Here is a difference between Tolkien and Lewis. I weep
at both, at times, yet at Lewis
only at certain high points, which he has captured dramatically, such as the death of King Caspian
in The Silver Chair
. But with Tolkien
I gasp and weep not at the heights of imagery
, but in the depths of belief
Lewis wrote children's stories. Tolkien walked in Faërie, and the folk he brought back to us were graver, older, wiser, merrier, more shining and more numinous than any we have ever met. It is the rarest of gifts, to make you believe, to convey you into the eternal evening and bright day of a Fairyland more terrible and more desirable than it is possible to imagine. In stories we do not go there; we catch a glimpse, a tug, a wash, of what it is like to go there.
Smith of Wootton Major was published in 1967, with beautiful line illustrations by Pauline Baynes peopled with the gentle, stylised folk of medieval tapestry. It is set a little while ago, some little distance away, but reachable. And from the village of Wootton Major, famed locally for its cake, we can reach not only Wootton Minor and the outskirts of a forest, but the bournes of Elfland.
Smith is the village smith, but while he was still a boy he attended the festival of good children and shared the cake, the special cake that the village cook makes once every twenty-four years. They were trinkets in it, but in his slice he found a fay-star, a little silver star that came from Faery.
With this inside him he grew up with a fair voice, a shining eye, and the urge to wander in the realms beyond those we know. The elf-star upon his brow admitted him far and deep in Faery, and he saw marvels, and met and danced with the laughing Queen of Elfland.
Years passed. The village went through twenty-four more years, with changes, with marriages and growing up, and the yearless Cook gives him the choice of who the elven star should pass to.
And those who have the star, what do they see, where do they go? Why do I weep?
In Faery at first he walked for the most part quietly among the lesser folk and the gentler creatures in the woods and meads of fair valleys, and by the bright waters in which at night strange stars shone and at dawn the gleaming peaks of far mountains were mirrored. Some of his briefer visits he spent looking only at one tree or one flower; but later in longer journeys he had seen things of both beauty and terror that he could not clearly remember nor report to his friends, though he knew that they dwelt deep in his heart. But some things he did not forget, and they remained in his mind as wonders and mysteries that he often recalled.