Despite their friendship and mutual regard, the differences between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien gradually drew the two apart. Beyond Lewis’ marriage to Joy Gresham, a woman Tolkien disproved of, and beyond Lewis’ friendship with Charles Williams, a cult-like figure whose wild imaginings broke the rules of what Tolkien considered proper storytelling and religious belief, there was the matter of Lewis’ literary success. Tolkien enjoyed acclaim in scholarly circles, and his first novel The Hobbit was successful enough to warrant a sequel. But throughout the years of their friendship, Lewis enjoyed far more success as an author. One need only compare the two men’s bibliographies to appreciate the yawing gap that separated them in this regard.
While Tolkien plodded along quietly on The Lord of the Rings, Lewis kept the editors at his publishing houses ecstatic with his prodigious output. The Narnia series proved the bitterest pill for Tolkien to swallow. He regarded the Narnia books as ill conceived and structurally unsound. With each volume, Lewis produced a jumble of Fantasy constructs, such as Father Christmas, talking animals, and centaurs. Where was the cohesive system, the history and culture, the underlying rationale that would account for a collection of elements drawn from such unrelated historical and mythological sources? If it existed, Tolkien could not perceive it. Instead, it seemed to him as if Lewis simply threw out a new character, creature, or idea when the plot began to slow, or when he needed to steer the story in a different direction. This might not be something as wild and improper as Williams’ stories, but it lacked the consistency and the structure that Tolkien had thought Lewis believed in. Worse, the Narnia books were universally praised and loved.
At times, I’ve had difficulty looking at the People and Publishing section of Locus Magazine. Each month, the magazine lists a slew of book deals made between publishers and authors. Books are contracted. Manuscripts are delivered. Advances are paid. Film, television, and other lucrative rights are sold. Awards are bestowed. Meanwhile, I labor away in obscurity, never quite finishing my stories, always believing that I’m pursuing the proper course. Yet, like a mirage, completion lingers just beyond my reach. Of course, I envy my fellow writers for their achievements. Yet…I am who I am. Wishing I were someone different will not help me in any way.
So what if some authors, like C. S. Lewis, publish several bestselling books each year? So what if others, like Charles Williams, have built an enthusiastic following? What is that to me? I have my own destiny to fulfill. I must swallow the bitter pill of patience, and celebrate the triumphs of my contemporaries. Only in that way can I retain a positive perspective, and contribute to the lives of others, regardless of whatever success eventually comes my way.