The Theology of Faërie: Part 4, Glorious Treachery

What is the land of Faërie like?

As mentioned in the last post in his lecture "On Fairy-Stories" J.R.R. Tolkien describes three characteristics of Faërie: Recovery, Escape and Consolation. In this post we turn to the quality of escape.

Tolkien recognizes that for many of us the word "escape" immediately creates some problems. Fantasy is often considered "escapist," as a flight away from the hard realities of "the real world."

Facing that characterization Tolkien quickly moves in his lecture to rehabilitate the notion of escape. Taking the gloves off, Tolkien comes out swinging:
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say “the land you loved is doomed” to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it.
As I noted in the last post, enchantment is resistance. Enchantment is heroic and patriotic resistance rooted in disgust, anger, condemnation and revolt.

Quoting Tolkien again from the prior post, enchantment is "seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them." Enchantment isn't "escaping" the "real world" into a "fantasy world." Enchantment is seeing a better world and then returning with a prophetic rebuke. Reconciling oneself to the "real world"--refusing to visit the land of Faërie--is tantamount to the prisoner refusing to escape his cell.

To borrow the phrase of Walter Brueggemann, enchantment is a "prophetic imagination." Faërie is the vision of the New Heavens and the New Earth, the world set free from the consequences of the Fall.

As Tolkien writes,
But there are also other and more profound “escapisms” that have always appeared in fairy-tale and legend. There are other things more grim and terrible to fly from than the noise, stench, ruthlessness, and extravagance of the internal-combustion engine. There are hunger, thirst, poverty, pain, sorrow, injustice, death. 
Thus Faërie stands in judgment of the world. Faërie is glorious treachery against "the real world."

We join the prophetic cry of the elves and St. John, "This land you love is doomed. Come out, come out, my people."

Or as Gandalf might have said it, "Fly, you fools!"

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