Whenever Tolkien: Sunrise, Sunset

Filed under:Tolkien — posted by Anwyn on August 14, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

Here’s a little nibble for discussion. In Tolkien, everything good flows from (or to) the West. Mankind’s doomed Atlantis, Numenor, was there. Elvenhome, Valinor, remains there. One associates West, in Tolkien, with the home of the gods, as Valar and Maiar dwelt and visited there.

In Lewis, everything good flows from (or to) the East. The castle of Cair Paravel sits on the eastern seashore looking to the sunrise. Anybody who seeks Aslan’s Country sails east, as it is always from the East that the great Lion appears. One associates East, in Lewis, with the home of God.

Tolkien wrote his works slowly, with many revisions and much “niggling.” Lewis wrote his quickly and shipped them off to press. Tolkien was dismayed by his own tendency to procrastinate by playing solitaire. Lewis was the social center of their group of friends, always with a quip, anecdote, or new writing to read to the group. Tolkien was quieter and more serious–in fact disliked Lewis’s Narnia stories for their tendency to what he considered hodgepodge and inconsistency.

I submit the difference between their personalities is very strongly observed in the directional preferences of each. Tolkien looked forward to sunset, to rest, while Lewis preferred sunrise as renewal. Tolkien tended towards depressive, while Lewis may have been more continuously on the “up.”

It may be a minor point but is worth looking at–and could even partially explain the cooling of their friendship in later years. There’s only so long that “down”-westward-rest can tolerate “up”-eastward-new day dawning.


  1. Interesting observation. I like your analysis. What is the best bio about the Tolkien-Lewis friendship? Is there a specific book about their relationship or are they both mentioned in their own individual bios?

    Comment by thelmajoy — August 15, 2007 @ 6:56 am

  2. I consider the standard to be The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, although because Carpenter also wrote the standard biography of Tolkien, Inklings focuses more largely on Lewis. And as the name makes clear it is not just about the two of them–there’s a bunch about Charles Williams in there too, but that only serves to help draw a better picture of the friendship between the two of them, as about the time Lewis and Williams became close was about the time (and partially the reason) that Lewis and Tolkien drifted apart.

    There is another book I’ve read that focuses more closely on the two of them, but I only read it once and would have to go through it again to remember much about it specifically. It is Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez.

    Comment by Anwyn — August 15, 2007 @ 7:59 am

  3. Interesting idea, Anwyn, and I think you’re right on as far as that perception. It’s one I’d never noticed.

    I think both authors were deeply affected by their time in Europe during World War I, and in my opinion that’s mostly the reason for the difference between their outlook. They were there at slightly different times, although they were stationed in the same area.

    If I’m reading my dates right, Tolkein was present for the First Battle of the Somme, and Lewis was not. Tolkein was also sent home on extended medical leave following his time there, whereas Lewis was reassigned to duty in England; as a matter of fact, Tolkein never fully recovered from his injuries and, if I remember correctly, the gas attacks during that battle.

    Tolkein also often wrote of his principal characters in a healing or tending role – witness the multitude of examples from Elrond to Aragorn – and his most tragic character of all the writing I’ve read began his descent by slaying his own caretaker (Turin Turambar, slaying Beleg Cuthalion). The focus is always around wounds that do not wholly heal, that injure the spirit as much as the body, and that is probably the most telling of all. What else might one expect of a soldier that survived the single bloodiest day in the history of the British Army?

    Lewis, by way of contrast, experienced trench warfare, but he was there for at most six months. I don’t think he was ever involved in major combat action, and I think that that fact is the reason that his fiction, at least, often centers around the hope that all things will be better in the end, and that people leave the world a better place than they found it.

    Lewis’ major fantasy work, after all, ends with the ending of his created world of Narnia and the Pevensie children ending up with Aslan in his equivalent of Heaven. Tolkein’s fantasy work is a long story of decline into the age of machines, and is much more dark, in my opinion.

    Neat post!

    Comment by wg — August 15, 2007 @ 3:11 pm

  4. 1) I wonder why it took the knockoff _Sword of Shannara_ before we got a North-South fantasy fiction war? Maybe that’s what I need to do to make a name for myself. Turn LotR sideways! I could be the next Peter Jackson. . . ! Only in my movie, fighter pilots blow up the Death Star in a galaxy far, far away.

    2) I got to the Eagle & Child 60 years too late. All I got to overhear was some Brits who hadn’t the foggiest clue about the strategic implications of the Global War on Terror who’d recently been to the States complaining about what simpletons we Americans were.

    3) On a more serious note, I’d heard that Lewis’ marriage to Joy Gresham also put a strain on the Tolkien-Lewis relationship.

    4) You could look at the endings of both to gain more insight. “Well, I’m back,” back to my everyday relatively enjoyable, peaceable life, the glory days are over forever; cast against “Further up and further in!” coaxed on by an old friend from a previous life, practically begging the cast to go forth and find new adventures.

    I think you’re on to something, Anwyn! Great stuff, as usual!

    Comment by Chris — August 16, 2007 @ 5:30 am

  5. wg, thanks for your additions. I have the newer book _Tolkien and the Great War_ but have yet to read it. I know you’re right, thought, that it affected Tolkien far more than Lewis.

    Chris, yes, there were several reasons for the “breaking of the fellowship,” so to speak, and the marriage was among them. It was hard for me to understand that–frankly, anybody who didn’t bat an eye at Lewis’s living with that Moore woman for most of his life shouldn’t have presumed to judge his marriage.

    Comment by Anwyn — August 16, 2007 @ 10:23 am

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