JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – the Most Read Book of the 20th Century, and The Reason Why

What did he write? A fairy story about our world but lifting it to the enchantment that it really has… and is.

[The substance of what is below is taken from: Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, “The Fellowship – The Literary Lives of the Inklings, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2015) 242-246.]

Tolkien understood himself as created in God’s image to be a “subcreator.” And so he wrote fantasy – that lifts the veil on what’s really real. Fantasy for Tolkien was “not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed, the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.” “Such an achievement, he readily admitted, is an elvish craft’, for fantasy entails creation of a different world from the one that we inhabit, and yet, to succeed as art , this newly minted world must offer the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ We must believe in the green sum, the flying horse, the diminutive hobbit. This takes surpassing skill, but when a writer succeeds in crafting a velievable fantasy, he has achieved ‘story-making in tis primary and most potent mode.’
“It is precisely story making in this mode that Tolkien sought to achieve in the Hobbit sequel [“The Lord of the Rings”], begun fifteen months before delivering ‘On Fairy Stories.’ To accomplish this, he needed a fundamental change in his approach to narrative. The Long lecture would point the way. Tolkien already knew that fairy tales appeal to adults; his own taste had settled that. Now it dawned on him that the tastes of children, while less informed that those of adults, may not be, should not be, satisfied by watered-down presentations of Fairie. He had erred, he realized, by writing The Hobbit as he did, modifying his tone to appease a young and naïve readership. In The Lord of the Rings – a book for children and adults, for all who gather beneath the Tree of Tales… – he would develop to its fullest every element of the fantasist’s art.
“In his Lang lecture, Tolkien analyzes the most important of these elements: Recovery, Escape, and Consolation (the capitals and italics are his). Recovery is regaining the ability to see things with clarity, ‘freed from the drab blur of triteness of familiarity – from possessiveness>” Escape is flight from the hor r ors of the modern world (factories, pollution, bombs, and technology ranked high on Tolkien’s list. It is not a sign of weakness, but strength and sanity. Does not a man in prison do well to escape? To escape means also to overcome the embargo imposed by our natural limitations; in fantasy, we may fly through the clouds, talk with bees, or reach the ocean floor. Consolation is the satisfaction of desires, which include our deep-seated longing for a world, of only a secondary one, of wonder and enchantment. One desire surpasses all others, by joining Consolation to Escape: the ‘Escape from Death’ – a theme that abounds in fairy stories around the world. Escape from death is itself the supreme instance of the greatest of all Consolations: the ‘Happy Ending.”
“For Tolkien, the Happy Ending lies at the heart of fantasy and fairy story; it is so essential to the genre that when he revised his talk for publication in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, he coined the word ‘euchatastrophe’ from eu (Greek for good) and catastrophe (Greek for overturning) to describe those glorious volte-races in which evil, on the verge of triumph, gives way to good, corruption to innocence, grief to rejoicing, certain death to yet more certain life. It is a “sudden and miraculous grace … a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief”… Euchatastrophe is for Tolkien the crucial event in Fairy tale, the hinge upon which the greatest stories turn, imparting ‘a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.’ There is a peculiar reason for this “peculiar quality:” the joy that floods us as euchatastrophe leads us out of literature and into faith. Through it we glimpse a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.’ Fairy tale, then, is a door opening upon divine truth. Recovery, Consolation, Escape, in their highest modes of Escape from Death and euchatastrophe, would play a crucial role in The Lord of the Rings.” (emphasis mine).
Blogger: And world readership heard the far off drumbeat The Transcendent and wanted it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s