The Don: Realism May Lead to Fantasy and Fantasy to the Real

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About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defense, as reading for children.

It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be more like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations. —C.S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 500

The Don: Read Children’s Books to Grow into, not out of

“It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books’. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would probably have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not care much for crème de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey.”

—C.S. Lewis, “On Stories” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 500

The Don: Never too Old

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For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may prove a classic.

—C.S. Lewis, “The Hobbit” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 486

Tolle Lege: The Philosophy of Tolkein

Philosophy of TolkienReadability: 2

Length: 225 pp

Author: Peter Kreeft

There are a lot of The Gospel According to (fill in the blank with latest hip movie) titles out there. Corny seems too cheesy a word to describe my reaction to such titles. Gag reflex. Not interested. Sure, Star Wars has spiritual themes, and there is a worldview behind The Matrix, but I sense that such books labor hard to put something there that isn’t.  Like trying to turn a Slim Jim into a steak. Sure, technically it’s meat, but I’m not paying $14.95 for it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I need to expand my palate, but I’m almost certain most such titles are junk food of the worst kind, something like Crystal Pepsi.

Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien is nothing like my guesstimation of the aforementioned titles. Here are some reasons why. First, Kreeft is a legit philosopher. I’d venture he reads a lot more books than he watches popular movies. It’s the difference between a hobbit trying to make magic, and a wizard. Second, he is dealing with good material. He has a real fillet in front of him, not a meat snack. Kreeft isn’t dealing with a film, but a book—a big book. Arguably the greatest work of fiction. Kreeft, as the subtitle says, is looking for “The Worldview behind The Lord of the Rings.” We bring our worldview to everything we do. What we do likewise reveals our worldview. With books, fiction especially, worldview can be powerfully and persuasively communicated. The Lord of the Rings was a massive undertaking and therefore communicates Tolkein’s worldview, a good one in my opinion, in a very potent, concentrated way. Further, Kreeft legitimately brings out, rather than puts in. Concerning Tolkein’s trilogy he does exegesis, not eisegesis. An added bonus is that The Philosophy of Tolkein also serves as a good introduction to philosophy. Finally, this steak is seasoned with Kreeft’s clear and enjoyable style. Tolkein is fun to read. This is too.

[I]t is no surprise that in a culture in which philosophers scorn wisdom, moralists scorn morality, preachers are the world’s greatest hypocrites, sociologists are the only people in the world who do not know what a good society is, psychologists have the most mixed-up psyches, professional artists are the only ones in the world who actually hate beauty, and liturgists are to religion what Dr. Von Helsing is to Dracula—it is no surprise that in this culture the literary critics are the last people to know a good book when they see one.

Beauty is the bloom on the rose of goodness and truth, the child conceived by their union; and thus it is not only good, but heavenly.

The weakness of evil is that it cannot conquer weakness. No matter how much power evil has, it is always defeated by the free, loving renunciation of power. It can be defeated in Middle-earth as it was on Calvary: by martyrdom. Scripture’s image of the last battle between good and evil is a battle between two mythical beasts: Arnion, the meek little Lamb, and Therion, the terrible dragon beast. And the Lamb overcomes the Beast by a secret weapon: His own blood.

Evil is limited to power; it cannot use weakness. It is limited to pride; it cannot use humility. It is limited to inflicting suffering and death; it cannot use suffering and death. It is limited to selfishness; it cannot use selflessness. But good can.

It takes selflessness to give birth, whether biologically or artistically. You let yourself be used as a birth canal, or as an instrument of divine inspiration. Evil cannot create, or give birth. For ‘nothing is evil in the beginning’ (LOTR, p. 261). ‘Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves’ (LOTR, p. 474) ‘The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make’ (LOTR, p. 893).

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