To one who said that myths were lies . . . though ‘breathed through silver.’ (85)
This is part of a series on Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia.” You can find the rest of the posts in this series here under Concerning Tolkien’s Works.
Having finished my series covering Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories, I am going to turn next to his poem “Mythopoeia.” Like On Fairy-Stories, “Mythopoeia” is foundational to understanding Tolkien’s creative vision. It is in fact something of a response to his close friend C.S. Lewis, who, when still an atheist, contended that myths are “lies breathed through silver.” Tolkien sought to develop the idea that the ancient myths are NOT lies, but are instead hints of a greater reality to which human beings are called.
As trite as it may sound, this quote gets to the heart of Tolkien’s disdain for allegory and thus his creative vision.
In Tolkien’s works, a thing is what it is, not what it may seem to be related to in our world.
Tolkien frequently dealt with critics and readers who wanted to assume allegory on his part. “The Ring is really atomic power, isn’t it?” Tolkien’s view: though it may share similarities with atomic power, that’s not by any means what it is. It’s the One Ring.
An Orc may behave like a communist, but an Orc may behave like a capitalist as well. Communists and capitalists might behave like orcs too.
The Orc is meant to be a real thing in Tolkien’s secondary world, to have its own qualities and traits.
Tolkien was anything but reductionist in his views. He chided reductionist criticism, that which wants to look at a movie like O Brother Where Are Thou? and say, “Oh, it’s just a retelling of The Odyssey.” It may be based on The Odyssey, but it is a film with its own unique qualities and traits and we need to allow it to stand on its own, as its own thing.
Every story reflects the gospel and the story of salvation history. But it’s not that it is the gospel story. It is its own story. It is made more significant by the light of the gospel, but that’s not the end of it, it can’t be reduced to that. To do so is to do injustice to the gospel story and to the lesser story.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions on this post in the comments below.
These days, there’s a lot of emphasis in Catholic circles on the importance of beauty in evangelism. I’m a big fan of this notion. Beauty has played a massive role in my faith from the time I was only a child. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe basically led me to make my first profession of faith in Christ.
However, I’m concerned that with it being repeated so often, the notion of the beautiful and its role in evangelization is in danger of becoming a cliché, a trite little saying that makes us all feel a little better but doesn’t really do anything for us. That would be tragic, because nothing else can fulfill the human desire for beauty like the Catholic Church. The bottom-line is, Catholics, wherever they are, can and should lead the charge of cultural renaissance and aim to effect every human being.
At least it will be plain that in my opinion fairy-stories should not be specially associated with children. (42)
You can see all the posts in this series here under “Concerning Tolkien’s Works.”
This is the second part in my series on Tolkien’s essay On Fairy-Stories. In the first post, I dealt with two questions posed by Tolkien: “What are fairy-stories?” and “What is their origin?” In the next two posts, I’ll be looking at the question: “What is the use of them?”
The first post can be found here. As a quick refresher, Tolkien made clear early in the essay that “fairy-stories” are not really about small, spritely creatures at all, but rather stories about the “perilous realm.” So then, “What is the use of fairy-stories?”
Then those of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the World . . . they put on the raiment of Earth and descended into it, and dwelt therein. (25)
This post continues my chapter-by-chapter walk through of The Silmarillion. This time, we will take a look at “Valaquenta,” the last chapter before the beginning of The Silmarillion proper. You can see all the posts in the series by clicking here.
I propose to speak about fairy-stories, though I am aware that this is a rash adventure. Faërie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold. (3)
You can find the rest of the posts in the series here under the category “Concerning Tolkien’s Work.”
If you really want to understand Tolkien’s aesthetic, perhaps the most central and explicit work to that end is his 1938 essay On Fairy-Stories. If you’ve ever tried to read On Fairy-Stories however, you know that it’s not the most straightforward read. Therefore, I’ve sought to provide an outline of On Fairy-Stories, and to provide some helpful notes as to Tolkien’s central argument.
When I sat down to write my thesis for my Master’s degree, I knew I wanted to write about Tolkien’s literary aesthetic, but I didn’t exactly know where to start. Thankfully, I already had a copy of Tree and Leaf, and from what I could tell, the place to start was Tolkien’s essay On Fairy-Stories. On Fairy-Stories came to play a huge part in my thesis. It’s where Tolkien really started to lay everything out. Here’s a guide to it that corresponds to the six parts of the essay in Tree and Leaf.
This is the second in a series of posts on the concept of “subcreation.” You can find the other post in this series here under Tolkien’s Creative Wisdom.
Last week, I explained how the concept of “subcreation” is at the heart of Tolkien’s creative vision. I elaborated 3 of 6 points in that first post. Here are 3 more points that explain what Tolkien had in mind when he referred to subcreation.