Tag Archives: Tolkien

Master of the genre: J.R.R. Tolkien

The Masters: Tolkien

The fantasy genre is an old one–it started with myths and fairy tales at the dawn of time.  We humans love stories that play out the moral struggle within each of us as a struggle of the forces of good and evil, shown on a larger stage. How much better if the struggle contains memorable fantastic creatures and characters!

I see three masters of the fantasy genre in our time.   All of them created an amazingly complex fantasy world with a solid, believable, detailed history to support unforgettable characters and situations.  The first one I am going to talk about is J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien is my favorite.  He was a Christian. The worldview of his work echoes his faith–Middle Earth is a moral world governed by a benevolent deity.  The weak are able to succeed in the battle against evil where the strong cannot. But this is only with the help of apparent coincidence, for example the assistance of Gollum in destroying the One Ring. We Christian readers know this is no accident.  In addition, unseen benevolent forces resurrect Gandalf and send him back to finish his work.  Against all odds, good triumphs over evil.

The most unique feature of Tolkien’s work is the detailed historical backdrop he invents for Middle Earth, including languages. Readers of The Lord of the Rings experience the history of Middle Earth in hearing tantalizing songs that describe heroes of earlier ages without complete explanations. The heritage of song provides the illusion of a real world. And the characters speak in several languages, which certainly seem to me to be reasonably complete tongues.

Tolkien worked most of his life on some aspect of the story of Middle Earth, beginning in childhood by constructing the language that eventually became one of the Elvish tongues. His work is a towering achievement for a man with persistence, focus, and vision. What a blessing he has been to me and to many others!

Reading Fantasy Can Bring Us Joy

dragon

Fantasy is a matter of taste. Some people just aren’t interested in it. I think it’s a matter of the leap of faith that you have to make as a reader, deciding to suspend your disbelief. Some people don’t want to do it or have difficulty doing it.

But for Christians who love fantasy stories, there is always a challenge in the wings from Christian skeptics. Isn’t this a genre that speaks of magic, witches and werewolves? Doesn’t the Bible forbid consorting with witches?  Isn’t fantasy therefore leading you, the reader, away from God?

Fantasy stories that have blessed me greatly all have a fantasy world set up by the author which has a moral compass.  You can tell which is right side up. The evil bad guy acts evil. The good guys act good.  There is conflict. The fantasy setting allows for magic, dragons, and other things that are not “real” but that nevertheless can help tell a good story.  Having the possibility of using magic increases the author’s creative vocabulary mightily.

In 1947, JRR Tolkien published an essay, “On Fairy Stories,” framing the “fairy story” or fantasy story as an art form that dates from the dawn of time. We are made in the image of God. What does that mean? It means that we love to create, he argues. So we love to make up stories, including stories with elements that are “not real.”

For Tolkien, the heart of the great “fairy story” is the happy ending. That’s not just any happy ending, but one that happens suddenly, when all seems totally bleak. That is what gives us joy.

As a Christian fantasy reader, I have experienced joy, when reading the Narnia tales and Lord of the Rings. I have experienced a letdown and disappointment when reading fantasy books that seem to have been written for the purpose of scaring me.  And I have also experienced a letdown and disappointment when reading tales that have a wrong view of God.

I am hoping that you, my readers, and I can discuss a variety of books and our reactions to them on this blog.