The Critical Essay: Beyond the Ring and the Wardrobe

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The Critical Essay: Beyond the Ring and the Wardrobe
Writing Course
Course CodeWR4F
Years of Operation2011
Sites OfferedCAR
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Course Description

From the CTY Course Catalog (2011):

C. S. Lewis once told J. R. R. Tolkien: “If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.” Thus began the writing careers of two of the twentieth century’s most famous authors. These two professors gave each other’s works praise when earned and constructive criticism when warranted. Out of their exchanges came Tolkien’s Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Yet both Tolkien and Lewis insisted that neither influenced the other. As Lewis famously said, “No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.”

Students in this course write four to six critical essays in which they delve into Lewis’s and Tolkien’s many writings. They trace each author’s influences, themes, and effects upon the other. For example, after reading The Silmarillion and The Screwtape Letters, students might write an essay contrasting Tolkien’s belief in the “long defeat” with Lewis’s notion that humans have power over temptation; alternatively, students might compose an essay explaining how northern mythology affected each author and his fiction. As they learn about Lewis’s and Tolkien’s friendship, students discover how individual writers are affected by their personal and intellectual relationships with others.