I think I mentioned that I've been listening to The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien on Audible lately.
I haven't read Tolkien in years. I read him when I was young -- twelve or thirteen, I think -- when I received the boxset from the same kind* Christian relative who'd gifted me the Chronicles of Narnia boxset two or three years before. Christian literature was highly preferable in our house, due to the concerns of my parents for edifying literature, and fantasy literature of a non-Christian nature was largely forbidden, since my mother had a strong aversion to dragons, believing them to be symbols of Satan.**
I might have read Tolkien again in my later teens, but I've not read him since college, and it's been surprising to me just how much of the novels I remember. Obviously the movies and games and social folklore have helped to reinforce my knowledge, but even so, I'm struck by how much of the non-movie/non-game material I remember of these novels, given that I only read them maybe two or three times. And this is particularly interesting because I've been surprised lately at how much of Prince Caspian I didn't remember, when I must have read it many more times. I read all the Narnia books at least a dozen times, except The Last Battle, so you'd think those would be the ones I would recall the most clearly, and not Tolkien's works which, for all their many virtues, did have an unfortunate tendency to get sometimes bogged down with poems and food, neither of which interested me much as a child.
But now I'm already off and rambling from my point.
Something I've noticed with Tolkien is that he shares a habit with Lewis: a penchant for running away from the narrative to tell us the past or future of some minor character. I don't mean general world-building, which Tolkien has an obvious fondness for and Lewis mostly does not; I'm speaking more of the introduction of minor characters and then telling us what becomes of them, like Lewis' "Narnian girls" and "Telmarine boys" and narrative asides about the protagonists and their friends and relations (some of which are particularly on my mind, because I've been reading Dawn Treader this weekend).
It's struck me though that there's a very fundamental difference between Tolkien's use of this narrative style and Lewis' use of the same. Almost every time Tolkien runs off from the narrative to tell us the pasts and futures of minor characters, it's in order to tell us something nice. He tells us about Barliman Butterbur the Innkeeper and how even though he was out a great deal of money on behalf of the protagonists, it came out alright in the end because their escaped ponies eventually came back via a roundabout route to Butterbur and he ended up with some sturdy work-ponies in the end. And, indeed, Tolkien tells us in the same breath about those ponies -- who missed a frightening adventure and were happier as work-ponies -- as well as another pony, later, who brightened under the care of Sam Gangee and developed a talent for treading carefully in order that the wounded Frodo Baggins is not too badly jostled. And this trend continues so far largely unabated: narrative asides about minor characters are usually positive ones. There's a very strong sense coming through the text that Tolkien actually cares about these characters, even the smallest ones.
Part of this may be rooted in a narrative need. Tolkien is writing a very dark story, so it makes sense that he might have felt the need to sprinkle in good things to lighten the road along the way. And perhaps the converse is true of Lewis: the Narnia books are largely intended to be happy and cozy, and perhaps asides about Telmarine boys being turned into pigs and driven into the woods are meant to inject some hard drama into the series, to bring it back down to earth a bit. And it would probably be a mistake to read too much theology and philosophy into the narrative styles of two very different authors. But it's hard to shake the impression I've gotten lately that Tolkien describes life as a hard journey sprinkled with unexpected joy, whereas Lewis describes life as a cozy existence but with cruel caprices (usually from an ineffable god whom we are not to criticize) always lying silently in wait. Given a choice, I have to say I far prefer the former worldview to the latter.
There's something else, too, and it will be relevant to the upcoming discussion of Susan in the Prince Caspian Disney adaptation. I like that Tolkien envisioned that the journeys his heroes underwent would indelibly mark them, and not always for the better. Merry and Pippin may return home taller and bolder and stronger than they left, but Frodo and Bilbo carry the wounds of being former ring-bearers, even though the ring is destroyed. And Frodo's shoulder pains him and his nightmares plague him. I don't think this is meant to be grimdark for the sake of grimdarkness; I do feel that Tolkien had placed himself in Frodo's shoes and empathized with him. I think he arrived at the realization that if he'd lived through such things, he would carry painful baggage with him as a result. And I think after that realization came, there was nothing for it but to write it in, and to try to provide Frodo and Bilbo with some sort of peace by means of sending them away with the elves. And I think it's by that same process of empathy and self-insertion that many*** of us came away with the idea that we too would be permanently marked -- and perhaps permanently damaged -- by the events in Narnia.
So that's kind of interesting to me.
* I was not close to that relative in question and have grown even farther away since, due to very strong personal differences. And it probably didn't help that later Christmas and birthday gifts from him were notifications of "donations" made in my name to charities I didn't approve of. Still, those boxsets must have have cost him a significant amount of money, invested on behalf of a child he almost never saw and had no real relationship with. And this is perhaps evidence that people can sometimes surprise you with kindness when you least expect it.
** I was deeply distressed the day that Patricia C. Wrede was banned from the house. I must have checked her Dealing With Dragons book out of the library dozens of times, before my mother noticed the dragon on the cover and found out that it wasn't a foe to be fought and defeated. I was henceforth banned from reading her work, since sympathy with dragons could lead nowhere good. I remember being so distressed and upset that I wrote her name on a slip of paper and kept that slip hidden among my things for years until I went to college and was free once again to read her. This incident also taught me the value of never discussing my library books with my parents.
*** Though obviously not all of us, and that's okay. I absolutely respect the point of views of many of you who have explained why Narnia would not have damaged you, had you been a Pevensie, and I recognize that we are all individuals here who handle different life events very differently.