Saturday, November 12, 2011

In Praise of Dead Englishmen Who Wrote Fairy Tales

or A Brief Hagiography of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." It's because of this that I have become immeasurably grateful to a couple of dead Englishmen who wrote such fairy tales.

These men, of course, are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm extremely grateful to these two men because they did what few theologians or preachers have been able to accomplish. Through speculative fiction they used the imagination to unite the heart and the mind. C.S. Lewis spoke of the "disarming" effect that such literature has on people. He should know. Though he wrote many works on theology and reality, he never really came into his own until he wrote a children's book for his goddaughter Lucy.

But for me, Tolkien was really my introduction into such literature. Now, I must confess that I watched Peter Jackson's movies before I read the books. However, I quickly fell in love with Tolkien's style and content. But, for me, The Lord of the Rings is more than just classic literature. It's theology in 3D. An author's work is always an expression of his soul. And Professor Tolkien's worldview comes through bright and clear in his works. I never really understood total depravity until I read about the damning effects of the Ring. Philio love didn't "click" until I was taken by the friendship of Frodo and Sam. Courage and self-sacrifice came to life for me when I first read The Return of the King.

Some Christians will complain about how dark Tolkien's works are. But, it's important to understand what he was getting at. Through the darkness there are always maintained a slim glimmer of hope and those who grabbed onto that hope made it to the other side. Like all good fairy tales, Tolkien showed us that the dragons of a fallen world could be beaten. In The Silmarillion, he says, "Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid the weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."

But perhaps the reason I love Tolkien the most is because of the impact he had on Lewis. When Lewis and Tolkien met at Oxford, Lewis was a devote atheist. His mother had died at a young age and he had seen many horrors while fighting in World War I (something Tolkien could relate to). Lewis taught medieval literature and wanted to believe that the Bible was just another myth. But, because of his intellect, he simply couldn't. He knew that there was something about Christianity that didn't match the stuff he lectured students about.

One day, Lewis and Tolkien spent all evening walking around a pond, arguing about the truthfulness of Christ's claims. During the course of the exchange, Tolkien commented that Christianity was the "true myth". For some reason, that phrase spoke to Lewis and by the next day we was, in his own words, a reluctant convert.

I cannot even begin to tell you of the impact Lewis has had on my life. To this day, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the only book I've finished in a single day (though I love to read, I'm rather slow at it). Again, the ability to put biblical truths in "3D" had a profound impact on me when I was younger.

Lately, I've become fasinated with his other writings. Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves and Mere Christainity are books that, in my not-so-humble opinion, every human being should read. His logical manner of examining truth and wittily then applying it to practical living is phenomenal. Through Lewis, I learned many practical things, such as the nature of humility and chastity.

But perhaps the thing I'm most grateful for is that he taught me that I need never be afraid of truth. Because, to the Christian, Truth is a Person and a Person whose not ashamed to call us brethren (Hebrews 2:10-12). Therefore, we can always go deeper and deeper into Truth and find fulfillment and satisfaction. He brought into profound light that God is the chief end of all things.

And that's why I wrote this piece. Not just to come out of the closet as a fantasy nerd, but to express thankfulness to two dead guys who helped draw me into a deeper relationship with the God of universe in a way that no lecture could.


  1. Wow, Josh! This is fantastic! I am so with you. C.S. Lewis was my introduction to fantasy, fairy tales, allegory, and "theology in 3D" as you put it (I love that, by the way). I too read Tolkien after seeing the movies, but that only made me more excited to go on to the Silmarillion, etc.
    I didn't know that Tolkien was the Christian first- I think the fact that Lewis is always so profound (in his fiction and non0fiction) led me to believe he'd been a Christan for most of his life. It's only reading this that I remember seeing a movie about him that backs this up. Wow. God had great things planned for him. I love that story- a "reluctant convert", huh? :)
    Thanks for posting / sharing this. It was really wonderful and heartening to read. :)
    ~Lydia A.

  2. Thanks Lydia! I'm glad you enjoyed it :-). Yeah, I was also under impression at first that Lewis was a believer first. He's usually the one we think of as the more "spiritual" one. But I think it's interesting that all his accomplishments really strung out of that conversation with Tolkien.

  3. Yeah, VERY interesting! They are by far two of the most inspirational men in history, and certainly two of the most influential in my life.