Lectio Tolkiena: Recovered Seeing and Hoarding

I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’ – as things apart from ourselves.

On Fairy-stories

I’ve written about this quote before, and it continues, in my mind, to be one of Tolkien’s key philosophical statements, a magical little manifesto of sorts. Whereas the literary world has been generally obsessed with “realism” for around 150 years or so, Tolkien takes the modernist idea of the “real” – meaning the thing just as it is in a materialist sense – and transforms it into something new.

the-light-of-the-silmarils-elegaer
“The Light of the Silmarils” © elegaer 2007-2016

“As we are meant to see them” – of course, this begs the question: “Meant by whom or what?” It’s an obviously supernatural statement, for it implies an intelligibility that stands outside of nature, a will to communicate something to us.

Our problem is that we are all taught to be good “realists”. Tolkien’s response to this is almost Chestertonian: “The real is not what you think it is.” The modernist mind tends to assess the “real” as being that which is right in front of me. It’s a way of taking things at “face value”, and thus, as Tolkien says, “appropriating” or “hoarding” them into our other piles of junk, facts conquered and tucked away.

But seeing things as they are meant to be seen – this requires not hoarding, but wonder leading to contemplation, a belief that it’s not just an empty bundle of atoms with some energy thrown in, but a gift imbued with intelligibility, a sacrament of sorts drawing us toward a greater reality.

When we see this way, it becomes harder to simply tuck things away as if we know everything about them. We are liberated from the grave danger of possession and greed, and thus free to understand that things as they are right now, at this moment, are not as they will always be. Indeed, the thing is given to call us to a hopeful realization of the greater, invisible reality.

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That beautiful piece of Tolkien-inspired artwork you see above is from elegaer, my Tolkien Artist-of-the-Month for September 2016. Of course you love it, because it’s awesome, so go check out the rest of their work!

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Tolkienesque: Gabriel Blanchard on Utopia vs. Hope

They have seen Death and ultimate defeat
and yet they would not in despair retreat…

– “Mythopoeia

Not only does Gabriel Blanchard have a pretty solid command of Tolkien’s linguistics, but he’s a great writer as well. I particularly enjoyed this reflection on Utopia vs. Hope, which I found to be quite Tolkien-esque.

sunrise-over-the-misty-mountains

“And what does that mean in the here and now? Primarily this: strive to improve things, because real improvements, while they won’t last forever, are possible. But remember that they won’t last forever, nor be perfect; you’re doing this because better-ness is, as the word implies, better, and small things count too. Don’t pin your hopes on the idea of perfecting this world—it isn’t going to happen, and when you realize that, if you’ve invested everything in a perfect world, that realization will crush you to pieces. But, if prophetic mysticism communicates with any invisible world of ultimate truth at all, then the small things, the marginal improvements, the decision to act on principle instead of merely on advantage, those things are all worth it.”

Sounds like the long defeat to me!

read the rest here

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Image: “Sunrise over the Misty Mountains” by Miruna-Lavinia © 2016

Concerning the Seeing of Stars

He sees no stars that does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song…

– “Mythopoeia

Yes, Tolkien concerns himself not with seeing things as they are but instead as they are meant to be seen. His friend imagines stars to be gigantic balls of super-hot gas, and really, nothing more. Yet for Tolkien, he imagines stars in their origin and in their potential.

winter-time-rysowAnia

This is the same mind, of course, that gives us “Ainulindalë” (an ancient song!), the idea that the entirety of the cosmos begins with music. It is also the same mind that says the brightest star in the sky is a transfigured swan-ship with a holy jewel set upon its bow. Yes, these are imaginings, but for Tolkien, they are hints of a greater reality as well.

Yet this begs a question…how do we know how we are supposed to see these things? The short answer is that we don’t, at least not exactly. When we are children, we rely upon our elders to tell us how to see the world. So it is for WE the Children of Ilúvatar – we need to be taught. Yet in our time, we’ve lost touch with the means of being taught. The teachers of our time mainly concern themselves with seeing things merely as they are. While this has its place, it suffers from a spiritual anemia.

To recover proper vision, we must return to Him that made the stars, and to those most in touch with Him. No, this is not a “by the book” sort of instruction, but a contemplative safari, a journey of ever-increasing wonder.
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Image: “Winter Time” by rysowAnia ©2015-2016

Concerning Wishful Thinking

Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat! (“Mythopoeia”)

It has been increasingly commonplace in the modern age to reject religion (and in some cases non-realist storytelling) as “wishful thinking”, something Tolkien was well aware of, especially as his works suffered critical rejection for being works of fantasy.

hope

Yet Tolkien never apologized for his love of the fairy-tale. In “Mythopoeia”, he rejects the notion that such wishful thinking is to be outgrown by an increasingly mature human race, as if it were the next logical step in our evolution. Instead, Tolkien insists that such “wishful thinking” is, at its most fundamental level, a way of reaching back to the greater truth of what we are meant to be. There is a contingency it would seem to our present reality. We are not so fully formed as we generally think we are, neither as individuals or as a species.

And this is where it becomes important that we are, as Tolkien puts it, “subcreators”, for we who are still in the process of being fully formed, are called to participate in the process of fully forming the rest of the reality around us. The realist will insist that we must deal in facts; but for Tolkien, though facts may be important, they are not the end all be all.

The dream, the vision, is a distant thing, a whisp, but still as Tolkien sees it, not a random thing, but a given inspiration, a call. Indeed, a call to create, to realize the vision!

And what is so wrong with wishing something better? Is it not what makes us great? While it would be foolish to so give ourselves to our dreams that we lose touch with reality (for it is after all the thing we are called to continue forming), it would be equally foolish to lose touch with the wish, for it is the thing that causes us to press on in hope.

And I believe, as Tolkien did, that that hope is indeed a HOPE, a thing grounded in reality, a real fact, and a real promise of what is to come…

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Image is Leaving Hope © surprise truck 2012 CC License 2.0

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and “True Myths”


The heart of man is not compound of lies
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise…

– “Mythopoeia”


J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, close friends and fellow fantasy trailblazers, shared a lifelong love of ancient mythology. In fact, this shared love of mythology happened to serve as a turning point in Lewis’ life. Furthermore, it reveals something about the idea of mythology that might strike most of us as very strange, and even lead some to dismiss Tolkien as a lunatic. Yet not only is this very point foundational to the name of this site, it is undeniably foundational to Tolkien’s entire canon of work.

Jan van Eyck (circa 1390–1441) [Public domain, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading “Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and “True Myths””

Concerning Mythopoeia – Part 4


Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head.  (90)


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.

“Mythopoeia” is a response to Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis, who 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. In doing so, he led Lewis to a deeper understanding of the role of myth in the lives of human beings, and opened up the possibility of Christianity being the “true myth,” that is, the myth that actually happened in human history.

Continue reading “Concerning Mythopoeia – Part 4”

Concerning Mythopoeia – Part 3


They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
And yet they would not in despair retreat… (88)


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.

“Mythopoeia” is a response to Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis, who 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. In doing so, he led Lewis to a deeper understanding of the role of myth in the lives of human beings, and opened up the possibility of Christianity being the “true myth,” that is, the myth that actually happened in human history.

Eärendil the Mariner Image © 2013 Jenny Dolfen 

Continue reading “Concerning Mythopoeia – Part 3”

Concerning Mythopoeia – Part 2


The heart of man is not compound of lies
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise. (87)


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.

“Mythopoeia” is essentially a response to Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis, who 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. In doing so, he led Lewis to a deeper understanding of the role of myth in the lives of human beings, and opened up the possibility of Christianity being the “true myth,” that is, the myth that actually happened in human history.

The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani

Continue reading “Concerning Mythopoeia – Part 2”