Colin Duriez recounts the extraordinary tale of friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Both authors are extremely important to the genre known as fantasy fiction and they both had such an incredible influence on each other. Without Tolkien, Lewis might never have become a Christian (and therefore, the Chronicles of Narnia might never have been born) and without Lewis’s constant encouragement, Tolkien might have only kept Middle Earth and his amazing invented languages a private hobby.
I especially appreciate the “vignettes” that Duriez uses to start off each chapter. These vignettes are imagined conversations or scenes from the lives of Tolkien and Lewis, but are all based on recorded events from their lives. I thought that they really added something special to this book of biography/literary criticism. Duriez does delve into some of Tolkien’s and Lewis’s work and provides analysis. However, I thought that his writing style on the whole was compelling and very clear, so you don’t need to be an Oxford don yourself to enjoy this tale of friendship. I think it’s incredibly sad that Tolkien and Lewis weren’t as close in the final ten years of Lewis’s life. However, I agree with Duriez that despite their many differences, they had many affinities, even in the end. I enjoyed learning about the lives and friendship of Tolkien and Lewis so much that after reading this comprehensive telling, I feel like I almost know them personally! I especially enjoyed some of the images Duriez gives us from historical accounts–Tolkien riding his bike to Oxford in academic robes and Lewis exclaiming “Wow! What a book!” about Les Liaisons Dangereuses–ever the constant reader even on his death bed. After reading this, I definitely want to read some of the literary criticism of both men and I have been meaning to read The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces forever. I would also like to read Lewis’s science fiction starring the Tolkien-esque Cambridge don Ransom.
What can I say? I really love both of these authors and their contributions to fantasy. I will continue reading about them and definitely plan on picking up Duriez’s The Inklings.
The Magician’s Book examines the world of the Narnia books and the great mind that created them, C.S. Lewis. This book is part biography, part literary analysis, in addition to the author’s (Laura Miller’s) personal history with the Chronicles of Narnia. Laura Miller read and loved the Chronicles as a child. As a teenager, she learned of their Christian symbolism and the apology and beliefs of C.S. Lewis and felt betrayed. How could she love something that was intended to convert her to a belief she had already rejected? With this in mind, Miller studied Lewis as well as the Chronicles to gain a deeper understanding into the series and what went into creating them.
I really, really enjoyed this work of non-fiction. Although it contains some literary analysis, it isn’t strictly a work of scholarly criticism and the writing is very fluid and fast-paced. The author also put a lot of herself, her own experiences and beliefs into the book. That made it perhaps an even more compelling read (although I am, strangely, one of those weird people who reads literary criticism for fun). It is very clear up front that she is no fan of Christianity and seeks to look at the Chronicles of Narnia as stories that contain more than a mere “allegory” (a term that is not even properly applied to the Chronicles, I do have to give her that) for Christianity. And indeed, I must agree with her. Lewis drew on a wealth of literary and mythological influences to tell his story. His characters aren’t mere shadows, mere placeholders for virtues or vices. He built a richer world than that. However, every now and then her invective against Lewis and Christianity is sharp (especially towards the Catholic church). Every now and then, as a Christian reader and someone who is a fan of Lewis and his writing, I couldn’t help but think “ouch!” Every great writer has flaws, and Lewis is no exception. However, learning about the flaws of the writer and his writing didn’t necessarily ruin my admiration for both C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles. If anything, this book sparked my interest in some of Lewis’ writings of literary criticism, which I haven’t read yet, but I plan to. For all of his shortcomings, Lewis was a fascinating man (though he might disagree) with a brilliant mind. And his friendship with fellow Inkling J.R.R. Tolkien is certainly of interest to me. My next non-fiction endeavor is a book solely dedicated to their friendship.
It’s no surprise that Lewis makes the top of my Old British Man Crush list (and he loved the Romantics–we ARE soulmates!)
I mean, c’mon, look at that face. And the jacket. I’m in love with his jacket alone.