Things to ponder

J.R. R. Tolkien was once accused (and is still by many) of peddling nothing but lies. His response was this….

“Dear Sir,” I said—Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons—’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.”

In a different context he said…

“Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and
likeness of a Maker.”

When ever I think about art, I almost invariable think about the essay that these quotes where drawn from. Although Tolkien tried hard to differentiate fantasy from other art forms, I think all of his arguments could be applied to any art form. And I think he does his arguments a disservice by trying to limit them the way he does.

Be that as it may, I keep coming back in my thoughts to this essay because it is such an unsettling thing for me to read. I don’t feel comfortable with many of the arguments that Tolkien makes. One gets the feeling that he fell in love with his subject to an extent that is almost idolatrous. Yet at the same time, I cannot make myself dismiss Tolkien argument out hand.

It cannot be denied that man is a creative by his very nature. Nor would I argue that there is anything wrong with being creative. But to make to much of man being a “sub-creator” because he is made in the image of God is a very slippery slope. That argument can very easily lead to deifying man.

And that is before we get in the difficulties presented by Tolkien’s arguments over what is really “true”.

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