From Fairy-Story to Evangelion

Metaphysics of the Music, part 45

As I think the passages cited in the previous post repeatedly demonstrate, the fundamental dialectic of Tolkien’s understanding of creation, at least as he depicts it in the Ainulindalë, consists in this progression from the mere mind-dependent, thought-existence the world enjoys in the Ainur’s Music and Vision, to the “realized” or “achieved” existence the world later receives in its own ontological right. In other words, through the Ainulindalë Tolkien dramatizes mythically much the same principle that some have identified as the heart of the existential realism of St. Thomas Aquinas. Because it is not the mere form, essence, or intelligibility of a thing, but its real-world existence that represents the “actuality of all acts and the perfection of all perfections,” there is a respect in which even for the divine mind things have something more in them and therefore exist “more truly” (esse verius habent) in themselves than they do in the mind alone.

As it turns out, however, this Thomistic, metaphysical dialectic at the center of the Ainulindalë is none other than the same tension Tolkien identifies in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” as being at play in our own world and history. I have commented at length before on Tolkien’s concept of eucatastrophe, the “sudden joyous ‘turn’” and “miraculous grace” of the happy ending which he holds to be essential to all “true fairy-stories.” Yet as Tolkien explains in the epilogue to his essay, the ultimate significance of these eucatastrophic moments is not limited to the highly desirable emotional or psychological effect it has on the reader, but in the fact that in them we are treated to a “sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth” of the world:

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… God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. 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. (TR 88-9)

According to Tolkien, in the Christian Gospel of the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, what has happened is that the Creator has taken up the “essence of fairy-stories” in their otherwise “perfect, self-contained significance,” these stories about hope and the unlooked-for “sudden joyous turn,” and he has made them real by giving them the reality of “History and the primary world,” raising them “to the fulfillment of Creation.” The Gospel, in other words, is not merely a real-life story containing a eucatastrophe or happy ending, but precisely in being real it constitutes for Tolkien the eucatastrophe or happy ending of all other fairy-stories, for in it all other fairy-stories have, in a sense, become true, have been graced with the special dispensation of real, historical, physical, created being.

Advertisements

One thought on “From Fairy-Story to Evangelion

  1. Pingback: A Year of Blogging in Review « Letters from Nottingham

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s