Interfaith Fantasy and Science
J. R. R. Tolkien
R. R. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic who lived in England, popularized the
genre of fantasy and created a new mythology. His Lord of the Rings
trilogy grew out of his work as a scholar of English literature and language.
Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator,
wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing
on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if
not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it.
If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary
definition: 'inner consistency of reality', it is difficult to conceive
how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The
peculiar quality of the 'joy' in successful Fantasy can thus be explained
as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only
a 'consolation' for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an
answer to that question 'Is it true?' The answer to this question that
I gave at first was (quite rightly): 'If you have built your little world
well, yes: it is true in that world.' That is enough for the artist (or
the artist part of the artist). But in the 'eucatastrophe' we see in a
brief vision that the answer may be greater – it may be a far-off gleam
or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint
of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. I am a Christian,
and so at least should not be suspected of wilful irreverence. Knowing
my own ignorance and dullness, it is perhaps presumptuous of me to touch
upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity,
it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only
because the capacity of Man for who this was done is finite.
I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this
direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed
the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as
to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story,
or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories.
They contain many marvels – particularly artistic, beautiful, and moving:
'mythical' in their perfect, self-contained significance; and at the same
time powerfully symbolic and allegorical; and among the marvels is the
greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ
is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe
of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It
has pre-eminently the 'inner consistency of reality'. There is no tale
ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical
men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the
supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject
it leads either to madness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that
one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be
'primarily' true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily
losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed.
It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything
of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not
the same degree, as the joy which the 'turn' in a fairy-story gives: such
joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not
be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is
unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe). The Christian joy, the Gloria,
is of the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity
were not finite) high and joyous. Because this story is supreme; and it
is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men
– and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
But in God's kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the
small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should
go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them,
especially the 'happy' ending'. The Christian has still to work, with mind
as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that
his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great
is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps,
fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation
and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet,
at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that
we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen
that we know.
["On Fairy-Stories," Tree and Leaf]
Site © 1999 Heather Elizabeth
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