The Theology of Faërie: Part 6, The Fairy-Story That Entered History

Tolkien gave his lecture "On Fairy-Stories" in 1939. When the lecture was later published Tolkien added an Epilogue. Having already talked about the nature of Faërie and the role of Recovery, Escape and Consolation in fairy-stories, we'll turn in this final post to the Epilogue.

Recall, the author of a fairy-story is engaged in the task of what Tolkien calls sub-creation, the creation of a Secondary World. For that Secondary World to be the world of Faërie it must be enchanted. And by enchantment we mean a world that displays the characteristics of Recovery, Escape and Consolation.

We experience Faërie when the enchantment allows us to be "startled anew" by the world around us (Recovery). We experience Faërie when the enchantment allows us to commit glorious treachery against "the real world," the revolt of the prophetic imagination in seeing the world not as it is but as it could or should be (Escape). And, finally, we experience Faërie when our imaginations are eschatologically committed to the eucatastrophe, faithfully vigilant in anticipating the "turn" in the story, the experience of sudden, unexpected and miraculous grace (Consolation).

When crafted well the Secondary World of Faërie gives rise to Secondary Belief, beliefs in the enchantments of Faërie, the beliefs we've just described.

But all that raises the question, how do these Secondary Beliefs relate to the Primary World, the world we live in? It's all very well and good to have tea with Mr. Tumnus in Narnia. Or go on a quest with Gandalf in Middle-Earth. But what do the enchantments of those worlds have to do with our own?

Put bluntly, is any of it true?

Those are the questions Tolkien tries to address in his Epilogue.

Tolkien begins by arguing that while the author of a fairy-story is creating a Secondary World that world attracts us and moves us because it is, in some form or fashion, participating in the truths of the Primary World. We've experienced the enchantments of Faërie in this world. We experience the enchantment of Faërie whenever we experience the world with awe, wonder and holy surprise. We experience the enchantment of Faërie whenever we look past the violence, brokenness and ugliness of the world to envision a New Creation. We experience the enchantment of Faërie whenever an experience of fleeting Joy renews our stubborn commitment to hope in the eucatastrophe of grace.  

Tolkien writes:
Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.
But beyond this, that we find Secondary Worlds believable insofar as they are tapping into a truth about the Primary World, Tolkien goes on to say that something happened in the Christian story that has affected the relationship between Faërie and Reality.

Specifically, Tolkien argues that in the Christian story Faërie became History. The gospel story is the ultimate fairy-story, the ultimate eucatastrophe, but one that happened not in a Secondary World but in this world. Tolkien writes:
The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
No doubt, non-Christians and non-believers will have a difficult time swallowing this. And I, personally, don't think it works well as a piece of Christian apologetics.

But what I think is true is Tolkien's claim that Christians do read Faërie into History. As Tolkien writes, Christians believe that in the gospel story "Legend and History have met and fused." Christians read the gospel story as a fairy-story that entered into the primary world. A story of the greatest eucatastrophe, a story that begins and ends in Joy.

For the Christian, the gospel is Faërie. The gospel is the Christian enchantment of the world, the fairy-story we read into History. For the Christian, the enchantment of the gospel is what allows us recover the world anew in wonder, revolt against the violence and ugliness of the world and hope for, in Tolkien's words, "the Great Eucatastrophe."

For the Christian, the gospel throbs as the Heart of History. There one hears glad tidings of great joy. The fairy-story that enchants our world. 
Here the Beaver's voice sank into silence and it gave one or two very mysterious nods. Then signalling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, it added in a low whisper -

"They say Aslan is on the move - perhaps has already landed."

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