CS Lewis and Tolkien on Myth and Christianity
Imagine this: the great myth novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, i.e. the author of The Lord of the Rings, and the similarly great writer C.S. Lewis, i.e. the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, walk side by side, in the countryside close to Oxford, at their younger time. Lewis was skeptical of myths and Cristian God, while Tolkien was a believer.
Imagine this: the great myth novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, i.e. the author of The Lord of the Rings, and the similarly great writer C.S. Lewis, i.e. the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, walk side by side, in the countryside close to Oxford, at their younger time. Lewis was skeptical of myths and Christian God, while Tolkien was a believer.
Lewis: Fairy stories I think are rather ridiculous after all
Tolkien: The magic of myths is not an end in itself, it exists to serve virtue and satisfy primordial human desires.
Lewis: But myths of fiction are the stories that are not true, they are lies and therefore worthless even through breathed through silver, they are just beautiful lies, you cannot seriously believe in fairy tales, do you?
Tolkien: why not, I can in fact I do.
L: But this is preposterous, how can you seriously believe a lie?
T: Hi Jack, myths are not lies, in fact they are just the very opposite of a lie. Myths covey the essential truth, the primal reality of life itself.
L: go on…
T: you see, we have been duped into using the word myth as being synonymous with a lie, because we have been duped into accepting at the first real lie of materialism.
L: what is that?
T: That is the hideous claim that there is no supernatural order to the universe. The materialists have imprisoned us in a world of mere matter of a physical facts divorced from and devoid of metaphysical truth, well I say they are lying I say that they are the ones who have come up with a false myth. Their world does not exist, it is merely a figment of their imagination, well fine however there is a problem, the problem is they have convinced us that it is true, they have made us believe that this is all there is, three dimension, five senses and four walls.
L: isn’t it?
T: Most emphatically not, Jack, the four walls of materialism are the four walls of a prison, and the materialists are the jailers. You see, they have put us in a prison, prison of four walls, they don’t want us to see beyond the four walls, they don’t want us to discover what lies outside their narrow philosophy and worse than that, they think that any attempt to escape from the prison committed treason.
L: why wouldn’t it be a treason against rationality to believe otherwise?
T: Now, Jack, think for a moment. How can it be wrong for a prisoner to think of things that exist other than walls and jailers. Doesn’t the fact that the prisoner is able to think of things outside the walls suggest that perhaps things do exist outside the walls? After all if the prison really is all there is, how are they picture things that exist beyond the prison? And this is where the myths come in you see. Myths exist outside the prison. Myths allow us to escape from the prison. Or if we are not able to escape, at the very least they allow us to catch a glimpse, a fleeting but powerful glimpse of the beauty that lies beyond the walls.
L: But what is it that we meant to be glimpsing?
T: Well, don’t you see the truth, Jack, myths show us a fleeting glimpse of truth itself.
L: Truth, truth, what on earth is the truth that you are talking about?
T: Ah, Quid Esthe Veritas, what is truth! I’m glad to see that you’ve entered into the spirit of the myth, Jack, you have just cast yourself into the role of Pilate.
L: Pilate, Oh, I see. You are able to believe in the Les Amis because we have already accepted the big one, once you have accepted the big myth, the lie of Christ then it is easy to accept the smaller ones. Right, Toler, I’ll play the role of Pilate, I wash my hands of the whole nonsense.
T: Well Jack, you may be able to wash your hands but your mind is still muddied. You’re not thinking clearly at all Jack. You’re acting as if myths are mere arbitrary inventions of fiction as if we pull them out of thin air, but what you don’t understand is that we make things by the law in which we are made. We create because we are created. Creativity, imagination, is God’s image in us. We tell stories because God is a story teller, in fact, he is THE story teller. We tell our stories with words, he tell his stories with history. The facts of history are his words and providence is his story line.
L: are you suggesting that all of history they everything around us is all part of some divine myth?
T: We are all part of his story. This very conversation is part of his history.
L: Perhaps it isn’t history, perhaps it’s only your story. How can you know your story, the story that you believe, the Christian story is not any real than other story?
T: But don’t you see it isn’t my story, it is his story. You are acting as if Christianity is one myth among many. It is not, it is the true myth. Christianity really happened. Jesus really existed, so did Pilate and yet it is this true story that makes sense of all the other stories. It is the archetype. It is the story in which all the other stories have their source and the story to which all the other stories point. It has everything. It has catastrophe and its opposite. What we may call a new catastrophe, it has the joy of the happy ending the sudden joyous turn and the story that is essential to all myths. It has to a sublime degree this joy of deliverance this Evangelion is fleeting glimpse of the real joy to which all other joys are but a distant echo.
L: Toler, what did you mean by catastrophe, a new catastrophe.
T: For example, it has the catastrophe of the fall and the new catastrophe of the redemption, it has the catastrophe of the crucifixion and the new catastrophe of Resurrection. It has everything man’s heart desires, because it has been told by the one who is the fulfillment of desire itself. It is a story that begins and ends in joy.
L: Because a story brings joy it doesn’t necessarily follow it is true. There are many joyful myths they all seem rather flimsy to me and rather false.
T: And yet this story has the inner consistency of reality. There is no other tale ever told that men would rather find was true none which so many skeptical men have accepted that it is true on its own merits.
L: Perhaps it is just a well written artifact..
T: This story has the supremely convincing tone of primary art, not fiction, but a creation, and to reject this needs either to darkness or to wrath, and in my own life it has led me from darkness to light.
L: Astonishing, Toler,you absolutely astonished me.