, apparently, more important than her being just one more soldier.

Anonymous said...

But Eowyn had a vital role in the Battle of Minas Tirith: she slew the lord of the Nazgul. None of the male fighters could have accomplished that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RH - Indeed - but I would interpret that as (divine) providence 'using' Eowyn because she was in the right place at the right time. Also, arguably but I think correctly, it was actually Merry who slew the Ringwraith with his magical Numenorean sword, forged in Arnor at the time of the Witch King's assaults - Eowyn at most 'finished him off'.