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‘The Next C. S. Lewis’?

There’s only one C.S. Lewis. So let’s stop comparing all debut or contemporary writers, especially ourselves, to him.
| Dec 14, 2011 | No comments |

I am NOT the next C. S. Lewis. What a shocker. ;-) The thing is, I can name at least four writers who are—or who have been told they are by a fan, a reviewer, a publisher, or an endorser. I actually had an agent who doesn’t represent fantasy say to me, “I may be passing up the next C. S. Lewis.” Well, said agent can be assured. I am NOT the next C. S. Lewis.

It dawned on me today, as I read yet another C. S. Lewis comparison—this one a glowing review saying the style of the work in question was “reminiscent of C.S. Lewis,” (the author had the sense to distance himself from that statement)—that I don’t want to be the next C. S. Lewis.

It also dawned on me that I’ve heard these kinds of comparisons before. I’m a basketball fan, and those who’ve watched the pro game for any length of time know all about the comparisons.

When Michael Jordan was beginning to make a splash, reporters started talking about him being the next Dr. J. That’s Julius Erving for those who might not know—one who made the list of 50 greatest NBA players.

But before long, young stars were coming into the league, and they were being touted as the next Michael Jordan. First there was Grant Hill, then Vince Carter, and eventually Kobe Bryant.

It’s inevitable. One day Kobe will retire, and another great player will come along with the tag that he is the next Kobe Bryant.

But a rare group of the top players seem to be beyond comparison. I don’t hear people saying, Here comes the next Magic Johnson. He’s one of a kind, a rare athlete with physical gifts, intelligence, diligence, and a love for the game that can’t be matched. There was no 6’9″ point guard before him pulling down one triple-double after another, and it’s unlikely there will be another one any time soon.

What does this basketball analogy have to do with C. S. Lewis? Simply this: Wouldn’t it be better to be yourself, in all the uniqueness God has gifted you with, than to be the next version of someone else?

I understand, whether in basketball or in writing, the comparison is a marketing ploy. But too often the athlete being compared to the great who went before is a disappointment. The fans expect something he doesn’t deliver. But when he does excel, the comparisons fade. No one is saying Kobe is the next MJ anymore, though I occasionally hear the question, Which is the better?

Here’s where I’m going with this. I do not want to set up my readers (should I one day have any ;-) ) to expect something I won’t deliver. I can promise you, I am not, nor do I aspire to be, the next C. S. Lewis. I want to be the best Rebecca LuElla Miller God has gifted me to be. That could mean I’ll spend my writing life as a “journeyman” blogger. I’m happy with that. I’ll work to fill that role to the best of my ability.

But wouldn’t it be a shame if I promoted my blog as the next Mere Christianity? As if! :roll:

Chances are, readers would approach each of my posts with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s hard enough hooking and holding an audience as it is, but to have to meet those high expectations would be next to impossible. I can see readers leaving in droves (assuming that droves even showed up ;-) ) after the opening paragraph.

What kind of a stunt is this, one might ask. She doesn’t write anything like C. S. Lewis.

The funny thing is, if I did write like him, I’d certainly be accused of being derivative.

So here’s my plea: authors, be yourself and be happy when someone recognizes a piece you’ve written as yours. Reviewers, endorsers, back cover copywriters, knock off the comparisons because you’re doing more harm than good. Let writers be who God made them to be.

There was and will be for all time one and only one C. S. Lewis.

 

Originally posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction as “Fantasy Friday: The Next C.S. Lewis,”  Jan. 14, 2011.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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Carol Collett
Guest

Amen, amen, amen, and amen! Well said and a great lesson for all of us. 

Amy Timco
Member

I couldn’t agree more!

Galadriel
Guest

Amen! Even though I know why marketers do it,  it will NEVER appear on any of my writing if I have anything to say about it.

sally apokedak
Guest

I get your point and agree to an extent. I’ve read the hype, too, and been disappointed. Shadowmancer was hyped as hotter than Potter, and what a joke that was. It’s so poorly written that it made me embarrassed for the Christians who gave it five-star reviews on Amazon. 

But I think comparisons CAN be helpful. The only time they are not helpful, I think, is when they are false. I often say at the end of a book report: People who liked A and B will also like this book. And once I said that Jonathan Rogers was a mix between CS Lewis and Mark Twain. I think the comparisons  I make offer readers an easy way to figure out if thy would like the book or author. 

Someday I hope that Jonathan Rogers is so well known that people will talking about new writers being the next Jonathan Rogers, but for now, he’s not that well known so in order to help him become well known I’m trying to convince people to give him a shot by telling them who he reminds me of. I’m confident that people who like CS Lewis and Mark Twain will like Jonathan’s books.

Sorry for bringing down to a personal level. I just couldn’t resist taking this opportunity to put Jonathan’s name out there again. 🙂 He’s such a good writer.

But seriously, I don’t think we can live without comparisons. When we submit to agents and editors we have to give them a way to quickly know who we are writing like and which audiences will like us. And it make sense that they want to put that kind of stuff on the cover of books, too, to try to snap readers up in the few seconds they have before the reader moves on to the next book. 

You’re absolutely right to say that we should be happy to be the people God made us to be. I agree with that completely. And I agree, mostly, that we should be pretty careful with our comparisons and avoid hype. But I don’t think we need to do away completely with using comparisons as shorthand ways of telling people what authors or books are like.  

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Another reason to avoid some Lewis comparisons is they don’t help readers and authors explore new worlds — with newer, original, different beauties and truths, about the same original Story (God’s) or its application.

Though I absolutely know that we can never tire of the main message of the Gospel, that God Himself died in place of sinners, and though I never tire of the “supposal” of that kind of story, and others, in The Chronicles of Narnia (especially the first) … it does grow wearisome, in other stories. Sometimes.

Another created-world, another Christ stand-in, another prophesied child’s arrival …

Well, not so much that. I don’t mind that so much. In fact, I’m writing a WIP with similar premises, though different, so obviously I don’t dislike it one hundred percent.

I think, rather, it’s the rehashed themes that are so familiar to seem redundant. When one tries to imitate Lewis, overmuch — rather than the things mentioned above, like Sally said, about following in his tradition and such — we’re not exploring further frontiers of fiction. We’re only repeating what Lewis said, in ways similar to how he said it. As artists, it could be hacketry; as Christians, it may not be exercising God’s gifts.

One could, for example, take a quote of Lewis’s, something that he happened to say very well because of his background and gifts and training, and simply repeat it, or “clone” it, for our own works, and not explore or expand on that same beauty or truth.

Otherwise, we’re not actually following in the tradition of trying to sneak God’s truths and beauties past “watchful dragons” — especially our own serpentine sentries! Instead, we’re setting up a whole new set of “dragons.” We’re chewing on the same processed meats whose original inspiration is flavorful by itself, and might not need imitators, while we are perhaps wrongfully wary of other kinds of genres and stories — without here’s-your-next-C.S.-Lewis claims — that could offer new themes and beauty-and-truth reflections.

Of course, it’s often hard to expand upon Lewis’s work, in the way that he built on the work of others, and not simply repeat it. Example 1: very likely my own attempt to expand, and apply in a different cultural context, his “watchful dragons” metaphor …

Bethany A. Jennings
Guest

Great thoughts!  While I admire C.S. Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliff, Tolkien, and other great authors whose works I enjoy, I’d rather be THE Bethany A. Jennings, not an imitation of another writer.  🙂

I have to say, though, I enjoy trying to describe my books as “cross betweens”.  I usually can’t, but if I can I think it’s fun to see what stories have shaped my own, however subtly.

Timothy Stone
Member

In reference to your comment Stephen and a Facebook comments on this article, I am reposting my comments herein. I think that you hit the nail on the head for balance. Copying someone else is bad, but refusing to ever use the same ideas as someone for fear of copying them, is also bad, and leads to very boring works.

Copycatting (plagiarism) is not good. That should be obvious to everyone. Sometimes I think that we call things plagiarism that are simply using established ideas. Tolkien and Lewis pretty much invented and inaugurated modern fantasy. To outright copy them like *coughEragonandfirstShannarabookonlycough* is not good. It is using the scenes to illicit a response that you are not imaginative enough to come up with yourself.

However, they also used many medieval and fantasy archetypes in a fantasy setting. I just fear that too often we expect people to guard against having ANY similarities to Lewis and Tolkien. If we dispense with the conventions and motifs that they invented and/put forth, we are going to have some rather droll and boring books, as the interesting ideas will be off-limits. In other words, purposeful is bad, but if it is not the goal of the author, and is part of their own story, then maybe it’s not so bad. Just my thought.

Matt Mikalatos
Member

Aw, I think most people are saying things like that because many (particularly Christian) reviewers are (a) not super familiar with the genre outside of Lewis and (b) there is legitimately something about the work that, for them, reminds them of Lewis.

So when someone says my book is “C.S. Lewis meets Monty Python” what they mean to say is, “This book has deep spiritual content, is allegorical or fantastical on some level and made me laugh pretty hard.” Or else they think I am British. That’s another possibility.

Interestingly, it seems like the same issue exists for fantasy in the ABA, only it’s Tolkein who always gets thrown out there….