Tag Archives: CS Lewis

On faith and fairy stories, part 3

This is the third installment in a series on faith, myth and allegory. If you’re just landing here, read post No. 1 here.

The Chronicles of Narnia contains strong biblical allegories, “woven into their very fiber.”[1] The theme, Montgomery states, is the redemption of mankind through Christ. “To Tolkien and to Lewis, tales such as the Narnian Chronicles can, by their very nature, serve as pointers to the great theme of Christian Redemption. Moreover, they will establish in the hearts of the sensitive reader and appreciation of, and a longing for, the Christian Story.”[2] Montgomery writes that Lucy, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, comes across a story in the book of a Magician and she tries to remember the story. She is distraught that she cannot remember. She eventually does, and remembers the lessons she learned from Aslan. “A good story—one which will remind the reader of the One who was nailed to a trees on his behalf, and who now guides the believer, expects great things of him through faith, and waits to receive him into his everlasting kingdom when his work on earth is done.”[3]

Tolkien thought Lewis’ writing in The Chronicles of Narnia was too explicitly an allegory. Historian and literary critic Edmund Fuller agreed that Lewis is more explicit in his biblical allegory. He said that the Christian message is present in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it is deeply buried.[4] “Yet I believe that the relative explicitness of the Narnian books is a positive merit and value in them. It is not so clear that a completely uninstructed child would know it for what it is. But even for the uninstructed, it would lay down a foundation for understanding the Christian mystery in all its basic elements”[5] However, both authors’ writings have connections to Christian theology. Mariann B. Russell said her doctoral dissertation that the stories of Lewis and Tolkien, all “shared a belief that the thrill of adventure could be related to the romantic experience which in its turn could be related to Christian theology.”[6]

The Chronicles of Narnia are brimming with connections to the Bible. Author Lawrence Watt-Evans writes that, “In some ways, the history of Narnia parallels the biblical account of the history of our own world. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while ostensibly a fairy-tale adventure, retells in its way the Passion of Christ.”[7] In The Magician’s Nephew, the reader watches as Aslan creates Narnia. All of the elements are there, the garden, the forbidden fruit and the snake, which in the book, is Jadis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund and in doing this, he mirrors Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. The Last Battle is the story of the Apocalypse. The other books in the series continue with biblical connections.[8]

Tolkien wrote that the mind has the capability to create and add meaning to life. The human mind can observe, for instance, that grass is green, and can add meaning to occasions such as births, anniversaries and deaths. The human mind also has the power to imagine things to move. With the mind’s capabilities to create, Tolkien wrote that man is a sub-creator.[9] God is the ultimate Creator, Tolkien believed, but man becomes a sub-creator as an author and myth writer.[10] Tolkien was a sub-creator when he created Middle Earth. Authors, like Tolkien, create a “Secondary World” that one can enter in to mentally.[11] For a moment, when the reader reads the book, he or she believes what the secondary world shows, then, doubt enters and the reader re-enters the primary world, Tolkien wrote.[12] Tolkien acknowledges that human writers, as creators, transpose the stain of sin onto the characters in their tales. Not all fairy tale characters are good as is seen in the case of Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. The beauty of the Gospel is that God has redeemed the fallen characters, redeemed the sin that is so inherent in characters.[13] God is the ultimate and original Creator and He created the universe. Aslan’s breathing Narnia into existence is similar to God bringing our world into existence. Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth is an example of a creator giving life to a world.[14]

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not just biblical allegories. Tolkien said that since he is a believer, this affected the standpoint from which he wrote. Kilby thinks that Tolkien shied away from saying The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is an allegory of Christ’s redemption because he thought that the “allegorical dragon might gobble up the art and the myth.”[15] The stories from Middle Earth, are “a story to be enjoyed, not a sermon to be preached,” Kilby writes. “Yet I think it is clear enough that for many readers the story deeply suggests the sadness of a paradise lost and the glory of one that can be regained.”[16] Redemption is a tangible theme in The Lord of the Rings. Through reading about the genesis of Middle Earth, the reader sees that evil was not always present and that the evil characters did not begin evil, they made a choice to choose the dark side.[17] “The basis for The Lord of the Rings is the metaphor, God is light.”[18] There are many symbols of Jesus in The Lord of the Rings. Kilby says that Gandalf’s struggle with Balrog, where he falls into a pit is similar to when Christ descended into hell. “After Gandalf’s resurrection—it is plainly called a resurrection—the Fellowship gazed on him with something of the same astonished joy that Mary Magdalene and others found at the tomb of Christ.”[19] The examples and connections to biblical themes in The Lord of the Rings abound.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

[1] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109.
[2] Ibid., 115.
[3] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109
[4] Fuller, 91.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.,131.
[7] Lawrence Watt-Evans, “On the Origins of Evil.” In Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth, and Religion in C.s. Lewis’ Chronicles. ed. Shanna Caughey. (Dallas, Tex.: Smart Pop, 2005), 27.
[8] Kilby, 27.
[9] Tolkien, 8.
[10] Ibid., 12.
[11] Ibid., 13.
[12] Ibid., 12.
[13] Ibid., 23.
[14] Montgomery, 108-111.
[15] Kilby, 141.
[16] Ibid., 143.
[17] Ibid., 137-138.
[18] Ibid., 130.
[19] Ibid., 133.

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On Frodo and Fairies

There’s nothing quite like curling up in a recliner or in the warmth of your bed with a great book that, in a way, draws you in through the cover into the pages and transforms you into something like an invisible observer of the plot — think Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. A good story, J.R.R. Tolkien would say, births desirability. This is a desire to be a part of the journey and the adventure. It is almost an ironic balance – the reader is pleased to be in the comfort of his or her home, safe from dungeons and dragons, but as Tolkien writes in “On Fairy Stories,” there is a part of us that wishes we could enter the dangerous unknown world. After all, as Tolkien says, the heart is harder and stronger than the body.

I love this quote,

“Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them [characters from fairy stories] in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril. The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft,” J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories.”

I think in many of us, there is a thirst to be involved in something that has risk and danger and adventure. We want to be the Frodo who is involved in a grand adventure to say Middle Earth. The fantastic thing about fairy stories is the Eucatastrophe – a phrase Tolkien coined that describes when, right at peril’s edge, there is a sudden change of events that keeps the protagonist from ultimate peril. We imagine this scenario, the eucatastrophe, carrying out in our lives too. And, really, it has. Jesus’ birth is the eucatastrophe to man’s history. The resurrection was the eucatastrophe to the incarnation.

Myths and fairy tales have a power to move and inspire.

“Fairy tales are like that; they’re like the songs we hear that break out hearts with joy, the sunsets that make us cry happy tears, the mountains and canyons that fill us with wonder,” Charlie W. Starr writes.

Even more so, the Gospel is like that. The story of Christ’s sacrifice hits to the core—that God would die for man is a concept not many can comprehend. That the entire narrative of the Bible is God’s redemption of man causes happy tears. The beauty of creation leaves us in wonder of the God who created everything for His glory.

In reading myths like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, we are reminded of the truths that unite us, the truths that we find in the Bible. We see them in different characters than in the Bible, but these characters could be the very reader who reads them. Reepicheep, who “seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” should be everyone one of us. Edmund is the human, who Christ died for. In reading about Sarumon, we see how good was corrupted. In Gollum, we find that even the most sinful creature can find forgiveness. In Frodo, we see a tainted character who is obedient to a higher calling.

In these stories, we are reminded of Adam, or Eve, of Lucifer, of Paul. We are reminded of who we are, who we could be and who we should not be. The ultimate myth, the original myth, is the Bible, and nothing else compares. We can all find similarities with the characters in the Bible.

I know I personally feel the conflicting desire to be safe in the warmth of my own home, but at the same time I have the yearning to go out into “the tormented hills and the unharvested sea.” I think it is the desire to be a part of something that is bigger than your self and be a part of something that matters.

And, we readily accept that there may be danger involved, because if there wasn’t, could it really be considered an adventure and sacrifice?

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front porch

There’s something about sitting on a front porch – a porch that’s older, much older, than you and most anyone you can presently think of. It’s a porch that’s heard many a secret, as the house’s inhabitants, and those who simply pass by, rock gently in red rockers and share stories from time’s past and time present.

There’s something about sitting on a front porch that makes you feel like the Time Traveler in H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. Stories of buggies, family trees and family mishaps are remembered. Children listen wide-eyed to the matron share of a time they’ve only read about in worn textbooks.

The present is discussed, of course, at length. “Did you hear about …” and “I wonder what … is up to.” The future is hypothesized — what will become of the family in the years to come, who so-and-so will marry, what will the grandson, niece or daughter become when they grow up.

Sitting alone, on this same porch, does the soul and spirit good. It soothes the worries, the aches and rejuvenates the weary.

Jus’ sit a spell, I can hear my aunts and great aunts say. So, I do. I sit, I think, I wish and I pray. I read too, I’ve decided nothing quite can top a good book on a front porch.

There’s something healing about the gentle rock, the bees humming among the hydrangea and the hummingbird’s thousand-calorie wing work out. Birds call to one another among the pine and magnolia trees. For a spell, one can hear the distant drone of machines tending to the tobacco a mile down the road.

Old glory, hanging from one of the white house’s columns, persists in tangling herself and getting knotted in her own affairs, much the mirror of the country she represents.

The wind flows gently, through the blueberries, waiting for their debut. The crape myrtle mingles. The surroundings are awash in green, thankful for the recent rains.

Peter Rabbit came to visit, though not to sit a spell. Bambi too – his mother nowhere to be seen, just like the movie. A turtle makes his slow journey across the country road, praying the pickup trucks will manage to maneuver around his slow journey.

Spanish moss, hanging from the tree that’s as old as the house, is tickled by the same wind that tangles the Stars and Stripes. Chinkle, click click. The beach shells, attached to a homemade chime, awaken when they wish and remind the rockers of days spent in beach chairs, with toes dug into the sand and arms extended for a suntan.

I sit next to the tiny rocking chair, reserved for the children, grandchildren, now adults, and the great-grandchildren. I sit next to the wooden angel whose expression never changes. Her dress changes with the season and holiday. Her spirit never sags.

1668. The Lyons. The house that’s remained the constant in my life of world travel. I’ve moved often and lived in more residences than most. This house has stayed the same.

The magnolia tree remains – the one I climbed and sat in, watching the country coming and goings, giggling and how I was hidden. The dirt road, where I squatted on many an occasion will always be “the dirt road” a road that harbors my doodles, dreams and prayers.

Granddaddy’s old store still sits, eclipsed by the trees, drooping with age and memories. It holds memories I wish I could be a part of — how would that work, you ask. Well, I am reading The Time Machine. Perhaps Wells’ secret works in the 21st century in the Lowcountry.

The fishing pond out back remains, though it is fish-less now.

Then, there’s the path through the woods, coated with fallen pine needles, that leads to more family land. Look up, I say, the pine trees swish and sway to make room for unknown lofty passersby. Crunch, you stepped on a pine cone. Ah! Don’t worry, as arms flap, fighting an invisible enemy, it’s just a spider’s web, newly spun this morning.

Walking down this path transforms me into a character from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia — I’m discovering a new land, don’t you know, and Reepicheep awaits, I’m just sure of it. No, it’s just the fox.

Rhythm. Motion. Wood on wood. Rocking. Thinking. Reading. Cogitating. Remembering.

It’s the front porch at 1668. Residence of the Lyons.

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