Writing in Good Company

Why is Tolkien Scholarship Stronger than Lewis Scholarship? Part 2:  Literary Breadth and Depth | A Pilgrim in Narnia

J.R.R. Tolkien (left) and C.S. Lewis (right)

If there’s one thing that anyone who wants to be a writer ought to do, it’s read. A lot. Every day. Don’t stop.

As I race the calendar to finish writing The Witch Box, I find Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to be just the company I need. I’ve grown out of consciously trying to imitate him or anybody else (imitating C.S. Lewis really is a fool’s errand); but what helps me in my own journey is the tone of Tolkien’s epic fantasy.

There are books that I love but dare not read while I’m working on a book of my own. That’s because a little bit of those books will inevitably trickle into mine. I can’t help it. I don’t read Thomas Malory, for instance, because it will tempt me to say things like “Now turn we unto Helki…” It just happens, “if you take my meaning” (as Sam Gamgee, the hobbit, likes to say). I can’t stop it, so I have to find a way to use it.

Reading Tolkien as I write my book–or Eiji Yoshikawa, for another: they’re more like each other than you’d think–helps me to have a clearer vision of the scenes I’m trying to write. He reminds me to add details like trees, animals, weather, you name it, that will help me to make the scene come alive for my readers. And one of the great things about Tolkien’s style is, he never loads the reader down with too much detail–which leaves ample scope to the reader’s own imagination. I admire that, and strive to do the same.

This is what seeps into my own writing, done in my own way. And a bit of seasoning always comes in by way of other favorite books. Welsh folklore from The Mabinogion, for instance, plays its part in spicing up my writing. And in juggling the various subplots that go into any novel, who could guide me better than Edgar Rice Burroughs–or Charles Dickens? Sir Walter Scott also springs to mind.

So what I have going for me here is a whole platoon of writers whose work shows me, reminds me, and tutors me in what good writing ought to be. They are my backup, my supply line, my companions on the journey. I couldn’t do without them–

And I’m not about to try.

3 comments on “Writing in Good Company

  1. “tutors me in what good writing ought to be.” How true. I have said that also. The numerous books I have read, have tutored me in what good writing ought to be.

  2. Excellent comparisons. My favorites are Mark Twain, Phillip Roth and James Joyce, not to mention Hemingway, Conrad, and many others I learned to appreciate along my long career as a writer. And yes, like you I dare not read those great books while writing my own and risk putting their words into my work.

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