When I was eleven years old, I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie made by Peter Jackson, and it was amazing. This was in 2006, five years after it was first released in theatres, and it instantly became one of my favorite movies. Soon after, I was told that Peter Jackson based these three movies off of three books written by J.R.R. Tolkien. All I knew about Tolkien then was that he wrote The Hobbit too, and that he was a good fantasy author. Being an incessant reader as a child, I immediately wanted to read the books that inspired these amazing movies. I remember going to my older sister, Savannah, and asking her if we had a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. Instead of answering me, she simply said not to read the books because they were boring, complicated, and really long. I, being a very wise and prudent child, was only bothered by the first two reasons Savannah gave me for not reading the book. However, I trusted her judgment and did not even take The Fellowship of the Ring off the shelf. I told myself I would read them one day when I was older.
After two years I could not restrain myself any longer. I had watched all three of The Lord of the Rings movies countless times, all the different commentaries on each film, and all the special features. There was only one place where I knew I would get more information about the world of Middle-Earth, and that was reading the books. I plucked the first installment of Tolkien’s masterpiece off of the shelf and started reading. Beforehand, I thought that the book would be good but not as amazing as the visual representations that the movies gave me. Oh, how wrong I was. After reading only the prologue, I was more obsessed with Tolkien’s fantasy than ever before. It was my first real step into Tolkien’s imaginary world, and every page I read from The Lord of the Rings series astounded me more than any other book had.
Over the next five years, I devoted myself to becoming a Tolkien scholar. At first I was in it for the knowledge of Middle-Earth and the lore behind it. Then I started reading all of his notes, essays, and poems, and I realized that the world of Middle-Earth is only a fraction of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. This was my first step in realizing Tolkien as more than just an excellent author. As I kept studying, I understood that there was much more to Tolkien than I ever would have guessed.
First, let me tell you about J.R.R. Tolkien himself. The son of Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Suffield, both English through and through, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa on the third of January in 1892. Tolkien did not have many memories of Africa, except encountering a large spider that scared him senseless as a child, which would later influence some of his writing. He only lived in Africa for four years; his father died in February of 1896, and he, his mother, and his younger brother, Hilary, traveled back to England and lived in the West Midlands. In Birmingham of the West Midlands, Tolkien as surrounded by grim industrial factories and dark urban areas when he was a child. He rarely was in a purely rural society, and always longed to escape such a loud and dirty atmosphere. However, this is the place where his love for words and linguistics began; he was enamored by the words on trucks carrying coal to different destinations like “Nantyglo”, “Penrhiwceiber”, and “Senghenydd.” Living in this area justified Tolkien’s dislike for machines and industrial mechanics. This dislike only furthered during his time serving in World War I (Tolkien Society).
In 1900, when Tolkien was eight years old, something incredibly important happened to Tolkien and his family. His mother, Mabel, together with her sister, May, were received into the Roman Catholic Church. For the rest of his life, Tolkien would remain a devout follower of his faith, which would influence many of his writings. Unfortunately, in 1904 Mabel Tolkien was diagnosed with diabetes, and back then there was no such thing as insulin, so diabetes was usually fatal. She died on the fourteenth of November in that same year, leaving her two boys as orphans. Since her husband had died, Mabel had lived in poverty with her boys for year, so when she died the boys had nothing. Father Francis Morgan, a parish priest with the Catholic Church, took them in and made sure they received all their necessities in addition to a good education (Tolkien Society).
Because of his education, Tolkien quickly mastered many different languages, both modern and ancient. Of course the two necessary languages he learned first were Greek and Latin, but then he was free to learn other languages that interested him the most, primarily Gothic and Finnish. In his free time, he would create his own languages just for fun and use them as code so no one else could read them. In his high school, King Edward’s, Tolkien had a close group of friends who met regularly after school to talk about and criticize each others work. This group named themselves the “T.C.B.S.” (Tea Club, Barrovian Society). Tolkien made some of his closest friendships here. After high school, Tolkien attended Exeter College in Oxford beginning in 1911. There he continued to further immerse himself in languages, such as Old English, Germanic languages, Welsh, and Finnish. During his studies, he found a lot of material that sparked his love for mythical beauty and ancient writings. Tolkien also formed a relationship with a young Edith Bratt, and the two became very close over several years. However, Tolkien’s academic and social life abruptly halted in August of 1914, when World War I began (Tolkien Society).
Tolkien had no desire to fight in the war just yet, and rushed to Oxford where he received a first class degree in June of 1915. During this time, he officially formed his first created language, Qenya. He finally enlisted in the army as a second lieutenant and was kept in England for quite a long time, waiting to go across the English Channel. While waiting, he formulated the first story in his legendarium, Earendel the Mariner, which started a long series of mythical poems and epic tales produced by Tolkien in the next several years. Soon, Tolkien was notified that he would be shipping out to France, so he married Edith Bratt in March of 1916 (Tolkien Society).
Tolkien’s time on the Western Front of the war was fortunately short-lived. He lived in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme and continued to serve in other locations for four months. Under constant shellfire from enemy artillery, Tolkien continued to write his mythical stories on the back of an old grammar textbook he found. He contracted a disease known as trench fever and was sent back to England for recovery in early November of 1916. By Christmas, Tolkien had recovered sufficiently to live with his wife and serve his country from England. Tolkien battled with his disease for the remainder of the war, all the while serving his country and attaining the rank of lieutenant. Meanwhile, Tolkien kept writing about his fictional world and creating more stories (Tolkien Society).
After the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Tolkien applied for a job as an associate professor of the English language at the University of Leeds. All of the works that Tolkien had accumulated had gone into a collection he called The Book of Lost Tales. At the Exeter College Essay Club, he read one story, The Fall of Gondolin, and it was well received by his colleagues. Over the next couple years, Tolkien would refine his Elvish languages (now two of them) and would come into a job as the Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925. Later, Tolkien would be one of the founding members of “The Inklings.” This loose grouping of friends was made up of literary geniuses, who would meet in a pub to discuss and criticize each others’ work. Some prominent members of the group were Oxen Barfield, Charles Williams, and C.S. Lewis, who became one of Tolkien’s closest friends (Tolkien Society).
In 1937, Tolkien published The Hobbit, which was met with much success. Instantly, Stanley Unwin, the chairman of the publishing firm of George Allen and Unwin, wanted any more similar material for publication. The Book of Lost Tales had now changed names and had become Quenta Silmarillion, and these stories were nearest to Tolkien’s heart because he had been working on them for so long. He sent Stanley Unwin some of the more developed tales from Quenta Silmarillion, which Unwin did not think would sell well due to the archaic, dark, complex storytelling that it offered. He wanted something more like The Hobbit, so Tolkien started working on a sequel, namely The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien Society).
Although he is most known for these works, there are many other published works that range from poems to essays to translations of ancient text. Some examples of these are Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Mythopoeia, Beowulf, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Leaf by Niggle, and On Fairy Stories. During his later life following the publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1954, Tolkien always was busy. His deepest wish was to complete his beloved Silmarillion and have it published, but many different things got in the way. In a letter to Tolkien’s son Michael, written in 1970, Tolkien talks about what is troubling him. “I am not getting on fast with The Silmarillion. The domestic situations, Mummy’s gallant but losing fight against age and disability (and pain), and my own years – and all the interruptions of ‘business’ do not leave much time…. When you pray for me, pray for ‘time’! I should like to put some of this stuff into readable form, and some sketched for others to make use of” (Carpenter 404). Although he did not finish The Silmarillion, his son Christopher published it posthumously. Tolkien continued working on his legendarium until he became very ill in 1973. In September of that same year, J.R.R. Tolkien died (Tolkien Society).
Most people do not get to study Tolkien in an academic setting. This is because Tolkien, his works, and the fantasy genre in general are all looked down upon in the world of literary prowess. In America, almost the only place you can find something that Tolkien wrote being studied in pre-college schooling is in elementary school when fifth graders read The Hobbit. As a child reading a children’s book, this is fun and excites the imagination. But do you ever hear about The Silmarillion or Leaf by Niggle, two very influential works, being taught in high school courses? This is true in our curriculum at Westminster Academy, but not at many other public and private high schools. Back in 1937, when The Hobbit was first published, J.R.R. Tolkien knew that many adults and literary professors would regard his present and future writings as nothing but children’s stories. In light of this, Tolkien wrote two very important works called On Fairy Stories and Mythopoeia (Tolkien Society).
In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien seeks to explain and defend types of fairy tales; not only the kind that he writes himself, but also ones found in the medieval ages. Tolkien equates the genre of fantasy with imagination and says that even though the imaginary world is in fact imaginary and not real, it is still rational; it still has a binding group of laws to abide to that are not the laws of this real world. The reader gets to experience this world, and Tolkien calls this experience “a rare achievement in Art” (Tolkien 49). Tolkien states that fairy stories can help the reader to examine his own world through the perspective of another. Three things are available to someone who does this: recovery, escape, and consolation. If someone is dealing with an issue, he can draw some knowledge from the outside perspective of the fairy story and recover. Escape is a term that is frowned upon in modern day society, often put alongside with daydreaming or procrastination. However, Tolkien thinks that “…Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic” (Tolkien 60). As an example, Tolkien writes about a man in prison. Would it be wrong if the man in prison did not dream and imagine about things happening outside his cell? Would it not be strange if the man only thought about what was happening in the cell, his mind reaching no farther than the walls of the jail? Escaping this world to focus on another does not damage or degrade this one, but enlightens it. Consolation offers imaginative gratification, the happy ending. Tolkien creates a new word, eucatastrophe, to describe this happy ending. The highest form that a fairy story can be at is when the story is a eucatastrophe tale. The definition of eucatastrophe is a moment in a story where everything seems lost and hopeless, but in one bright, shining moment, the tide turns and there is a happy ending.
Mythopoeia was written by Tolkien to people who said that myths were lies and worthless to society. Tolkien starts the poem by illustrated the modern view of our planet, our relationship with nature. As humans with modern technology, we keep finding things that are so alien to us that we do not understand them. Tolkien points out the isolationism of man in the universe; we are a speck of something in an ocean full of other creations and thoughts. But there is one thing that we do that is special with the rest of creation: we name things. “Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen/and never were so named…” (Tolkien 84). Tolkien connects this act of naming things to mythology, saying that this is the only reason something has identity and meaning to us. Thinking about things in a mythological sense gives us better understanding of something. Tolkien refers to Adam’s job of cultivating the Garden of Eden, and Adam’s fall from his lordship over creation. Tolkien writes about our sub-creation and its necessity. The essence of this poem is that we as humans must sub-create mythically under what God has already truthfully created.
Through these two thought-provoking pieces of work, Tolkien points out that mythology and fantasy do in fact have very important roles in looking at our own world. Unfortunately, most people just look at mythological works and do not care to study them, but I think Tolkien’s works should be studied as to realize his goal in writing them. These two works are able to produce a more rounded view on our world and our role in it.
In this speech, I am mainly going to talk about two of Tolkien’s works that outline his philosophy most prominently. The first work is his lecture On Fairy Stories, and the second work is his poem Mythopoeia. Tolkien covers a great deal of topics in both of these works. Basically what Tolkien does is defend fantasy literature all throughout On Fairy Stories and in parts of Mythopoeia. However, in the last parts of Mythopoeia, Tolkien goes on the offensive.
First I will start off talking about the world that J.R.R. Tolkien was born into, especially delineating the state of mind people were in concerning fantasy literature. This sets the groundwork for Tolkien’s inspiration to defend himself and his works later on in his life, because no one had ever done it before. In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien outlines his whole philosophy about fantasy literature, telling us about the function and tools of an author. I’m going to talk about many illustrations Tolkien wrote to help us grasp the meaning of what it is to be a literary author and the purpose of being one. I’m going to list off and explain the different tools and terms that Tolkien says fantasy authors in particular should use and that were created by Tolkien, such as sub-creation, primary world, secondary world, legendarium, secondary belief, the willing suspension of disbelief, and escapism. The tools of an author are mainly the uses of sub-creation, the primary world, the secondary world, and the willing suspension of disbelief, while the outcomes demonstrated by the audience’s reactions are secondary belief and escapism.
In Mythopoeia is where I draw the term mythical understanding. As stated before, this poem Tolkien writes is for giving meaning to myths and fantasy and saying that they are not useless. But Tolkien delves into something much deeper here, and he talks about a mythical understanding of the world and how it relates to the identity of all creation. Then Tolkien goes on the offensive, writing how the progressives in the world are the ones who are changing it for the worse.
I am not going to be going into detail about many of his other works, including Tolkien’s more popular ones like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, because they are his fiction works and do not give much evidence of his scholarship. They are merely his philosophy put into action. I believe that Tolkien was a philosopher and a scholar more than an author, and that he used his enticing lectures and his wonderful world of Middle-Earth to help us realize that the world that God has given us is truly a mysterious and remarkable one.
People, primarily adults, look upon fantasy literature as childish, unnecessary, and even embarrassing in today’s world. We will see fantasy movies and read fantasy books, and we’ll say that the values in these things are notable but in the end not worthy of a second thought. As children we love the ideas of magic, heroes, and quests. We accept these crazy stories because we do not know they’re crazy yet. But once we reach adulthood, we disregard these stories altogether, like a child finding out there is no Santa Clause. Once people figure out that there are no such things as wizards, hobbits, or trolls, they return or convert to “real” literature. Parents will smile and wink at each other while watching their child play pretend in his imaginary world. They are amused at the child’s desire to make fantasy a reality. That is why most people disregard fantasy as a suitable use of their time. If it cannot be reality, than they have no time for it. This thought is hypocritical though, because many aspects of modern day society use fantasy to operate.
Have you ever daydreamed? Thought about how perfect a situation could turn out? Decided what superpower you would choose if you had one? Made a big decision based on what you think could happen? People operate like this constantly. This is a kind of fantasy that happens within our minds and is often called our imagination. It can drive us to do complex and extreme things. I believe that the one of the main things that can affect these thoughts are other types of fantasy, namely fantasy literature.
This is where Tolkien and his writings play such an amazing part. Tolkien, through his works, has lifted up the fantasy genre in a way that no one else could have. Tolkien, in his essay On Fairy Stories, talks about how he views the role of authors to be. He calls a story a leaf on the great tree of tales. This metaphor implies many things. It presents the author as a discoverer, not mainly a crafter of an artificial world. The story is discovered rather than invented. Referring to the story as a leaf on the tree, this suggests that there are many more stories to be told. All of the other stories make up one separate whole that is not even comprehensible to one individual author. The author can show us each leaf through his stories that he writes. Each life and wonder that each individual story gives us is not derived from the author, but from the magnificence of the tree on which it grows. So what is the role of the author? Although the author might seem passive in this process, Tolkien says that it is the author’s job to unfold the leaf. They must open them and reveal it to the world, and the art of the author is displayed by how well the author transmits the glory of the story to the audience. Of course, this puts pressure on the author, because he is solely responsible for how the audience receives his glimpse of the leaf. The author is not the creator of the story, but a sub-creator.
Sub-creation is the term that Tolkien uses for his writing. It states that people cannot truly create things because we always make things out of other things that already exist. Only God can truly create things out of nothing. But Tolkien draws parallels from these two creative processes. Just as God created the real world, what Tolkien calls the “Primary World”, a storyteller creates an imaginary world, what Tolkien calls the “Secondary World”, which is his sub-creation. Tolkien says that the act of sub-creation is not only a natural thing to do, but also a right that we all have. Being a devout Christian of the Roman Catholic Church, he believes that since we are made in the image and likeness of a creator, we are naturally given the gift of sub-creation and the mindset to do it. Of course, mankind is a fallen race, so our sub-creations are not perfect like God’s are. In Mythopoeia, Tolkien gives a good metaphor of sub-creation. He pictures God as a single white beam of light, which shines into a crystal, which signifies a single man. The beam then splits into many different smaller beams of different color and intensity, which signifies the work of that man. Sub-creation is directly under God’s power, and only God allows us to sub-create for his glory.
Some people will automatically say that the act of sub-creation is usually bad because mankind is fallen and sinful and produces evil things. Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, obviously was aware of man’s sinful nature and made a very clear distinction between sub-creation and what sub-creation produces. Sub-creation, Tolkien says, is a natural right and impulse we have given to us by God. So sub-creation itself is not a bad thing at all; it is our own sinful desires that make us sub-create horrible things. For a parallel example, think of love. God gave us a desire for companionship with other people and one specific person in marriage. However, due to our fallen nature, we gossip, insult one another, have affairs, and betray each other. Love and sub-creation are the victims of our sinful minds, and we pervert these gifts that God has given us.
The author invites the reader or listener into his secondary world to experience through his own imagination. However, many people would read Tolkien’s writings in willing suspension of disbelief. Basically, they would start sacrificing reason and logic for the sake of enjoyment, knowing always in the back of their minds that the story is not true. This is the completely wrong way to look at Tolkien’s stories or any successful story. What must happen in order for a story to be a good one is the author must prove he to be a good sub-creator. In order to do this, he must usher you into his secondary world and take you under his spell in a sense. Inside this secondary world, everything that the author says to be true is true in the realm the author sub-created. All the laws of the world that are in the imaginary world are rational and true. This is something that Tolkien masters in his works because his legendarium of Middle-Earth is so complex and thought out. Someone could believe that Tolkien’s writings could be a historian writing about his far away land, like Homer with The Iliad, rather than an author writing about his imaginary world. The author is unsuccessful when the moment of disbelief arises from the reader. The magic of the imaginary world and the art of the author have failed. This is when the willing suspension of disbelief is done, the substitute when the story and magic of the author have both failed. This belief therefore is necessary to convey a successful story to the reader; Tolkien calls this act “secondary belief”.
One very important thing about secondary belief is that this belief in the secondary world is in no way dependent on the world being realistic in comparison to the real world. What Tolkien wrote about sub-creation applies to all types of literature, but secondary belief only applies to fantasy literature. Fantasy has a special additional function in the idea of escape. We, as readers and listeners, invest in the secondary world of fantasy because it is not part of the real world. Things that are not possible in the real world excite us and grab our attention. This refers back to what I was saying about our imagination having a great impact on our lives.
One real significant reason why Tolkien’s works are not considered to be useful by other literary scholars of the modern and post-modern world is the function of escapism, which I alluded to earlier. Many people do not deal with fantasy at all because it does not deal with the real world or its problems. Even the word “escape” is looked upon with disdain in the literary sense, but Tolkien says that this should not be the case. Tolkien says that the idea of escapism depends on how you view the real world. There are two possible outlooks of the real world. If you think that the real world is all there is, that there is nothing higher or more glorified than the world that you see in front of you, you would and should think of escapism as an unnecessary and cowardly act. The people trying to escape the real world are just fooling themselves and not facing the facts of real life; this is a depressing outlook. The other view ties into Tolkien’s faith about heaven and a new life after death. If you think there is something beyond this life, that there is something higher and greater than the world that surrounds us, that the world around us is only a shadow of what is to come, you will look upon escapism as a window to a higher world. Tolkien obviously says that the second outlook is the truest and the best. Think about the tree of tales metaphor Tolkien made when writing about the purpose of an author. Tolkien connects the act of escapism to the author unfolding the leaf, catching a glimpse of the larger tree that is greater and higher than him.
The topic of escapism is where Tolkien differs from almost every major early 20th century author because of the World Wars. Because of war, destruction, and death, many men came out of both World Wars with new philosophies and worldviews centered on the real human state, the truth that we are savage animals capable of annihilation and ruin. Authors wrote all about the horror, pain, and suffering of mankind. They pleaded with people to face the facts of human existence and stop believing in any progressive movements or ideas. Reality to them was watching an artillery shell kill five men right before their eyes. This is one reason why Tolkien’s fight for fantasy is so bold and amazing, given the fact that he fought in World War I and saw the bloodshed. And yet, Tolkien never gives up on the goodness in life. In Mythopoeia, Tolkien outlines the sense of good and evil inside everyone’s mind. If we find that we are surrounded by evil, like many people in the World Wars, what is wrong with desiring the good? And if we can notice that goodness through escapist means, then those means are in no way bad. The wish for goodness is not a refusal of reality, but a confirmation of it. Everyone wants good. That was Tolkien’s problem with all those post-war authors; they chose to dwell on the past and the revulsions of the war instead of focusing on the goodness that life brings.
Concentration on the fantasy world can also lead to an enlightenment of the real world. Reading fantasy can in fact help us recover a good view of things in the Primary World. Fantasy does excite us and can give us awe and wonder. Ents in The Lord of the Rings may give us better and new thoughts about trees. We may begin to marvel at their complexity, their necessity for life, and the fact that they are living things. The nature of hobbits may remind us to think of others rather than think of ourselves. Also, concentrating on any fantasy world is necessary to help clarify the primary world. Tolkien says the more time we spend around things in this world without noticing them or wondering about them degrades those objects. We look at the world around us so much that the things in this world become too familiar, and we stop paying attention to them. This is a big reason why Tolkien wrote his first books for children, not because children are an easier audience to please, but because they are the true wonderers of the world. They are experiencing the world for the first time, and children marvel at something new they learn every day. You might say that in order to read Tolkien’s works correctly, we must revive that child within ourselves, full of imagination and wonder. Fantasy helps us look at our things in the real world in a new light.
Tolkien takes this point a step further in his poem Mythopoeia where he points out that myth-making and sub-creation give us more than just joy and enlightenment; they also give us a sense of identity. One of Adam’s jobs in the Garden of Eden was to name the animals. Tolkien says that when we name things, just as Adam did, we give meaning to that thing. It is so unique and useful that it is worth giving an identity. We give something mythical understanding. Note that myth can refer to the foundation or origin of something, as well as provide some epistemological thought. To think about things mythically gives those things more than just a name. When we sense something and name it, we give it a spiritual nature that it did not have before. When something is given a name, it is changed because we gave it identity. Mythical understanding gives names and meanings to things and is something necessary in order to experience the world. If we just pictured the sky as something that changed colors and made us wet with rain every once and a while, we would not think of the sky as the sky. It would have no significance. But if we picture it as a “jeweled tent myth-woven and elf-patterned”, we would think of it as something of great importance. Mythical understanding gives things in the real world a flare of imagination that make them truly wonderful and amazing.
It is very clear in Mythopoeia how Tolkien loved and deeply concentrated on his religion. The sub-creation metaphor I referred to earlier was only a small part of a larger part of the poem focusing on man’s duty to God. Tolkien paints a picture of the heart of man being full with lies, pointing out our sinful nature. But, ever hopeful, “…man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.” There are still things we learn from God and use for his glory, even though we are disgraced. We still sub-create things for him. This is Tolkien’s way of saying that not only is it appropriate as humans and Christians to sub-create, but it’s downright obligatory! We are made in God’s own image; He is a creator, and we are sub-creators. “We make still by the law in which we’re made.” Tolkien obviously cared deeply for his Christianity and, being an excellent sub-creator, practiced what he preached.
Tolkien is, in part, responding to the question concerning if we should be creative or not. There have been so many times throughout Christian history when people have been very uncomfortable with fiction as a whole. I still hear preachers today preaching about how playing Pokemon or reading Harry Potter is devil-worshipping. Many Christians think that we should only indulge in the scriptures and perform scriptural analysis and systematic theology. People ask why should we waste time with these things that get at and reveal the truth in a round-about way instead of just going to the source and finding answers. While reading scripture is not bad or wasteful, that should not be the only way to reveal truth. Sub-creation offers another medium by which to see the truth in the light of a different artist or author. If we bypass this process and go straight to the scriptures, we are missing out on the discovery of truth in new and exciting ways.
The spirit, the core of myth-making is to deliver the truth, although refracted. We transmit a fragment of the true light of truth that God gives us. Of course, it’s not perfect because we are fallen and not completely transparent crystals. However, we do see fragments of truth through all acts of sub-creation.
After his defense of the fantasy world, Tolkien decides to go on the offensive, naming the mistakes of the modern world. Many people of the modern world view Tolkien as an escapist, which is a bad thing in their eyes. But Tolkien turns that theory around and states that there are two kinds of escapists. The real bad escapists, the ones who are truly denying reality, are the ones who are trying to change reality itself. These are the scientists, who name science as a tool to understand everything. Through science, they believe that utopia can be obtained, that one day we will know all the answers. They say that through the wonders of science there will be no more pain or suffering; they will reform society. These people are the real escapists who cannot stand reality as it is right now. Good escapists are the ones who are trying to escape the bad escapist’s influences. The scientists and progressors of today are denying the evil in the world, and the good escapists are fighting against that evil.
You may be wondering why Tolkien ever decided to write in the fantasy genre in the first place. Hopefully what I have already said so far has given you some reasons as to why, but the last stanza of Mythopoeia clearly outlines why Tolkien writes fantasy books. In this section of the poem, Tolkien writes about Paradise, namely heaven in the Christian sense. In heaven, we will be able to see things as they really are and experience their full essence. On earth, we can do that to an extent, but because our relationship with nature is flawed due to the fall of man, we experience many creations through our flawed perspective and cannot appreciate them fully. In heaven, we will understand the true names of things and what they really are; language will be healed and communication will be perfect. There will be complete enjoyment. Tolkien argues that these are the things that sub-creation and fantasy are reaching for. Myth and fantasy are the two things that reach past our own perceptions about perfection and give us a clearer image of paradise. Fantasy is the movement to understand pure bliss and true enlightenment, and that is why Tolkien uses the fantasy genre for his writings. He wanted to open the leaf on the tree of tales and lead his readers to something higher and greater than himself.
In conclusion, I can say without a doubt that J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have changed my life. Better yet, they are still continuing to change my life. All the years I’ve spent reading his fiction and diving into his legendarium led me to his philosophy and his passion. His philosophy and his passion led me to a better outlook on life itself and a whole different view of Christianity. Every time I read something that Tolkien wrote, whether I’m starting something new or re-reading something else, I always find a new topic to think about.
Tolkien was a crusader for fantasy. He took it upon himself not just write his fictional stories, but back them up and give them extreme amounts of value with his other works. Mythopoeia and On Fairy Stories are the pinnacles of his philosophy about fantasy as a tool for higher understanding. Tolkien connects the role of author to the role of life on earth with sub-creation. Just as an author creates something for others to take part in, it is our duty as men made in the image of God to sub-create things for his glory. Escapism never sounded so gratifying and wonderful, and I always want to loose myself in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth whenever I read his works. Mythical understanding of our world helps revitalize it so that we can see its wonders again, being able to see them possibly for the first time. At the heart of Tolkien’s philosophy and scholarship was always his Christianity, and this faith served as the source for many, if not all, of his values. Tolkien wanted people to realize what an amazing world we live in, and he did that by sub-creating an entirely different one.
I hope that you here today will want to experience what I have experienced through Tolkien’s works. Maybe you are not a big reader. If that is the case, go read Leaf by Niggle or The Hobbit. Both are fictional and some of Tolkien’s shorter works. For those who want a challenge, the epic story, The Silmarillion, and the biographical entries, The Histories of Middle-Earth series, are both complex and will take a while to read properly. But whatever you do or read, remember that the world around you outside the book is just as wonderful, if not more wonderful, as the world inside the book. Tolkien believed that, and if you read his works correctly, you should too.