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The Masters of Fantasy Fiction

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The Masters of Fantasy Fiction
Long ago, in a little house on Northmoor Road, there lived a jolly Englishman. With a pipe in his mouth and ungraded papers at his desk, he nonchalantly scribed the sentence "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" (Collins 76). A little longer after that during a time tensioned by the exposition of World War II there lived another Englishman. Housing a family of young refugees during the blitz, he crafted a story about four young children and a magic wardrobe (Tolson 4). Though only rudimentary concepts at their formation, the ideas that these two men had at the time would eventually morph into some of the most popular stories of our age and shape the way people think about life. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two of the most brilliant authors to ever impact the world of fantasy literature, share several defining qualities in their early lives, careers, ideas, and lasting impacts. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis lived fairly similar yet individual childhoods. The two young authors started out in comparatively alike situations. On January 3rd, 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa (Collins 10), and six years later on November 29th Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland (Davenport 21). Both boys’ families included British parents and brothers; John's brother Arthur was two years younger (Collins 12) while Clive's brother Warren was three years older (Davenport 21). However, Tolkien seemed to live in a more affectionate household. While the Tolkiens showed obvious joy in the arrival of their son John, or Ronald as they called him, and raised him around loving relatives in their home in Birmingham, England (Collins 12), Clive, or "Jack" as he coined as a child (Davenport 25), grew up in a rather unaffectionate household with parents quite cold and distant towards each other (Davenport 22). Both boys practiced religion in their households; when Tolkien's father died his mother Mabel took up Christianity and introduced it to her young sons (Collins 19), and Lewis's family practiced Anglicanism (Anderson 2). Moreover, both young authors led adventurous childhoods. Young Jack Lewis liked to play different fantasy games in make-believe worlds with his brother at their Belfast home (Davenport 28) and write about nature (Anderson 2). Ronald Tolkien also enjoyed reading and writing at a young age along with drawing and spending time with his grandfather. He started writing his own stories before he even turned seven (Collins 17-18). Sadly, Jack Lewis and Ronald Tolkien experienced major tragedies when they lost their mothers at an early age. Mrs. Tolkien died in 1904, leaving behind two parentless twelve and ten-year old sons (Collins 25). On the other hand, the death of Mrs. Lewis became a leading cause in Jack’s early conversion to atheism (Anderson 2). Nonetheless, both authors excelled academically. When Ronald began attending King Edward's School in the fall of 1900, he struggled with adjusting to the busy atmosphere at first (Collins 18-19), but later caught up and began to perform his studies admirably while taking a liking to Greek and Chaucer (Collins 24). In contrast, Jack Lewis began attending Wynard School in the 1908 school year and hated it, often calling it a prison (Davenport 32-33). When he attended Malvern College in England later on he only felt more contempt for that school and country (Anderson 2). Eventually his father pulled him out of Malvern and gave him a private tutor named William Kirkpatrick, a fairly good teacher who taught Lewis foreign language and public speaking. Kirkpatrick held staunch atheist beliefs, which ended up contributing largely to Lewis's switch to atheism (Davenport 37-39). Ultimately, when it became time for the young Tolkien and Lewis to continue into higher education they made the identical decision of going to Oxford, and once Britain increased its involvement in World War One so did they. Tolkien, now a young adult eager for university life (Collins 46), enlists out of Oxford, attending simultaneous army drilling and classes. Gradually, he worked his way up to second lieutenant of the Lancaster Fusiliers regiment (Collins 56-57). Eventually, Ronald caught trench fever during his deployment, which sent him home (Collins 61). When Lewis joined the British Army at Oxford he also became second lieutenant, but for the Somerset Light Infantry. Oddly enough, he too caught trench fever (Davenport 44), and after an injury in battle (Davenport 18) received a discharge. In 1924 Lewis went back to Oxford to finish his education (Anderson 2).The influence these two authors received during their early years helped shape their success. Certainly, Lewis and Tolkien both shared the trait of an accomplished career. Both held occupations as professors at several universities. Lewis taught at many universities including philosophy at Oxford, English at Magladene College, and held the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature position at Cambridge University (Purtill 1). He also hosted a BBC radio show during World War II on which he discussed Christianity (Tolson 3). Tolkien taught English also, but at Leeds University (Baker 1). He too went back to Oxford, but to teach Anglo-Saxon (Collins 74) and later acquire an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in philology (Collins 99). The two professors actually met each other while teaching at Oxford, and ended up becoming good friends and bonding over their love of literature (Collins 74-75). They belonged to a group of academics at Oxford called "The Inklings," who would hold meetings to discuss literature (McClelland 1). While teaching philosophy, Clive Staples Lewis began to doubt his atheism. With influence from some of his acquaintances, "Tollers" (Tolson 4) being a main one, Lewis took up Christianity, which impacted his life and writing immensely (Anderson 2). Despite these successful jobs, their writings would arguably become the most well known part of both men's careers. The conception of The Hobbit came about in 1929 while Tolkien graded tests in his Oxford home. Soon those ideas developed into a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, a carefree character of middle-age whose personality became similar to Tolkien's, which then developed into more happy little hobbits. These stories received much admiration from the Tolkien children (Collins 46). Clive Staples Lewis commended his hobbit stories as well, describing them as enjoyable by all ages with great potential (Collins 81). Suddenly, The Hobbit went on a temporary hiatus as Tolkien's sons grew too old for bedtime stories, but once one of his students sent his stories to a publishing company who instantly loved them (Collins 78-79), Tolkien decided to finish the stories with some encouragement from his colleagues including Lewis (Tolson 2). Generally, The Lord of the Rings series achieved positive reviews (Collins 90-91). When the books reached the United States in the 1960s, their popularity definitely increased exponentially (Baker 3). Tolkien appreciated the praise his books received, but put the satisfaction of the readers as his top priority (Collins 90-91). Meanwhile, the conception of Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series came about from his experiences of war and Christianity. In the blitz of World War Two, Lewis and his wife housed a family of refugees called the "Kilns," which influenced the protagonists of his stories (Tolson 4). However, Lewis’s wish to spread the stories of Christianity he had grown to love inspired him the most to write (Davenport 76). He tried to reconstruct the tales as if they occurred in an alternate universe with interesting and understandable allegory enjoyable by anyone, as opposed to just paraphrasing the Bible (Davenport 76-77). When critics first examined his books, they thought that they seemed like a method of escape for Lewis to a happier childhood (Miller 1), but Lewis merely wished to create new ways for his readers to see the world and explore themselves spiritually by writing about ideas that mystified him also (Davenport 103). Contradictory to the praise Clive bestowed upon the Lord of the Rings series, Tolkien felt rather unimpressed with Chronicles of Narnia and called it disorganized, though some say this stemmed from jealousy of Lewis’s more prolific writing career and anger that their colleagues criticized his own books (Davenport 77-79). Not surprisingly, Lewis and Tolkien both used some kind of technique with story-telling. Tolkien started his stories with a basic sketch, but let the readers build upon it with their own ideas. He also tried to keep his readers engaged and interested in the story (Collins 77). On the other hand, Lewis saw his readers as equals and acquaintances, thus he kept the tone of his stories light and conversational. Additionally, he tried not to completely close out his stories; Lewis wanted readers to examine them further and develop their own ideas on the storyline (Davenport 103). The two authors both led very diverse careers which included the writing of stories long enjoyed by children and adults everywhere. Tolkien and Lewis often discussed various themes in their books and held many practical beliefs about life. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings both included many themes and allegory. Themes seen in the Lord of the Rings series include the conflict between good and evil, strength, dangerous attraction (McNamara 2), cooperation (McNamara 3), and the negative effects of nationalism and modernization (McNamara 1). Lewis also discussed the battle between the forces of good and evil (Tolson 1), race, and gender issues (Anderson 3) in the Chronicles of Narnia. Even so, he included different types of symbolism and allegory such as the protagonists experiencing character and spiritual evolution and a desire to become something great, while Lucy Pevensie's initially unaccepted belief in the magical wardrobe parallels the complicated aspects of religion (Tolson 4). Lewis also included morals commonly seen in children's stories in his books because he thought the quality of a story depended on the value of its morals (Tolson 1-2). Both stories follow the basic plot of unlikely but qualified heroes destined for greatness setting off on a quest to defeat an evil force, where out of the dark climax comes a joyous turn of events and goodness ultimately prevails (McClelland 2). The stories also consist of a mix of ordinary and extraordinary forces in otherwise realistic situations (McClelland 1). In addition to including themes with deep meaning in their books, Lewis and Tolkien held many complicated theories on life. Tolkien often thought positively on the benefits of fantasy stories, believing they helped to restore the true meaning of goodness (Garbowski 3) and that the ability to enjoy fantasy comes from knowing the difference between reality and fiction within the real world. He believed it took a clever and imaginative mind to truly appreciate high quality fantasy (Garbowski 4-5). Tolkien also expressed his support of structure and balance to achieve order in one's life by including organized hierarchies within Middle Earth (Garbowski 6). Further, he established a reasonable theory on the manifestation of evil in that it forms rather than just appears and feeds on and relies fully on the contrasting dominant goodness (Garbowski 5). Pertaining to the joyous turn of events that both book series include, Tolkien believed that giving a happy ending to a story paralleled the achievement of bliss at the end of one’s lifetime, as told in the Gospel (Garbowski 3). Lewis’s ideas on certain aspects of life included theories equally profound, albeit occasionally cynical. Of course, he held firm ideas on Christianity, calling it the best way to describe life (Purtill 2) and the cause of his spiritual journey to seek joy (Tolson 3). He thought certain fundamental principles of human nature existed and that not all values seem as unique as people believe (Watson 3). Like Tolkien, Lewis formed his opinions on good and evil and thought that people enter this world knowing the difference between the two ideas, viewing this ability as an establishing basis of Christianity (Anderson 3). Some peers and critics described Clive as one who fervently wrote about controversial subjects with blunt detail and rage, even viewing the obligation to prove everything he said as unnecessary (Watson 4). He also held rather pessimistic views on society, from describing people as easily entertained and secretly desiring isolation (Anderon 2) to calling love too risky and believing that one should trust his or her heart to no one to protect themselves from pain (Anderson 3). Meanwhile, both authors supported the controversial preference of traditionalism over new-age thinking (Watson 1). The established ways in the world of The Lord of the Rings implies Tolkien’s disdain with contemporary ideas (McNamara 1), and Lewis often expressed loathing of modern literature by calling it disheartening and too engrossed with other people's problems (Tolson 3). This unpopular disinterest in industrialization left the two men worried about brutal criticism (Watson 1). C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s great insight on complex topics frequently showed through their writing. Indeed, Lewis and Tolkien both created some deep impacts and lasting impressions on the world. Their books still hold significant popularity with newer generations of readers. Over 90 million copies of Lord of the Rings series translated into an estimated 35 different languages currently circulate the globe (McNamara 1), while Chronicles of Narnia has been translated into over 40 languages with 95 million copies sold since its publication (Miller 1). Successful adaptations of the books have spread throughout the movie industry for several years. The release of the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy occurred several years ago, and the release of the first of a three-part adaptation of The Hobbit occurred in December of 2012. The first 3 books of the Chronicles of Narnia series received adaptations released in 2005, 2008, and 2010 respectively. Furthermore, both authors imprinted unique significances on today's society. Many scholars know C.S. Lewis as a prolific writer, captivatingly open-minded (Miller 1), and one of the most well known Christian advocates of his time (Tolson 1). His inspiring devotion to discussing ethics and the mysteries of life (Anderson 1) incited an almost universal love for him amongst many Christians (Miller 1). On the other hand, many call Tolkien and his stories some of the most important influences to the fantasy genre (McNamara 1). His essays on various classic literatures such as Beowolf and The Canterbury Tales still receive critical acclaim to this day (Baker 1), and his novels have acquired a rather devoted and caring fan base (McNamara 2). These men brought upon society an immeasurable and vast lasting impression. Though C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien differ in several aspects such as their early lives, careers, and ideas, they share some major qualities in those same aspects. As the lives of these friends came to an eventual close, the world felt a significant emptiness and legacy left in their wakes. Not only have J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis contributed immeasurably to the world of literature, but they also left insightful ideas, new ways to look at life, and beliefs ahead of their time for the world to absorb. Even after the last battle in Narnia and the destruction of the ultimate ring of power, the brilliance of these men will continue to live on and change the lives of many readers to come.

Anderson, Amy and Ivy Hughes. “Common morality: C.S. Lewis fought profound life lessons through story.” _____Success Apr. 2012: 80+. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 18 Jan. 2013.
Baker, Neal. “Tolkien, J.R.R. (1892-1973).” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed. Sara Pendergast and _____Tom Pendergast. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. 671-673. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 -_____Jan. 2013.
Collins, David R. J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Fantasy. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Co., 1992. Print.
Davenport, John. C.S. Lewis. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Print.
Garbowski, Christopher. “The Comedy Of Enchantment In The Lord Of The Rings.” Christianity & Literature 60.2 _____(2011): 273-286. OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. Wilson). Web. 22 Jan. 2013.
McLelland, Joseph C. “Inklings of the sacred: J.R.R. Tolkien’s witness to the good news.” Presbyterian Record Mar. _____2002: 23+. General One File. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.
McNamara, Mary. “Lord of Literature.” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA). Oct. 21 2001: n.p. SIRS Renaissance. _____Web. 17 Jan. 2013.
Miller, Lisa. “A Man and His Myths; The creator of Narnia was a scholar, a drinker—and a believer.” Newsweek 7 _____Nov. 2005: 75. Infotrac Newsstand. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
Purtill, Richard. “Lewis, C.S. (Clive Staples)(1898-1963).” Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Donald M. Borchert. _____2nd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Macmillian Reference USA, 2006. 311-313. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 _____Jan. 2013.
Tolson, Jay. “God’s Storyteller.” U.S. News & World Report 12 Dec. 2005: 46-52. General OneFile. Web. 1 Feb. _____2013.
Watson, George. “The High Road To Narnia: C.S. Lewis And His Friend J.R.R. Tolkien Believed That Truths Are _____Universal And That Stories Reveal Them.” American Scholar 78.1 (2009): 89. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 22 _____Jan. 2013.

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