Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Gospel According to Tolkien

But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
Thus from J.R.R. Tolkien "On Fairy Stories" (22) and he goes on--and this is the point of my posting this post today: 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—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and 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 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 sadness 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 preeminently (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. Legend and History have met and fused.
This last spans pages 23-24 in the linked material, and it should explain why I present this today. In the Incarnation, our sense that the world is, in some way, enchanted was validated and outstripped. The world is far more than enchanted. The God of history has come in human flesh. The child of promise has come, and how great was the promise! The promises are quite fantastic, defying what is natural. But these promises fit naturally into the world that we, as Christians, live in.

In the land of Faerie, what happens follows a different logic than we are accustomed to in our everyday lives. The poet and the novelist understand its workings better than the physicist or the psychologist. There is an atmosphere of possibility, as it were.

Why shouldn't the dead rise, if it be God's will? This is how the incarnation infects reality with what we first get a taste of in Faerie-land. And yet, there is no guarantee that the dead will rise. There is, after all, that conditional "if it be God's will" and God is wiser than we are about what works out for the best in his world, and we will see on that day, when we see another Eucatastrophe, when Jesus Christ comes again from heaven, that God has been just and good and right in all he has done. And here is reason to trust his promises: Jesus came, the God-man, to die for our sins when we were dead in them. It is as if the curtain had fallen on the play of the world, all was lost, we were doomed, and then, as we turn to leave the theater in dismay, the curtain rises, and another act begins, and this act we have recorded fourfold in the Gospels, and it is real--not a mere play, which we could walk away from, but reality which, if we accept it, must fundamentally alter how we stand in the world.

1 comment: