Fredonia Shakespeare Club discusses J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis

The Fredonia Shakespeare Club met on Feb. 27 for its final regular meeting of the 2013-2014 season, hosted in her home by Mrs. Arthur Walker. Vice-president Mrs. Louis Richardson presided at the meeting in the absence of President Mrs. Robert Woodbury.

President-elect Ms. Florence McClelland announced the outcome of last week’s balloting for the choice of next year’s general topic; the choice, selected by a comfortable margin, was “Women of Achievement.”

In accordance with the general theme for the year, “Creativity and the Spark of Genius,” Mrs. Julian McQuiston presented her paper on J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, which she summarized as follows:

In the writings of J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, particularly their children’s stories – Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”, and Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” – both authors demonstrate their creative genius in portraying fictional worlds, not utopian or dystopian, but different worlds.

These two men, both English, both products of late Victorian, middle class upbringing, both professors at Oxford University, and both Christian, one a convert from atheism to the Anglican church and one a convert to the Roman Catholic faith, approached the question of “good” versus “evil” by creating fantasy worlds which echoed their personal views and beliefs.

Tolkien became a professor of Anglo-Saxon, and worked on a dictionary of Middle English. His mother had instilled in him a love of languages and stimulated his love of mythology. The small rural village in which they lived was the basis for the Shire, the home of the Hobbits. The nearby industrial area was the basis of the Satanic mills of Sauran, the evil wizard in “Lord of the Rings”.

C.S. Lewis grew up in Ireland. When his parents built a house near Belfast, it was the beginning of Lewis’ interest in the fantasy world.

His brother records: “The new house itself which, though perhaps the worst designed house I ever saw, was for that very reason a child’s delight. Its top floor contained cupboard-like doors that opened up into huge dark wasted spaces under the roof and tunnel-like passages through which children could crawl, connecting space with space.”

This is an apt description of the initial setting of “The Chronicles of Narnia”. These fantasy stories made Lewis rich and famous, and he embraced his popularity. He died in 1963.

Tolkien, by contrast, remained untouched by his great success. He stayed true to his quiet scholastic life. He died in 1973.

After the presentation, Mrs. Walker called the group to Tea, at which she was assisted by Mrs. William Larson.

The next meeting will be a luncheon on April 24 at the Shorewood Country Club for the annual commemoration of Shakespeare’s birthday. The annual picnic, to take place on June 19, will complete the club’s series of events for the 2013-2014 season.