The picture on the right was posted in a Reddit thread — a supposed Tolkien quote that’s been paraphrased second-hand. I like it though, and it may as well have been written by Tolkien. He didn’t like sanitized myths and thought children were made of sterner stuff. It was one of his many problems with Narnia.
It is well-known that Tolkien disliked The Chronicles of Narnia, but what were his reasons? They appear to be complex and manifold. Part of the problem lies in the fact that we have only one (published) statement from Tolkien on the matter, and it remains ambiguous at best. Writing in 1964, he observes, “It is sad that ‘Narnia’ and all that part of C.S.L.’s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his” (Letters 352). This tells us almost nothing. My intention in this article is to come to terms with why Tolkien disliked Narnia. Many reasons have been offered, but it is not always easy to separate the facts from the fancy; more often than not, the lines between the two have been blurred. I will begin by reconsidering the secondhand accounts of Roger Lancelyn Green, Nan C.L. Scott, and George Sayer; Tolkien evidently told each of them at different times why he disliked Narnia. Second, I will defend Humphrey Carpenter’s accounts in Tolkien and The Inklings, although several scholars have called them into question. Finally, I wish to introduce and analyze an unpublished letter in which Tolkien briefly discusses Narnia.
The most well-known secondhand account is certainly Green’s. In 1974, he published a joint biography with Walter Hooper entitled C.S. Lewis: A Biography. In it, Green recalls that after Lewis had shared the opening chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with Tolkien, “who had disliked it intensely,” Lewis then read it to Green. Shortly after, Tolkien saw Green and remarked, “I hear you’ve been reading Jack’s [Lewis’s] children’s story. It really won’t do, you know! I mean to say: ‘Nymphs and their Ways, The Love-Life of a Faun’. Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?” (qtd. in Green and Hooper 241). (1) Green provides no explanation of what Tolkien meant; however, this has not prevented critics from interpreting Tolkien’s comment.
Joe R. Christopher observes that Nymphs and their Ways is one of the books which appears on Mr. Tumnus’s bookcase in Chapter II of The Lion. According to Christopher, Tolkien was bothered by this scene because Lewis was distorting and sentimentalizing the myth (“Narnian Exile” 41). He suggests, “[I]f Lucy had really met a faun–that is, a satyr–the result would have been a rape, not a tea party” (Christopher, C.S. Lewis 111). Hence, the reason Tolkien alludes to The Love-life of a Faun–a book that doesn’t actually appear on Mr. Tumnus’s bookcase but is absurd all the same. In short, Lewis failed to maintain the mythical archetype of fauns as lustful.
Christopher’s argument had established that Tolkien’s dislike of Narnia evolved in stages, first against Lewis’s distorted/sentimentalized mythology in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the second against the allegory of the Narnian series as a whole. Long’s article considers Christopher’s argument, and also those of Green, Scott, and Sayer, to argue more comprehensively, that Tolkien disliked Narnia for many reasons, especially these:
- Lewis wasn’t a serious world-builder, and often incompetent in using mythical archetypes. Tumnus is indeed a good example of this. A faun meeting a little girl wouldn’t have been a pleasant encounter as it is in Lewis’s story.
- Lewis was into allegory, but myth has more to offer than that.
- Lewis cranked out his stories fast and the result shows — they have a superficial feel to them.
- Lewis actually borrowed a lot from Tolkien.
Long supports these contentions from things said by Tolkien himself, and the article is worth going through.
As for Mr. Tumnus, it might be a fun project to try rewriting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and make it more Tolkien-friendly. Though I doubt it’s possible. Too much needs reworking; it would probably end up killing the patient.