Saturday, July 14, 2012

The God of Men and Elves

"It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any especially beautiful fairy-story were found to be 'primarily' true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed.... The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men - and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused." J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories," in The Tolkien Reader (New York: Ballantine, 1966), 72.
How is it that we feel for characters in a story? Why am I sad when Frodo leaves for the Grey Havens? Somewhere in my mind, I recognize that this is a death - a real death, in some way.  I also recognize that this is different from the death of a  living person. I am sad but not at the same length or depth as when a friend or family member dies.

I know it's just a story. I know this well enough not to feel as bad as I would if it were real. Then why feel sad at all? There is an "inconsistency" and "incoherence" in the response. ("The Paradox of Fiction", from Futility Closet; see also "The Interloper")

I think Tolkien was touching on the answer in "On Fairy Stories". The characters in a story have been imagined. They have been given life by their author. They are, insofar, real. An author makes a character the way that God makes a man - by his words, and in that pale reflection of creation we find a pale reflection of life.

God is the God of men because He made them. He is the God of elves because He made the man that made them. 

Perhaps while our mortal minds cannot see the grey area in between, our immortal souls sense something. They sense that place where legend and history have fused.

On some level, we sense that ocean between the lands of history and mythology, between real and unreal, where the rock that is Christ dropped in and rippled the water in every direction.

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