A Wonderful Tolkien Poem
It was not until I was 23 that I read The Lord of the Rings, though it made such an impression on me that I now try to read it every year during Lent. (I will explain this in detail next year at the proper time, God willing.)
However: as wonderful as the tales of Tolkien's Middle-Earth is, I would claim that he has another, and far more important work, much less frequently mentioned. It is the essay called "On Fairy Stories" reprinted in A Tolkien Reader. Besides quoting Chesterton and having a distinctly Chestertonian, uh, character? quality? well, we're not analyzing it here and if I did I would want payment, or at least another degree for it... AHEM! Sorry. As I was saying! Besides quoting Chesterton, this story deals with two very important ideas: ideas which are so important that no one had really ever given them names before. So of course Tolkien did. He calls them "subcreation" and "eucatastrophe." Tolkien, along with the magnificent Dorothy L. Sayers in her The Mind of the Maker and GKC in his The Everlasting Man, has done important work in the "science of story writing." And these two words are fundamental to the Christian character of "story" as it now exists in this Anno Domini.
As time permits, I will explore these terms further. But for now, I will begin by reprinting Tolkien's poetic rebuttal to a gentleman who considered fairy-tales to be "breathing a lie through silver"....
"Dear Sir," I said - "Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Subcreator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons - 'twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we're made."
The thesis amounts to this: We are made in the image of One Who makes, and therefore also make, according to our place in the universe. (Now it is true that husband and wife do this in the most perfect fashion, but that is one of the secrets everyone knows....) It is in literature - and only relatively recent literature at that - that this fact has begun to be noticed, and appreciated. Perhaps this is why Christmas stories are so popular...