“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tolkien on Stories and Sub-creation

…Tolkien writes that a successful story, although it describes a fictional “secondary” world, must reflect or point towards reality, towards truth in the primary world. For Tolkien, and for me, this means pointing towards eucatastrophe, the climax of the Real Story.

“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…The peculiar quality of “joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”
A story, although fictional in its details, can thus reflect the essential quality of reality. The very heart of the story, the great theme of hope and joy that underlies it and is its essence, and the “turn” from evil to good – these things are true and real:
“The answer to this question [is it true?] that I have 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…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.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”
One need only look at any Disney movie to see this glimpse of truth in the “turn” from the low point near the end to the high point of the happy ending. For example, things look terribly bleak for Aladdin when Jafar becomes the most powerful sorcerer in the world, but suddenly his pride and lust for power betray him, and the danger of ultimate ruin is transformed into a very happy ending. Nearly all stories have traces of this eucatastrophic “turn.” In particular, recent popular fantasy books and movies reach a climax in events strikingly similar to the real eucatastrophe of Christ’s resurrection. Tolkien describes this Story, which seems to be etched into human nature, as the culmination and true fulfillment of all happy endings:
“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…among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. 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 skeptical 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. [T]he joy which the “turn” in the fairy-story gives…has the very taste of primary truth…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. But this story is supreme, and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men – and of elves.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”

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