A recent post at Atlas Obscura has drawn attention to the fact that C.S. Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien both saw, and both disliked, Walt Disney’s masterpiece Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
To anyone familiar with Tolkien and Lewis’s sensibilities, that’s hardly surprising. Indeed, it would be impossible to imagine Tolkien — a brilliant worldbuilder and a famously purist curmudgeon who disliked Lewis’s own Narnia stories, a sentiment contrasting greatly with Lewis’ enormous esteem for Tolkien’s Middle-earth — being anything but appalled by Disney’s silly dwarfs, with their slapstick humor, nursery-moniker names, and singsong musical numbers.
Nor is it particularly surprising that Lewis similarly derided Disney’s dwarves as “vulgar” — though he appreciated other aspects of the film. In fact, he expressed surprise that “anything human” could be at the same time so bad and so good.
In the words of a Tolkien scholar quoted in the Atlas Obscura post, “I think it grated on them that he was commercializing something that they considered almost sacrosanct.” (Aside: That post starts with the incredibly ignorant claim, propounded with astonishingly misplaced confidence, that “It’s no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were legendary frenemies.”)
Thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that a contemporary and peer of Lewis and Tolkien’s, though not of their circle, would likely have had a very different view, had he lived a few years longer: G.K. Chesterton (who died in 1936, two years before Snow White was released).
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.