Wednesday, 23 August 2017

CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien - writing styles compared

Lewis was a sprinter capable of short-middle distance races; Tolkien was a long-distance runner.

Lewis wrote and published far, far more good stuff than JRR Tolkien; but he never could have written a book of the length, complexity and excellence even of The Hobbit - never mind the Lord of the Rings...

Tolkien could 'hold' a work in his mind for months, years, decades... but the timescale Lewis was comfortable with was more on the level of hours, days or weeks - and then he wanted to move-on to some other project.

More at The Notion Club Papers: an Inklings Blog.


  1. Weird synchronicity: I checked your blog today just after finishing Richard Ellmann's biography of W. B. Yeats (another Irish-born writer known by two initials and a five-letter surname). The penultimate page contains this line: "He is, as he called himself in a letter, 'a short-distance runner', and much of his poetry is spasmic."

  2. @WmJas - in terms of writing and thinking, this seems to be a genuine distinction; probably related to (but not the same as) the 'fox' and hedgehog' distinction of Isaiah Berlin. In this sense, Lewis was a sprinter-fox trying to be a hedgehog. Barfield was sprinter but a genuine hedgehog. Tolkien was a marathon hedgehog (he even articulated his life hopes about England and myth while still a schoolboy, in the TCBS club). (I'm not sure what Charles Williams was!). Maybe Tolkien's achievement was the greatest partly because he was a more deeply integrated individual.

  3. Yeats and Lewis were "short-distance runners" in different ways, though. They both wrote short works, but Yeats often spent years revising his drafts again and again; his first drafts were often pretty awful. Lewis was apparently able to nail it the first time.