Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Tolkien and Lewis: Masters of Myth and Tellers of Truth
September 9, 2019

“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.”

I have since learned that there is no such world, but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.

Charles Ryder’s thoughts upon leaving Brideshead for what he thought would be the last time, and his own later judgment on those thoughts, convey a great deal about the nature and supernature of the reality to which we are all subject. Like the young and naïve Charles Ryder, materialists insist that the supernatural is merely an illusion; only when we have “left behind illusion” are we able to see all that there is to see, the world of three dimensions – with the aid of our five senses. The problem, as Charles Ryder would come to realise, is that such a world is itself an illusion. There is no such world. The real world, as Hopkins reminds us, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” There is simply no escaping His powerful omnipresence. “For God’s sake,” exclaims Charles Ryder to the Jesuitical Bridey, “why bring God into everything?” Ryder’s question strikes the dauntlessly (theo)logical Bridey as “extremely funny.” Whether Ryder knows it or not, God is in everything and “into everything.” He is inescapable. Unavoidable.

It is the inescapable and unavoidable presence of God that makes myth such a powerful conveyer of reality. If the essential ingredients of reality, of life, are not physical but metaphysical, it follows that true stories must reflect these metaphysical realities. If goodness, truth, beauty and love are at the heart of all that is truly real, and if these things transcend the three dimensions and the five senses, it follows that stories must convey this essential transcendence in order to be real and true. Any story that fails to convey this mystical transcendence and remains solely within a world of three dimensions and five senses will not only be lacking in reality, it will be dead. Lifeless.

And so it is that J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis are tellers of truth and masters of myth. The Ainulindalë in The Silmarillion is a hymn of praise to the Great Music of God’s Creation, as is Aslan’s singing of Narnia into Being in The Magician’s Nephew. In their powerful and poetic evocation of the beauty and harmony at the heart of the cosmos, Tolkien and Lewis are singing in creative harmony with Dante’s vision of Paradise and Lorenzo’s reverence for the Music of the Spheres in The Merchant of Venice:

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