David Russell Mosley
Festival of St Monica, mother of St Augustine
27 August 2013
The Borders of the Perilous Realm, Beeston, Nottinghamshire
Dear Friends and Family,
Today I want to write yet again about something very close to my heart: Faerie and Fantasy in Christian theology. I have posted on this topic enough times now that I have included a whole menu above to it. This theme is one that has brought quite a bit of ire my way, though never directly. That is, people like to comment about my posts without commenting on them. Still I trudge on.
One of my favourite critiques is a backhanded comment. It usually goes something along these lines: ‘I bet it gets funding.’ I think this humorous. First, and perhaps this is what confuses them most, I don’t write posts that are intended as academic articles. I don’t have an idea for something I think could make a good journal article and then decide to write a blog post about it instead. My blog is primarily for hobbies and passions of mine. The second funny thing about this is the backhanded nature of the comment. By suggesting that my work will receive funding they are implying that only a certain kind of work receives funding, work they disdain and not their own work, thus since they aren’t getting funding, they assume my work will. I enjoy good critiques, but would prefer them be about the substance of what I write, not suppositions about my motivations or the nature of my research.
Moving on then, I want today to write about the importance of fantasy or belief in Faerie for doing good Christian theology. J. R. R. Tolkien writes in ‘On Fairy Stories’ ‘Faërie includes many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men when we are enchanted.’ Faerie is thus the world when viewed through enchanted eyes. It is completely consonant with our own world, we just lack the eyes to see it.
For Chesterton, Fairyland is the place of common sense. He writes in the section ‘The Ethics of Elfland’ in his Orthodoxy, ‘Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.’ This land of common sense, however, is not a land of laws, not primarily. In Fairyland there is one test to find out if something is a law, imagination. I have written more about that here. The point here is that if you can imagine it differently, then it is not a law. There are, however, unimaginable things: Three take away two is always one; black is never white; good is never evil. These words lose their meaning if we try to define them as their opposites.
Thus for both authors, Faerie is the place where the world can be seen rightly. It is the place where the ordinary is seen to be extraordinary. This is necessary to theology. Notice what Tolkien wrote above, Faerie includes wine and bread and man enchanted. Faerie contains the world and renders it strange, it renders trees into dryads, and populates the world with creatures beyond humanity’s knowledge. We need to understand this in theology, for only then can we begin to see how, as the old hymn says, ‘This is our Father’s world.’ Theologians are in the job of rendering the ordinary extraordinary. Wine and bread become blood and flesh; humans become gods; the timeless enters into time; the deathless tastes death. As Tolkien writes, ‘God is the Lord, of angels, and of men––and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.’
David Russell Mosley
P. S. This post was getting too long, be on the look out for my next post which will discuss the necessity of writing fantasy for Christian theology.
- Faeriean Metaphysics: Seeing the Soul and the Perilous Realm (elflandletters.wordpress.com)