Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fairy-story, Tolkien and Jesus

John Shuck is asking about Jesus again. Shuck writes about the speculation, arguments and thoughts of four progressive authors he is interviewing. I would rather listen to N.T. Wright or a Presbyterian professor like Andrew Purves, but Shuck did write something that made me jump and say Oh! I want to write about that:

I like the grit and guts of Frodo Baggins, but the real genius is Tolkien, right?

This was a way of saying that the authors of the gospels have more importance than Jesus since they are the ones shaping (making up?) the story. Well, J.R.R. Tolkien would have something to say about that, and in fact he did.

Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” carries within it a truth that lifts up and undergirds not only the truth of the incarnation but shows how it shines with absolute beauty. And the explanation not only speaks to the truth of the person of Jesus Christ, and I am not sure Tolkien was attempting this, but it explains why so many times we see an image of Jesus in the great literary characters like Frodo Baggins.

Tolkien writes of how the real fairy story has a certain turn in which a great joy occurs. He also writes of it as the ‘consolation of the happy ending.’ Tolkien writes:

But the ‘consolation’ of fairy-stories 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 lest 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 eucatastrophe tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
And then Tolkien adds to this by further defining the fairy-story, calling it “the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’ (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale)” and insisting the joyful turn is unexpected and will not occur again. He also adds that there is sorrow and failure in the story but it simply adds to the joyful turn. That turn, when it comes, according to Tolkien, gives to the reader a great start of joy.

And then Tolkien turns to Jesus. There is much more, but there is this;

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 never 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.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the true fairy-tale because they walked with, touched, heard and loved the reality they wrote about. And that other Person of the glorious Trinity reached into their hearts and minds reminding them and writing with them:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you also the eternal life, which was with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ . These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:-4)”

Picture by Penny Juncker


Anonymous said...

My only response to Shuck's cyber doodlings ("Will the real Jesus please rise?") would be, "the real Jesus rose two thousand years ago."

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

Yes, He did. but my main motive for writing this posting was the joy of pointing out Tolkien's (the genius) wonderful apologetic from his understanding of Fairy-stories.

Chas Jay said...

Great column about Tokien! As I was reading this I thought of Hebrews 12:2 and Romans 14:11.

Viola Larson said...

Chas in particular, I think, Heb. 12:2-the joy set before him. That wording is so full.

Greg Scandlen said...

I would take a slightly different approach in responding to this --

"I like the grit and guts of Frodo Baggins, but the real genius is Tolkien, right?"

I would say the real author of our tale is God, not the disciples. You and I and they may all have "grit and guts" or we may be cowardly weaklings. But we are all players in a drama the Lord has written before time began.

I doubt if that is what Shuck had in mind, but it is how I choose to read it.

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Viola Larson said...

Greg that is a wonderful analogy. That is one of Solzhenitsyn's ways of seeing in the little booklet that is his "Nobel Lecture on Literature.