Literature

Christians and Mythology (Part 7: Sub-creation, Escape, and Eucatastrophe)

The rest of the series.

In this final post I want to focus further on Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-stories,” which I referenced several times in Part 6. We looked at Recovery in the previous post, and I’d like to conclude this series with a look at Sub-creation, Escape, and Eucatastrophe.

Sub-creation

Before C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, he viewed myths as being worthless lies, despite their being “breathed through silver.” To persuade him otherwise, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a poem titled “Mythopoeia,” in which he mentions the defaced image of God in man. Tolkien writes about the original mandate for man to exercise dominion over creation. Man is a “Sub-creator, the refracted light / through whom is splintered from a single White / to many hues … . / We make still by the law in which we’re made.”1 In other words, since we bear God’s image, though imperfectly, we create because God creates. We imitate and glorify the ultimate Creator as we engage in sub-creation. Tolkien puts it more clearly in “On Fairy-stories” when he writes about creating fantasy: “[W]e 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.”2 Of course, Lewis eventually came to agree with Tolkien, and they both used mythology to create their own myths.

On the contemporary scene, one Christian who I believe is excelling in the sub-creation of myths is Young Adult author N.D. Wilson, whom I mentioned in Part 1. Wilson’s second book in the Ashtown series (with characters such as Gilgamesh, Arachne, and Ponce de León) was released on September 11, 2012. Christians have lots of practice complaining about fiction they don’t like, but here is a Christian who is lighting a candle in the fiction world, rather than simply cursing that bespectacled Potter boy.

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Christians and Mythology (Part 6: Recovering)

The series so far.

As many of us brought up in the Christian tradition can attest, there is a regrettable familiarity that comes from constant contact with Christianity. This includes everything from the order of service, to the songs we sing, and even to what we read in the Bible. As terrible as it feels to admit this, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the force of the gospel wears off once in a while. Amazing grace is not so amazing the millionth time you’ve heard it. Speaking of this desensitizing, Bradley Birzer writes that there are many “things we have taken for granted or which have become commonplace.”1

This is not because we have fallen away as apostates, but it is hapless condition of human beings: We need constant refreshing and reminding that we are the recipients of a truly amazing inheritance. Meeting weekly as a body of believers is one way to remind us of the riches that we have in Christ, but repetition doesn’t always do the trick.

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Christians and Mythology (Part 1: Ubiquity)

When the last Harry Potter book was released to a frenzied fan base a few years ago, one literary historian searched the past for a comparable work that attracted such zealous devotees, and what she uncovered was Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.1 Dickens’ novels were released as serials in England, which was typical for that time, so audiences had to wait for weekly or monthly installments. As the last shipment reached American shores in 1841, impatient fans beset the ships and demanded to know if little Nell was alive.2

Stories have the power to excite us, and it is axiomatic that people love stories. But I want to talk about specific kinds of stories: myths.

Ubiquity

Mythology is everywhere. You can’t go a day of the week without encountering some form of mythology. Literally—look at the days of the week. In English (originally a Germanic language), all of the names of the days of the week come from Germanic and Norse mythologies, with the exception of Saturday, which is Roman (Saturn is identified with the Greek god Cronus).

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