“… Tolkien and Lewis disagreed about myth and fairystory.”
Do we live in a disenchanted world? Disenchantment refers to the loss of a spiritual quality that was long believed to be part of the very fabric of the real world. One expression of this loss is the split that has been made between reason and imagination, where reason grasps what is true while imagination merely dabbles in its self-created falsehoods. On other occasions I have sought to affirm a contrary view suggesting that imagination is indispensible for faith and that metaphor and symbol are a means to understand important truths about the world.
Though I cannot claim to be an avid reader of fiction, fantasy or fairy tale I am very interested in how these forms of story captivate us. In his insightful and influential lecture titled, On Fairy-Stories (1938), J.R.R. Tolkien makes clear the importance of this genre of story-telling, perhaps more important than ever in a disenchanted world. Faerie as he prefers to spell it, speaks of a “perilous realm enchanted by a kind of magic”. Tolkien prefers the word “enchantment” to describe the elvish craft. Magic seeks to alter the primary world while enchantment produces a Secondary World “into which both designer and spectator can enter”. Magic is more about control and manipulation of the world, while fantasy seeks “shared enrichment… not slaves.” C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were good friends.
I recently discovered more about that friendship through reading an article by Canadian scholar Kristin Johnson. (“Tolkien’s Mythopoesis”, in Trevor Hart, & Ivan Khovacs eds., Tree of Tales: Tolkien, Literature and Theology). She tells of how early in their relationship Tolkien and Lewis disagreed about myth and fairystory. For Tolkien they had the power to carry truth and open up fresh understanding of our world, while for a young Lewis they could not be anything more than “beautiful lies.” Lewis understood well the value and role of myth in a culture but was not very sympathetic to Christianity at the time. A long late-night conversation between Lewis, Tolkien and fellow Inkling – Hugh Dyson resulted it a significant discovery for Lewis. Soon after Lewis said to a friend; “Now they have convinced me that the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.
(the)Daily news keeps us mindful of the weight of sorrow, pain and suffering which so many must bear
Toward the end of his essay On Fairy- Stories Tolkien writes of the Consolation of the Happy Ending as a key component of the fairy-story. He observes that “Tragedy is the true form of Drama” while the opposite is true of Fairy-story. He calls this opposite “Eucatastrophe” which bring “joy”. He sees this “good catastrophe” not as ‘escapist’ or ‘fugitive’, but rather as a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to recur”. In this there is no denial of failure, sorrow and suffering – only the denial of a final defeat.
The Gospels embrace all the essence of fairy-stories but the story they tell “really happened”. In the Epilogue Tolkien writes
“The Birth of Christ is the eucuatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. The story begins and ends in joy.”
Daily news keeps us mindful of the weight of sorrow, pain and suffering which so many must bear. None of us can escape the sombre realities of life. The story of advent invites us to a posture of waiting attended by a confident hope that soon we will experience a “sudden and miraculous grace”.
At this year-end I want to thank all who have in one way or another supported Imago in 2011. We are grateful for your interest and support. It has been a good year with lots of events, new projects and connections with new artists. In November Imago entered its 40th year and we look to celebrating this milestone anniversary in 2012.