Lewis and Tolkien on Fantasy – an Analysis


I just read an interesting article, “Smuggled Theology” by David C. Downing and R. W. Schlosser, discussing the differences in C.S. Lewis’s and J.R.R. Tolkien’s views of fantasy, or as they would say, faerie stories. The most intriguing premise of the article is that their basic difference stems from their difference in theology.

Tolkien embraced the concept that the writer, and especially the fantasy writer, participated in sub-creation, the very essence of what it means to be made in the image of God. Lewis had a slightly different view on the subject:

C. S. Lewis apparently subscribed to Tolkien’s theory of sub-creation and he recommended “On Fairy-Stories” to those who asked him about his own views on fantasy. (Glover 30, 37) Yet Lewis never took the idea of sub-creation as much to heart as Tolkien did, and Lewis’s own essay on the subject, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said,” strikes a rather different note.

This brief but illuminating essay begins by distinguishing two sides of the writer: the Author and the Man. (Lewis used the male gender to denote the general case, as was the usual practice in his time; I follow that convention in this paragraph summarizing his essay.) The Author simply writes to release a creative impulse. He begins with an idea or a compelling image “longing for a form” for some coherent expression. Soon, however, the Man enters into the writing process with his own values and purposes, his desire to shape the writing toward some significant end. The Author may write only to please–himself or his readers–but the Man is concerned to please and instruct, to communicate something of who he is and how he views his world. Lewis illustrates the process by explaining that his own fairy stories, The Chronicles of Narnia, originated as a series of mental images that began connecting themselves into story-lines. But then, as the narratives began to take shape, Lewis saw that they could be used to imaginatively express the central truths of Christianity in a fresh way.

This dual emphasis on the Author and the Man involved in the creation of fantasy may seem only a slight variation on Tolkien’s views, but it explains in large part the markedly different character of the two men’s work–as well as the fact that Tolkien was never “able to enter into full sympathy” (his own words) with Lewis’s fantasy stories. (Carpenter 227) Though Tolkien certainly expressed his values implicitly in The Lord of the Rings, he affirmed the Author’s act of sub-creation as an end in itself. Lewis, however, agreed that a writer can’t even begin without the Author’s urge to create, but felt he shouldn’t begin without the Man’s desire to communicate his deepest sense of himself and his world.

It seems to me that these two differing views are still at the heart of the question: What constitutes Christian fiction?

For an example of actual Christian fantasy, consider reading the CSFF Blog Tour’s April feature, The Begotten by Lisa T. Bergren. Read about the book and author from these fine bloggers:

Brandon Barr/ Justin Boyer/ Jackie Castle/ Karri Compton/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Gene Curtis/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Jeff Draper/ April Erwin/ Karina Fabian/ Beth Goddard / Marcus Goodyear/ Todd Michael Greene/ Michael Heald/ Christopher Hopper/ Joleen Howell/ Jason Joyner/ Kait/ Carol Keen/ Mike Lynch/ Terri Main/ Margaret/ Melissa Meeks/ Pamela Morrisson/ John W. Otte/ Rachelle/ Steve Rice/ Ashley Rutherford/ Chawna Schroeder/ Rachelle Sperling/ Stuart Stockton – welcome back, Stuart! 😉 / Steve Trower/ Speculative Faith/ Robert Treskillard/ Laura Williams/ Timothy Wise

*bold type indicates bloggers who have already posted about the book.

Justifying Fantasy


I didn’t realize that fantasy writers in the general market also came up against critics, but apparently so. Even with all it’s huge popularity, or maybe because of it, writers are still asking the question, What makes fantasy so appealing? In essence, why does it sell? And sell and sell and sell? Why do millions rush out to buy Harry Potter, many in the dead of night, waiting for hours in line? Why do youth raised on computer games and MTV read a 600+ novel?

One author, Mark Chadbourn, gives his thoughts in the article “The Fantastic Appeal of Fantasy,” published in the UK newspaper, the Telegraph:

I don’t write fantasy fiction simply to provide a trap-door from reality. For me, the genre is as much about the world around us as EastEnders [a British TV program].

But instead of coming slap-bang up against it, fantasy charts the unconscious hopes and aspirations of our modern society through symbolism and allegory in story-forms as old as humanity.

It’s about turning off the mobile phone and the computer and remembering who we are in the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves.

Ah, yes, the darkest parts of ourselves. But if we stop there?

This is why I think it is so important that Christians write fantasy—so that the whole truth comes out, not just the part about our dark selves.

Want to read such a fantasy, of the supernatural suspense variety? Try CSFF’s April feature, The Begotten by Lisa T. Bergren.

If in doubt, check out what the tour participants are saying about the book:
Brandon Barr/ Justin Boyer/ Jackie Castle/ Karri Compton/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Gene Curtis/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Jeff Draper/ April Erwin/ Karina Fabian/ Beth Goddard / Marcus Goodyear/ Todd Michael Greene/ Michael Heald/ Christopher Hopper/ Joleen Howell/ Jason Joyner/ Kait/ Carol Keen/ Mike Lynch/ Terri Main/ Margaret/ Melissa Meeks/ Pamela Morrisson/ John W. Otte/ Rachelle/ Steve Rice/ Ashley Rutherford/ Chawna Schroeder/ Rachelle Sperling/ Stuart Stockton – welcome back, Stuart! 😉 / Steve Trower/ Speculative Faith/ Robert Treskillard/ Laura Williams/ Timothy Wise

*bold type indicates bloggers who have already posted about the book.

The Tour Is On


It’s that time again—the CSFF Blog Tour for April begins today featuring Lisa T. Bergren’s The Begotten. Thing is, I opted myself out this month.

Though I haven’t missed a tour since we started in June 2006, I’m not pulling the Vacation card because I do still plan to blog this week, and I’ll post the participant links. I’m also not pulling the Too Busy card, though I did have Manuscripts to read for the Mount Hermon mentoring group and now Books to read for a contest I’m judging.

The truth is, I didn’t read the book largely because it is a supernatural suspense. I already mentioned, I’m really a member of the Big Honkin’ Chicken Club when it comes to regular suspense. Well, add in the supernatural component, and my standing in the club rises!

I hate to come clean on this because, as I posted over at Speculative Faith today, I’m not usually tied to genre. And yet, there are some I prefer NOT to read.

So, for a fair appraisal of the CSFF April feature, you’re better off visiting the other tour participants:

Brandon Barr/ Justin Boyer/ Jackie Castle/ Karri Compton/ CSFF Blog Tour/ Gene Curtis/ D. G. D. Davidson/ Jeff Draper/ April Erwin/ Karina Fabian/ Beth Goddard / Marcus Goodyear/ Todd Michael Greene/ Michael Heald/ Christopher Hopper/ Joleen Howell/ Jason Joyner/ Kait/ Carol Keen/ Mike Lynch/ Terri Main/ Margaret/ Melissa Meeks/ Pamela Morrisson/ John W. Otte/ Rachelle/ Steve Rice/ Ashley Rutherford/ Chawna Schroeder/ Rachelle Sperling/ Stuart Stockton/ Steve Trower/ Speculative Faith/ Robert Treskillard/ Laura Williams/ Timothy Wise

Published in: on April 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm  Comments (6)  
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