Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Made in the image and likeness of a Maker"

Of particular interest as the date of the movie Hobbit approaches, Louis Markos, in "Tolkien on Fairy Stories," provides us with some of Tolkien's own arguments [see "On Fairy-stories"] for the value of fantasy. Markos concludes:
.... Works like The Hobbit are based "on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it." The author of an epic fantasy must know the world as God created it before he can proceed to sub-create his own fantasy world. And when he does so, he acts, not in opposition to his creator, but in sympathy with him. "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."

Okay, the specifically Christian critic admits, perhaps fantasy violates neither reason nor the laws of God. But does it constitute a worthwhile pursuit? Do fairy stories offer anything that will edify believers or increase their understanding of God and the Bible?

As it turns out, fairy tales may draw us closer to the scriptures than any other genre.

Medieval theologians spoke of the Fall of man as a felix culpa (Latin for "happy guilt"), for they believed that the evil unleashed by our disobedience in the Garden led directly to the Incarnation. Though God demonstrated his love for us by creating us as separate creatures with our own mind and will, our misuse of that will prompted God to demonstrate an even greater love, by sending his Son into the world to die for our sins.

The most memorable fantasy stories center around what Tolkien dubs a eucatastrophe (Greek for "good down turn"), a sudden shift in the story that pulls victory out of the jaws of defeat, utter joy out of utter despair. The eucatastrophe "is not essentially 'escapist' nor 'fugitive' . . . 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 . . . it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat." According to Tolkien, the "Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's History," while the "Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the . . . Incarnation."

The Hobbit is filled with small eucatastrophes, with Bilbo's successes rising up out of his errors and indiscretions. But they all pale in comparison to the great eucatastrophe that comes near the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo's refusal to throw the ring into the cracks of Doom is followed by Gollum biting the ring off Frodo's finger and then falling into the fire. This breathtaking moment, re-experienced with all its power every time the epic is re-read, is neither artificial nor "escapist," but emerges organically out of Tolkien's carefully crafted epic tale.

It is a story we recognize and accept, for it is the story of our salvation and that of our Primary World. [more]
Tolkien's essay: On Fairy-Stories

Tolkien on Fairy Stories – The Gospel Coalition Blog, “On Fairy-Stories” by J. R. R. Tolkien
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