I went to Romania on my lunch break on Friday.
It was virtually, unfortunately, but even virtually attending a live conference halfway across the world would be unthinkable just a few short years ago. If nothing else, COVID-19 has brought the world a little closer together through technology.
Thanks to Dr. Brenton Dickieson’s post about it, I tuned into listen to the C.S. Lewis & Kindred Spirits Connected “Inklings of Imagination” conversation. It was a thoroughly delightful experience, not least because I don’t think I’ve ever been in a “room” full of Christian scholars before.
Room of Christians? Absolutely. Room of scholars? Occasionally! But a room full of people that unapologetically (and apologetically in another sense) proclaimed their faith? That’s a rare treat.
And as I sat listening, I began to wonder about something.
As a Roman Catholic Christian myself, I find it pretty philosophically easy to read Tolkien and Lewis. Their worldviews line up pretty well with my own in a lot of ways, especially in Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.”
In it, he makes a number of arguments, but two that resonate with me are the ideas of sub-creation and eucatastrophe as an echo of the Resurrection.
In Tolkien’s view, we are made in the image of God the creator, and are therefore also little “sub-creators” ourselves. The desire to create is inherent in our being because of the One who made us.
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.– from “On Fairy Stories” by J.R.R. Tolkien
His second idea, “eucatastrophe,” is a description of the “sudden joyous turn” of a really good story. It’s the moment when everything feels dark and hopeless, and then there’s a reversal and then joy and hope come bursting into the dark. It’s that moment when the eagles are coming, when the Ring falls into the fire, when Westley says “drop your sword,” and when Aslan lives.
Tolkien says that the joy we get in this eucatastrophe is a glimpse of the underlying truth, and an echo of the Great Eucatastrophe of history, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.
I’ve been reading a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin lately for my MA thesis. Le Guin was not a Christian. At all. She even describes herself as a “consistent unChristian” (and an “unconsistent Taoist”).
To be fair, I think she does miss the point of a fair bit of Christian theology and philosophy, and I think she may well have agreed with more of Christianity than she suspected.
But as I sat listening to Drs. Guite & Dickieson, I thought of her and began to wonder: How might an unbeliever read “On Fairy Stories”? A Christian can read it and nod along to the ideas of a sub-creator and the echoes of the Resurrection, and find profound new meaning in stories and myth.
But where does meaning in myth come from to an unbeliever?
I highly recommend you watch the entire delightful conversation recording. You can find the video here on Facebook (the YouTube link is here, but wasn’t working correctly yet at the time of this writing). I asked my question, and got an answer starting around 1:17:15 in.
Basically, the answer simply went in a direction I wasn’t expecting, so I’m still a smidgen unsatisfied.
As a Catholic, I’ve never really struggled with finding Goodness, Truth, and Beauty in other views. It’s easy for me to read a bit of Le Guin and appreciate the wisdom I find there. Doing that isn’t quite the thing I’m searching for.
What I’m really curious about is how this whole sub-creator/eucatastrophe-as-echo-of-the-Resurrection thing looks from an unbeliever’s point of view.
For a Christian, the idea especially that the Story of Christ is the root of all meaning is an idea that breathes deep life to the world of stories.
What does that for an atheist like Le Guin?
I’d love to hear from someone who reads “On Fairy Stories” and enjoys it and applies it in some way but rejects the whole Christian side of the essay. (Le Guin mentioned in a couple interviews that she liked Tolkien’s thoughts on fantasy … I dearly wish she was still alive to ask her more about them!) Literature is beautiful not least because it gives us a way to see the world through the eyes of others, and this is an idea I’d love to see through a different pair of glasses.
Maximilian Hart is in his final year of MA studies at Signum University, where he serves on the Board of Directors as student representative. He works as an English teacher at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. His academic focus is currently on the language-based magic of C.S. Lewis and Ursula K. Le Guin. When he’s not reading books for class or his own high school students’ papers, he’s spending time with his wife and children or pretending to improve at chess.