Faeriean Metaphysics: The Necessity of Poetry, Fantasy, and Faerie in Theology

Faeriean Metaphysics: The Necessity of Poetry, Fantasy, and Faerie in Theology September 5, 2013

David Russell Mosley

 

 

 

5 September 2013

On the Edge of Elfland

Beeston, Nottinghamshire

 

Gregory the Theologian (Fresco from Kariye Cam...
Gregory the Theologian (Fresco from Kariye Camii, Istanbul). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

Today I’m sitting outside, smoking my pipe, enjoying the wind on my face and my thoughts turned to my last post on the importance Faerie and Fantasy in the Christian Theology. I didn’t come to the importance of fantasy literature and today I’ll only touch on it lightly. What is more on my mind is the importance of poetry.

 

Writer
Writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I think I’ve always associated poetry with faerie in my own mind, good poetry anyway. Poetry describes the world, ourselves, love, loss, pain, suffering, mystery, the supernatural, the philosophical, it, like Faerie, encompasses the whole world. Chesterton once wrote that while the Romantic poets wrote about Nature, describing their interactions with her, describing their impressions of trees, mountains, lakes, flowers, people it was the ancients and Medievals who truly understood nature. They peopled it with naiads and dryads, elves, fairies, giants, trolls, they saw that Nature, the sister she is to us, has a soul. They may have gotten it wrong from time to time, making it too much like us, fallen and broken in the same ways, but they understood that Nature is a creature just like us. Chesterton didn’t eschew the works of the Romantics, he merely pointed out that the Medievals and ancients also knew Nature even if they didn’t spend as much time describing their impressions of her.

 

In theology we need a return to poetry. Poetry as a word has its roots in a Greek verb, poieeo. It means to create. This is the kind of creation God does in creating our world. It is not inappropriate then, though perhaps anachronistic, to refer to God not only as Creator, but as Poet, the Poet and all our poets and poetry exist only insofar as they participate in the Poet and his acts of poetising, that is creating. Not only this, but God is also the Theo-poet, he is the god-creator, the deifier. He created this great Poem, Creation, in order to turn it into a Theo-poem, a created god. He does this through his coming into the Poem in the Incarnation and his Indwelling the Poem through the Holy Spirit in us in a special way and the rest of Creation in another. If all this is true we must have a return to poetry in theology.

 

Tolkien
Tolkien (Photo credit: proyectolkien)

 

The greatest theologian, or at least the only one outside of St John, who is called the Theologian in both East and West is Gregory of Nazianzus, or Gregory the Theologian. But Gregory the Theologian was also Gregory the Poet. Gregory understood the need for humans, theo-poems in the making, to create, to poetise. J. R. R. Tolkien also understood this when called humans sub-creators, and the writing of fantasy, which is the creation of little worlds of our own, sub-creations. This is an inherent part of our Tradition. We ignore it to our detriment.

 

We must return to Elfland, we must write poetry, we must create worlds because in doing so we participate in the Poet, we add to the Poem in a way that only we, human beings, theo-poems, can. It is through us that all Creation will be reunited to God. And while we cannot accomplish this task fully ourselves, while only Christ, who is both Poet and the first-fruits of the Theo-poem, can bring this about, we have our parts to play as well. Let us not neglect them. Let us write poetry once again.

 

Sincerely yours,

David Russell Mosley

 

 

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  • Thank you David, this is a really beautiful line of thought which I think I have been feeling my way towards for some time. There is so much poor quality “fantasy” being churned out these days, much of it, poor imitation “Tolkien” or endless, poorly imagined adventures set in improbable worlds. But just occasionally one comes accross a gem that goes beyond this to another place. Certainly Tolkien, Lewis and Charles Williams went there and I think probably Ursula le Guin does, and J K Rowling at her best? Have you ever come accross the writings of Robert Holdstock: the “Mythago Woods” series? These really seem to go to another place: an older, wilder, savage, pre-Christian World which in some way “feels” authentic and draws you deeply in. A place that I don’t feel is reached by Phillip Pullman’s fantasy series, because he is so much in denial of God, or at least that is how I percieve him. Thank you very much. Chris

    • Chris,

      I certainly agree about much fantasy literature that is out there today. I’ve not read Le Guin, but I have read some critiques of her as well, that her worlds do not have even an implicit source of the Good and thus functions on a dualism where there’s no reason, except that you’re supposed to, side with the hero(es). I think Rowling does an excellent job of creating both a consistent, and beautiful world, that functions on the qualitative superiority of the Good and evil as privation. I have read only the first (I think) of the Mythago Woods series, I remember liking it and not liking it.

      Thanks for your kind comments.

      Yours,
      David

      • David

        Thank you again for your latest blog. I have just been reading your suggestions for poets. I do have some of these (and many other poets as well) in printed book form, others I can probably access on line. I am a member of the Folio Society of London and have over a number of years picked some beautifully printed and illustrated editions of some of these. In particular editions of /The Divine Comedy/ and an edition of /Beowulf /with the old (very old) English on one page and a good modern translation on the other. It is very hard to see the “English” in the old, I must say.

        I am not sure that I can agree with you about Le Guin. There certainly are elements of Faery in her writing, at least as I understand Faery. It is true she is a not a Christian, adhering more to Taoist philosophy than anything else, and I have always found a strong moral sense in all her writings. I think it is that in her thinking the focus of the conflict of Good and Evil is firstly in the Individual. The moral decisions of the individuals are, as in real life, where the battle begins and ends. I think her writings are a very good place for the young to start developing a moral sense in a world which has largely turned its back on God. Unlike Pullman she does not preach against religion or try to put the reader off.

        Did you know that she is also a poet? Her prose writing I think is in essence poetic: her language, particularly in later years, is very sparse. Every word is carefully chosen, there are no excess words. She certainly writes very well for Children but her childrens’ writings have depths which reach and challenge adults as well. Her characters have real moral choices to make and find the grace and strength to make them. I would specially commend her more recent /Annals of the Western Sea/ series: /Gifts/, /Voices/, /Powers/.

        Chris Bennie

        Not sure which email address to use

        • Chris,

          You’re welcome, again.

          As I said in the last comment, I’ve not read Le Guin for myself, that is simply a critique of her I have read. I have an intention of reading her, when I get some time and my hands on her books. I will definitely check her out.

          Yours,
          David

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