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Letter 113

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 113
RecipientC.S. Lewis
Date25 January 1948
Subject(s)A long apology to C.S. Lewis

Letter 113 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Apparently Tolkien and Lewis had been corresponding about Tolkien's criticisms of something Lewis had read aloud to the Inklings. This may have been part of Lewis' English Literature in the Sixteenth Century.

Tolkien said it was good of Lewis to write in return. Lewis had written mostly about "offense" but Tolkien recalled that he had said "pained" instead of "offended". Tolkien said he knew Lewis well enough to know that he would not let pain grow into resentment. Tolkien regretted causing pain even if he had the right. The vividness of the pain he had inflicted was due to the fact that Lewis had been the victim and he the culprit. Tingling under the half-patronizing half-mocking lash his heart had made excuse for verbal butchery.

There had only been a few times, said Tolkien, when his pen found the words rather than his head or heart, and this was one of them. In speech and manner Lewis had not shown that he was offended, but Tolkien could see how he felt and his letter showed how much. Pain for a sufferer can be an opportunity for good, but it remained an "evil" and must dismay any conscience to have caused it carelessly, or in excess, let alone willfully. Tolkien may have made one or two valid comments but he should have limited them to himself.

I am not a critic, said Tolkien, and did not want to be one. However valid or intellectually engaging it gets in the way of a writer who has anything personal to say. Tolkien said he was capable of it, but it was not natural to him. He had been galvanized into criticism by the strongly critical tendency of the brotherhood. He was not "hyper-critical". Tolkien said he had a deep desire to make and found other things less important, which prevented him from being a critic worth considering. He was not imprisoned in his own taste but burdened with his own small but peculiar "message". He was at his worst when another writer's lines came too near, causing a short circuit. Tolkien blessed Lewis for his goodness and asked for the generosity of making him a present of the pains he had caused so that he could share in the good Lewis had put them to.

Tolkien was not sure if he had made himself clear. He then went into a theological discussion of forgiving a thief, considering different outcomes of forgiving or not forgiving and repenting or not on the part of the culprit. He also discussed the charming relations between G.M. Hopkins and Canon Dixon, who were two men starved of "recognition". Hopkins understood "recognition" was an essential part of authorship and want of it was a suffering distinct from the mere desire for fame and praise. The only just literary critic was Christ, said Tolkien, who admires more than does man the gifts He has bestowed.

Tolkien rejected as a self-defensive rumour by Hugo Dyson that he, Tolkien, had said that Lewis had a loud manner. We are safe, Tolkien said, with Lewis as president from contention, ill will, detraction, or baseless accusations. While Tolkien had a right to criticize he would not lightly forget the wounds he had caused. Let us listen again with more patience. However, be warned, said Tolkien, if you bore me I shall take revenge with writings other than verses or romance. Tolkien did not find need to practice forbearance toward any of you, save on rare occasions when he was tired and exhausted. He knew of no more pleasant sound that arriving at the B. and B. and hearing a roar into which he could plunge.