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Tolkien’s and Lewis’ Thoughts on Fantasy & Fairy-stories

By Always Narnian

What is fantasy? What comes to your mind when you hear the word? Dragons, wizards, fairies? The Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions of the word are: “something that is produced by the imagination: an idea about doing something that is far removed from normal reality” and “a book, movie, etc., that tells a story about things that happen in an imaginary world”. Two examples of the latter definition would be The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, though these are only two examples of a very wide genre. However, these definitions do not fully cover the two authors’ visions for this type of fiction.

As a basis for this article, I would like to start out with a quote from a letter of Tolkien’s:

“[The Lord of the Rings] is a ‘fairy-story’, but one written – according to the belief I once expressed in an extended essay ‘On Fairy-stories’ that they are the proper audience – for adults. Because I think that fairy story has its own mode of reflecting ‘truth’, different from allegory, or (sustained) satire, or ‘realism’, and in some ways more powerful. But first of all it must succeed just as a tale, excite, please, and even on occasion move, and within its own imagined world be accorded (literary) belief. To succeed in that was my primary object.” [1]

“Proper Audience”
Tolkien and Lewis both felt that “fairy-stories” or “fantasies” were not intended merely for children. Tolkien went so far as to even think adults more suited for fairy-stories than children, as evinced by the quote in the previous paragraph and others such as:

“But fairy-stories offer also, in a peculiar degree or mode, these things: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation, all things of which children have, as a rule, less need than older people.” [2]

Lewis was perhaps not as strong on the idea that fairy tales were mostly for adults, but we see his view in an essay (On Three Ways of Writing for Children): “I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course, I get more out.” [3]

“Reflecting ‘Truth’”
This leads us into the subject of Christianity, or religion, in fantasy. Though many tend to say that Narnia contains allegory, or they find allegorical meanings in The Lord of the Rings, this was not how Lewis or Tolkien viewed their writings. Lewis wrote in a letter once:

“In reality however [Aslan] is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not an allegory at all.” [4]

Lewis’ religion was perhaps “more direct” in his stories, as seen in him clarifying that Aslan indeed represents Christ in the world of Narnia, whereas Tolkien took a different approach in The Lord of the Rings:

“Certainly it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political… It is a monotheistic world of ‘natural theology’. The odd fact that there are no churches, temples, or religious rites and ceremonies, is simply part of the historical climate depicted… I am in any case myself a Christian; but the ‘Third Age’ was not a Christian world.” [5]

Tolkien’s depiction of truth in his stories could also be seen in light of this quote:

“Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.” [6]

What he was saying is that for him, in an imaginary world, things will not always be like they are in our world now. In his stories, the hobbits and elves did not go to “church” but they had a monotheistic society—their “religion” is played out in a different way. Lewis, on the other hand, used specific points in The Chronicles of Narnia to represent events or ideas from actual occurrences or truths in the Bible.

“Literary Belief”
How do Middle-earth and Narnia differ in their “literary belief”? Middle-earth is an expansive world, with a history and a mythology of its own. Lewis, in his own fantasy realm of Narnia, incorporates figures we see in Greek mythology, thus his creatures are already familiar to us. Of course, there are certain things we may recognize in Tolkien’s stories such as trolls, elves and dwarves. His myth is in many ways based on our real world, giving it a convincing tone and making it something that the reader could certainly relate to. Tolkien said in one of his letters that

“‘Middle-earth’, by the way, is not a name of a never-never land without relation to the world we live in… And though I have not attempted to relate the shape of the mountains and land-masses to what geologists may say or surmise about the nearer past, imaginatively this ‘history’ is supposed to take place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet.”[7]

Middle-earth is supposed to feel as if it is, in fact, historical. It happened in the world where we now live. Lewis’ Land of Narnia, on the other hand, is a place that people from our own world can access when they are called there by Aslan. Many of the creatures (fauns, centaurs, dryads) are also those that we see in the mythology of past cultures. Another interesting fact is that it was an English couple that were the first humans to live in Narnia as King and Queen. There is also a direct connection between Aslan and the person of Christ as seen in Aslan’s statement in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: “But there [i.e. in our world] I have another name.” Here we see in these stories ties to the real world: Tolkien’s a seeming past history, Lewis’ interconnected with the people of our world.

True, these stories are outpourings of these authors’ geniuses and are not events that actually took place. However, Lewis and Tolkien did speak of certain history having a “myth-like” feel, as seen in this quote by Lewis:

“Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.” [8]

Lewis also made a point in a letter to a certain Miss Matthews that

“You can have a realistic story in which all the things & people are exactly like those we meet in real life, but the quality, the feel or texture or smell, of it is not. In a great romance it is just the opposite. I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves-but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me.” [9]

So is Fantasy important? Are fans really just getting excited for nothing? Fantasy can and often does have an impact on our lives. It can be used to paint pictures of the real world and what Christ has done in this world. Of course, in this world things are not perfect, even as Tolkien pointed out:

“Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true?” [10]

Some people are gifted with telling about God’s story through means of their imagination, but we must never allow our imagination to overshadow the story of Christ. As Tolkien said, “Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” [11]

Note: If you are interested in learning more about what Lewis and Tolkien thought on the subject of Fantasy (or Fairy-stories), I would advise reading their own writings (especially their essays and letters). What I have said here is only a very small sampling and cannot fully relate what they thought on such matters in so short of an article, especially since I myself did not have a chance to read all the material that actually exists. Check out my sources below.

References:

[1] The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter With the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, Letter 181 To Michael Straight [drafts]
[2] Tree and Leaf: On Fairy-stories by J.R.R. Tolkien
[3] The Quotable Lewis by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, Editors: Quote from Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”
[4] The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963 Edited by Walter Hooper
[5] The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter With the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, Letter 165 To the Houghton Mifflin Co.
[6] From the Preface to the Second Edition of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien
[7] The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter With the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, Letter 165 To the Houghton Mifflin Co.
[8] The Quotable Lewis by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, Editors: Quote from God in the Dock, “Myth Became Fact”
[9] The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963 Edited by Walter Hooper
[10] Tree and Leaf: On Fairy-stories by J.R.R. Tolkien
[11] Tree and Leaf: On Fairy-stories by J.R.R. Tolkien

New papers by CS Lewis and Owen Barfield published by Journal of Inklings Studies

By Ajnos

During the 1920s, C.S. Lewis and fellow member of the Inklings, Owen Barfield, engaged in a series of philosophical and theological debates they liked to refer to as “The Great War”. The Journal of Inklings Studies (an academic journal which is published twice a year and covers various topics on the works of C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings) has just released a special supplement containing previously unpublished works by Lewis and Barfield from the time of these debates.

These writings come from the time before Lewis’ conversion to Christianity as he was grappling with spiritual matters while Barfield was an adherent of the philosophical school called “anthroposophy”. It was apparently at about this time that Lewis became a theist (believing in the existence of God, but not yet accepting the Christian view of God) partly through Barfield’s influence. A limited print of the supplement has been available since Monday 16 February 2015. If you are interested in purchasing a copy or want more information, visit The Journal of Inklings Studies website.

Who Is Aslan?

By Tenethia

“Who is Aslan? Why, he’s only the king of the whole wood! The top geezer! The real king of Narnia!” – Mr. Beaver, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (Walden Media film, 2005)

When the Pevensies first arrived in Narnia, they didn’t know or understand who Aslan was, or how he would affect their lives. Of course, we as readers of the Chronicles do know who Aslan is – the high king above all high kings, and the son of the Emperor-Over-The-Sea. Through the course of the stories, the Pevensies had the joy and privilege of learning who Aslan was for themselves.

However, is this all he is? Is this all Aslan is meant to be? In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy that “in your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name.” Lewis never explicitly reveals to us what Aslan’s name in our world is, but if we look, we can understand who Aslan told Lucy he was. His name is revealed by three roles Aslan plays in the stories: he is the creator, the redeemer, and the king.

In The Magician’s Nephew, we learn that Aslan is the creator of Narnia. He spoke – sang, rather – the world into being and created each of the creatures in that world. He was the one who gave the animals the ability to speak. He created everything good.

Aslan is the redeemer. When Edmund betrayed his siblings, his blood was required by law. Only the death of a completely innocent person could redeem him. When Jadis agreed, Aslan was slain in Edmund’s stead. His blood redeemed Edmund’s life. Then he rose from death in the morning, and defeated Jadis.

Aslan is the king. He is sovereign over all the events in Narnia. He is honored above the kings of Narnia, and the royalty answer to him for what they do. The loyal Narnians serve him. Even his title “King above all High Kings,” reflects his lordship.

So who is Aslan? What is his name? In the eyes of a Christian, Aslan is a supposal for God incarnate – Jesus Christ, our creator, redeemer, and king. By “supposal” we mean that he is a representation of what Jesus Christ might have been like in a world of talking beasts such as Narnia, were it real.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In only six days, God created the world, the animals and plants, and the human race. God made man with special care. He called the earth good, and us He called very good. He made the world perfectly. He is our creator.  We know that God the Son (Jesus) was there at creation because John 1:3 tells us “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

Romans 6:23 tells us “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When we sinned, and betrayed our Creator, we deserved death according to the law, just as Edmund had for his treachery in Narnia. However, Jesus Christ agreed to be our redemption, and came to earth as a human, fully man and fully God, to die on a cross for us. He took our punishment on Himself, just as Aslan took Edmund’s punishment on himself. Then, Jesus rose again to defeat death for us!

Christ Jesus is our ruler, our king. He is sovereign over all. He directs the pathways of kings and rulers, and knows the past, the present, and the future. He has the ability to do what he pleases with whom he pleases for whatever reason he pleases. In Revelation (19:16) he is referred to as “The King of kings and Lord of lords.” We are to follow Him and give Him the glory He deserves.

 Just as Aslan was creator, redeemer and king in Narnia, so is Jesus Christ creator, redeemer and king in our own world. Based on these similarities we can conclude that Jesus Christ is the “other name” to which Aslan referred when talking to Lucy.

The Spiritual Themes of the Narnian Tales

By Always Narnian

This season, as Christmas comes and the year draws to an end, it is appropriate to direct our focus to the core of this holiday and the reason for it: Jesus Christ. The way I am choosing to do so in this article is by bringing to mind that “The whole Narnian story is about Christ”, as Lewis said in a letter to an individual named Anne. In this letter Lewis also laid out the foremost spiritual themes of each Narnian story. C.S. Lewis’ own description of these themes will precede my thoughts on each book. [1]

The Magician’s Nephew tells the creation and how evil entered Narnia.”
As God spoke everything into existence, so Aslan creates Narnia with his song in The Magician’s Nephew. Aslan sets a King and Queen to rule over the talking beasts, just as God placed man in authority over the earth: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26). Though man was created perfect and without sin, they were tempted by the serpent to disobey God, thus causing a rift between themselves and the holy Creator. In a similar manner Digory played a part in bringing evil to the world of Narnia, in the fact that with him came the Witch Jadis.

The Lion etc — the Crucifixion and Resurrection”
Just as our sin needs an atonement, so Edmund’s treacherous deeds in the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe could only be wiped away by Aslan’s sacrifice. Edmund was worthy of death, yet Aslan took his place, just as Christ did ours: “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Death was not the end of Christ, for he rose again out of the tomb. Lewis painted a beautiful picture of this Resurrection in Aslan’s return from the dead.

Prince Caspian — restoration of the true religion after a corruption”
Just as the Telmarines tried to extinguish the true Narnians, so often the world seeks to overtake the people who believe in God and His word. Persecutions have been started by evil and depraved people who try and get rid of God and His people. The Lord knew this tribulation would come to His followers, yet He has kept His word alive and His children remain. “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The Horse and his Boy — the calling and conversion of a heathen.”
One of the most touching moments in The Horse and His Boy is the scene where Aslan reveals himself to Shasta — how he had directed Shasta’s course so many times and how Shasta had not known it then. As Aslan chose to reveal himself to the “unconverted” Shasta through different events in his life, so God chooses to reveal himself to all through his creation: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). He also makes his character known to us through his revealed Word and through his Son Jesus — that Word made flesh: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — the spiritual life (specially in Reepicheep)”
The Christian’s spiritual life is marked with a great longing to be with Jesus Christ, as Reepicheep longed to sail to Aslan’s country: “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

The Silver Chair — continued war against the powers of darkness”
Spiritual warfare in the Christian’s life is perhaps, though in a different way, very relatable to the difficulties that Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum face. From the seemingly simple struggle Jill has remembering and keeping the signs, to the Lady of the Green Kirtle’s attempts to make them forget everything they had once known in Narnia, these things reflect the Christian’s everyday life: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Last Battle — the coming of Antichrist (the Ape). The end of the world, and the Last Judgement”
Knowing that the world will one day end is a sobering thought, and The Last Battle is indeed a story with more gravity, yet with a great and triumphant closing. Near Revelation’s end, there is a verse that describes the new Jerusalem and those in it: “And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5) Those who enter Aslan’s country have this type of glorious homecoming as well: “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Creation, Jesus’ death and resurrection, His involvement in His children’s lives, and His second coming are all key events that Narnia brings to the reader through the medium of fiction. Even near the close of the Narnia series, Lucy draws attention to Christ’s advent: “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember that Christ is the center of all things and that this holiday is about something greater than what the world has made it, just as Narnia is more than a good story.

[1] All quoted Spiritual Themes from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963

Portraying Spiritual Themes in the Narnia Films

by Always Narnian

The Chronicles of Narnia, penned by author C.S. Lewis, are not allegorical works as some would think, but are “supposals,” as the author himself preferred to call them. Lewis said of the main protagonist in the series: ‘If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all.’ (source: Letters of C.S. Lewis)

Three of the Chronicles’ titles have been adapted to the screen in the years 2005 through 2010. Have these three films been faithful to both the major and minor spiritual themes found in Lewis’ books?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, directed by Andrew Adamson, and produced by Mark Johnson, maintains some of the major themes readers have long treasured in this story by C.S. Lewis. Aslan’s death, a portrayal of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, is a major scene in both the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe book and the film of that same name. This scene, if omitted, would change the entire plot and make-up of the story. In the film, there is an additional line that Aslan speaks after defeating the White Witch: “It is finished,” echoing the words of Jesus on the cross. However, Andrew Adamson denied he knew that these words were spoken by Jesus. Regarding this story, Adamson also said:

“I didn’t think a lot about the religious aspect of the film… I read [the book] when I was eight years old before I even knew what the word “allegory” means [sic]. I don’t know if C.S. Lewis really intended it to be allegorical, but he definitely wrote from a place of his own belief… I think because I set out to make a film of the book and I think I’ve stayed really true to the book… [people] can apply their personal belief and interpret the movie the same way they interpreted the book.” (source: Dark Horizons – Andrew Adamson)

Though Aslan’s death was still included in the movie, we see that Andrew Adamson’s farthest goal was to represent anything Christian in the film, the opposite of what Lewis said of his well-loved classic.

Prince Caspian, the second Narnia film, was also directed by Andrew Adamson and produced by Mark Johnson. There is a scene in the book where Lucy spots Aslan, and she tells the others that the Lion must want them to follow him. The others, however, could not see Aslan, and they choose to go in the opposite direction of where Lucy claimed she had seen him. Later, Lucy asks Aslan if things would have been different had she followed him then, despite the fact that she would have had to do so alone. Aslan replies with a very interesting statement:

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?” “To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.” [Prince Caspian book]

In the film, the lines have been altered, with Lucy’s question being:

“If I’d have come earlier, would everyone who died…Could I have stopped that?” Aslan replies: “We can never know what would have happened, Lucy.” [Prince Caspian film]

This answer of Aslan’s shows that he himself would not have known, as compared to his reply in the book that no one was told what would have happened. The Aslan portrayed in the movie is very different from that of all-knowing Christ in the Bible, whom we see calling out the thoughts and intentions of people’s hearts, prophesying about His own death and His return. The portrayal of Aslan in the film is less omniscient than that of the books, and he seems to rather be a last resort.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was directed by Michael Apted and produced by Mark Johnson. Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson, who helped to produce all three of the Narnia films, said about Michael Apted directing the third Narnia film:

“I don’t think I said I was very glad it was done by an agnostic, but I think it’s a good thing that it was… [The] great temptation for me, as a Christian – the card-carrying, flag-waving, slogan shouting Christian on the team – … is to put some extra stuff in, to try to improve the message. And of course, we absolutely mustn’t do that, otherwise, we’d end up making a Christian movie. And we do not need more people making Christian movies, we need more Christians making good movies, and that’s what I’m setting out to try to do.” (source: Christian Teens About.com – Douglas Gresham)

Michael Apted also stated about the film,

“I didn’t want to make it so Christian specific. I do love the idea of making a film that’s spiritual in this day and age.” (source: access Atlanta – Michael Apted)

But wasn’t Lewis’ book specifically written with a Christian message?

The story of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader book is slightly different from that of its predecessors, having many sub-plots. Eustace, a rather nasty and spoiled child, leaves the group of sailors and finds a hidden cave in the mountains, where he falls asleep upon a pile of gold and gems – a dragon’s treasure. He soon awakes to find himself turned into a dragon. As the story goes on, there is a scene where this character is “un-dragoned,” so to speak, by the lion, Aslan.

This “un-dragoning,” which I feel to be one of the central spiritual applications of the book, was highly unexplained and confusing in the film. Here we have Eustace, a dragon for some time, finally landing on a sand bank somewhere in the ocean, and seeing before him Aslan, who begins to claw the sand. As he does so, claw marks appear in Eustace’s chest, as Aslan turns Eustace into a boy once again. There is no conversation or explanation during this scene.

In the book, we see Aslan tell Eustace to shed away the scaly skin.  Although Eustace tries as hard as he might, he cannot get rid of the dragon skin himself, and Aslan must do it for him. This scene, in my mind, is a picture of the sin in our lives, which we cannot get rid of ourselves. It is only Christ that can rid our lives of our own sin. After Eustace’s “un-dragoning,” you see a change in the boy’s attitude, yet it is still noted about him:

‘It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.’ [The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis]

The Silver Chair, the fourth Narnia film to be brought to us, is now in the very early stages of planning, said to be produced by The Mark Gordon Company, and the script is being written by David Magee. Mark Gordon has already spoken about Lewis’ books:

“Like many readers, both young and old, I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis’s beautiful and allegorical world of Narnia.” (source: ComingSoon.net – Mark Gordon)

This, at least, gives us a hint that this producer knows there is something more than just a story in the Chronicles. Since The Silver Chair film has only recently been announced, we can merely speculate as to what will be included in this upcoming film. Many of the themes in The Silver Chair may perhaps be less conspicuous than that of Aslan’s death in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but are still visible to those who know the intent of Lewis’ writing.

Will Aslan say, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” [The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis] which is perhaps a reference to the Scripture: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:44] Will Aslan’s paw be pierced by a thorn, his blood pouring over Caspian’s dead form and bringing him back to life? How will Aslan’s country be portrayed? Will the new film makers dig deep into the rich resources of Lewis’ book and be faithful to the “supposals” that were thoughtfully woven into the story? Time can only tell, as we await the fourth instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia