I got my retainers today. To retain. I prefer calling them whistlers. To whistle.
I have been reading “That Hideous Strength” by C.S. Lewis. I don’t know what sort of genre it is, but I’ve been told it is fantasy or science fiction. Eh. I can see elements of both, but I get the impression that “That Hideous Strength” is the anxious outpouring of a confident mind. And the mind didn’t much care about genre, beyond making a bit of money.
After picking up “War And Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Much more time will be spent with Tolstoy.
Both are Christian, but have phenomenally different goals and convictions.
Tolstoy was a “Sermon on the Mount” sort-of Christian (i.e. he would be an ascetic), while C.S. Lewis was one of them worldly and academic Christians (i.e. he would appreciate an ascetic).
Their strengths in fiction lie in different places, too. From all my time spent with C.S. Lewis, he seems to be a man of the mind. He likes powerful concepts and forms and ideas. For him, fiction is merely a vehicle to transport powerful concepts that would be found in an essay if it was more appropriate.
His prose are at their best when they contain a profound idea that he is in love with. He makes you fall in love with the ideas he has collected. And you go away from his fiction thinking, “Wow, that is a lot to think about.”
It also means, he usually wears his beliefs on his sleeve.
Tolstoy, at least in War and Peace, is an absolute master of writing. I don’t even know how to describe to you how clean and crisp his prose are. He makes you see exactly what is going on. Every analogy works for his realism. There is not a hitch or chink in the armor, as far as I’ve gone. The glory of War And Peace is the structure, precision, and comfort in storytelling. It is labyrinthine, sure, but it is fun to explore. It feels big, but it does not feel daunting. He takes you through it, entirely confident and without any anxiety.
His themes cannot be summarized or found in any one paragraph, either. There are certain passages of Lewis that you can quote and say, “See? That’s what this is all about.”
I don’t prefer one over the other. Tolstoy’s prose are smoother and more consistent, but the ideas in Lewis’ mind are so vibrant and delicious! His prose tire me at times. But his books are cathartic. From the Space Trilogy to Narnia to Til We Have Faces – the tension in the narrative builds until it is released.
With Tolstoy, it seems that the tension does not build, but the narrative certainly does. It just gets bigger, but it doesn’t phase him.
Am I wrong? Who has finished War and Peace?