Why Fantasy?

that site “Is this written for children?” Authors of fantasy, myself included, often hear this question.

internet The answer is, well, no.  Yes.  Maybe.

Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that although fairy tales and myths have in our culture been relegated to “children’s literature,” for most of human history, they were the vehicles for teaching spiritual and moral precepts to every age.  At their best, fantasies are  tales of the spiritual journey, part myth, part fairy tale, that invite us to set aside our preoccupation with material phenomena as the only reality.

“Faerie” (as Tolkien called it) and myth take us to alternate worlds similar to ours but permeated by a numinous quality, a kind of mystery.  They touch us in a way that the “real” world of everyday cannot.  While the protagonists may seem familiar and homespun like us, they inhabit worlds that are intriguingly fuller and richer than our own.  Entering these worlds through story opens up in us our natural human longing for the numinous in our daily lives.  We sense that there is a transcendent world that interpenetrates our own and gives us a deepened joy in life and all it means.

The longing for, and awareness of, the numinous around us are what Lewis called “the religious imagination.”  It is our “faith-muscle,” the faculty in us that allows us to apprehend transcendent reality.   It seems to me, as both Lewis and Tolkien worried, that we who live within a materialist worldview are losing our ability to appreciate such stories.   In fact, they feared that this worldview is eroding our ability to recognize transcendence, and that as a result we are losing our awareness of  spiritual realities, and even the ability to believe in God.

So – are such stories for children?

Well, no.  And yes.  They are written for the child in us, to remind us that, yes, we do live in an enchanted, as well as material, world.  That world is all around us, and it is within us, always waiting to be explored.


Key Words:  fantasy, transcendence, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, story, materialist worldview, numinous, myth, fairy tale

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7 Responses to Why Fantasy?

  1. frthomas says:

    The deep magic of the “third place.” The “both/and” instead of the “either/or.”

  2. Susan says:

    Yes. I am hesitant to use the word, magic, because of all the Harry Potter brouhaha, but I think when you say, “deep magic,” it resonates within us as something we instinctively know is real and true, and cannot be controlled by ourselves or used for our own ends; rather, it comes from beyond the reach of.our own faculties as pure gift.

  3. frthomas says:

    I used the term “deep magic” intentionally rather than just “magic” for that very reason. Here is the quote in which “deep magic” is used by Lewis.

    “But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
    “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

  4. Susan says:

    Ah, C.S. Lewis! Thank you for the quote, and for the descriptive phrase, which I will now be able to use.

  5. frthomas says:

    It must be noted, in light of current world events, that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used fantasy to depict the “deep” reality of evil. This is especially true of Tolkien. His portrayal, albeit in the context of myth and fantasy, clearly and profoundly articulates the conviction that evil is not a myth or fantasy.

  6. frthomas says:

    More precisely, it is because Tolkien uses the genre of myth and fantasy that his portrayal of (d)evil as real in our everyday world is so deeply convincing.

  7. Susan says:

    Yes. Still, nothing convinces like an earthquake. It calls into question all the goodnesses of daily life.. It adds to a growing sense of dread. We all go on, distracted by the thousand comforting details of our life.

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