Lecture 3: Myth and Reality
Both Lewis and Tolkien have been greatly misunderstood because people have assumed that they know what the men were attempting to do. But if you put a work of fiction into the wrong category, a lot of confusion can result, and in this case, has.
The Problem of Allegory:
The Lord of the Rings is not allegory. “Though it [The Hobbit] is not an allegory” (Letters, p. 41). The Narnia stories are not allegory. So what is allegory, and what are these stories then?
First, Tolkien recognizes the problem we face. He said, “I dislike Allegory – the conscious and intentional allegory – yet any attempt to explain the purport of the myth or fairytale must use allegorical language. (And, of course, the more ‘life’ a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story.) Anyway, all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine.” (Letters, p. 145).
And elsewhere: “. . . do not let Rayner suspect ‘Allegory.’ There is a ‘moral’, I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing . . . Of course, Allegory and Story converge, meeting somewhere in Truth. So that the only perfectly consistent allegory is a real life; and the only fully intelligible story is an allegory . . . You can make the Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like: an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power” (Letters, p. 121).
The problem is that we must traffic in definitional subtleties.
What is Allegory Then?
According to Lewis, every metaphor is an “allegory in little” (Allegory, p. 60) The “twilight of the gods is the mid-morning of the personifications” (Allegory, p. 52).
This fundamental equivalence between the immaterial and the material may be used by the mind in two ways . . . On the one hand you can start with an immaterial fact, such as the passions which you actually experience, and can then invent visibilia to express them. If you are hesitating between an angry retort and a soft answer, you can express your state of mind by inventing a person called Ira with a torch and letting her contend with another invented person called Patientia. This is allegory . . . but there is another way of using the equivalence, which is almost the opposite of allegory, and which I would call sacramentalism or symbolism . . . The attempt to read that something else through its sensible imitations, to see the archetype in the copy, is what I mean by symbolism or sacramentalism (Allegory, p. 45.)
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not allegory at all. (Letters of C.S.Lewis, p. 283)
The Pilgrim’s Regress is allegory. The Great Divorce is symbolism. The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia stories are subcreated and mythopoeic realms.
Subcreation does not necessarily mean another universe entirely. Middle earth was meant to be mythology for England, and Narnia is connected to England by “tunnels” and has English children running around in it. Subcreation means a “world” of events over which an author presides in the place of God. In short, it refers to what we call fiction, but does not include what we think of fiction, i.e. falsehood.
This is true presuppositionalism – it is not possible to lie consistently.
The Mythopoeic & the Fairystory:
Tolkien said, “And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story . . .” (Letters, p. 100).
Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite – I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.” (Williams, p. 81)
“The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. Because this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men – and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused” (Williams, p. 84).
The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences . . . By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle (God in the Dock, pp. 66-67).
“In myth, however, we experience imaginatively, in the concreteness of story, something which would be abstract if translated out” (Encyclopedia, p. 288)