I Bleed In the Same Vein As Lewis & Chesterton

I changed my mind and have decided to embark upon as succinct a riposte as I can manage to the question about magic and romance in fantasy. I have already given a broadbrush view of my take on romance in Between the Music and the Lyrics and Oh, Darling, Let's Run Wild Together.  In brief, some who haven't experienced a romantic relationship either try to argue it away (which is silly, because there's nothing the whole world over like it to which one can compare it) or are too shy to tackle it.  The latter is less egregious a mistake than the first in that it recognizes an honest lack of skill set and one doesn't want to proceed if one doesn't know what one's doing.  On the other side of the spectrum, people assume that once you have waded into a relationship (what a dull, insipid, shallow word for such a plunge of two souls into each other!) an author is bound to embark upon what folk call "adult novels."  I know Anne Elisabeth Stengl was asked if she was going to do this, and she said "No!"  I think if anyone asked me I might have an epithet before the negative...  But what I think both of us would admit to is that our subsequent writing of romance has improved.  What people mean by "adult novels" is vulgarity.  What my fellow readers and writers need to consciously realize (you realize it deep down, but let's bring it to the surface) is that there are acres upon acres of romantic landscape in a "relationship" which are unbounded to the imagination.  Too many of us try to package romance into such a straight-laced box that, far from shaving off all the sins (sins have a way of getting in, no matter how you try to keep them out), you end up divesting your characters of all the blood and fire and sensation that make them so gloriously human.  (Reference Abigail's post Burning the Straw Men.)  There is far more to human interaction, romance and the construction of romance included, which is lawful than you might be willing to admit.  I don't blame you; we live in a time which is heir to the slow, inexorable destruction of meaning and absolutes: what are men? what are women? we believe they are more than intelligent animals, more than creatures driven by finely honed survival instinct - yet, to keep them from descending into animal behaviour, we put them in cages.  Like a zoo.

“I know the high arts and the Golden Tongue which men of old spoke to shape the world, but I use them but rarely since men now are often low and mealy, and it is not sporting fair to come among them as a god come among worms."

Which segues into my view of "magic."  Because of God's decree against witches (which we are all familiar with), anything extraordinary or supernatural in fiction is liable to frighten us and drive us away.  But let me respectfully break down the dividing walls which our culture has, probably inadvertently, placed in our minds separating the biblical narrative from anything historical, futuristic, and real.  There was a man in an ancient garden who walked as a king of the earth beneath his feet, who ruled land and sea and sky and everything in them, a man with power who knew the secret names of things.  It is no legend; he actually lived, and he lived long and, with some struggle, prospered; and fathered nations of great, inventive men who grasped the earth between their hands and bent it to their will.  These antediluvian monarchs of the earth lived for unimaginable years and their stories, passed down - awful and powerful and etched in a cruel, bloody calligraphy - slowly devolved into the little petty stories of the gods we know today.  Once they were human, enormous, powerful, giants in the land, still clinging to some glory of mastery of the world.  If we were to meet them today we would be astonished.  It would be fantastic.  It would be like magic. 

We fear "magic" because we are rational now, sceptical, living in a world of atoms and chemical construction and mute though beautiful biology.  We fear "magic" because we instinctively ascribe all that is supernatural to either demons or the Son of God (but we still divide them from the world of atoms and chemical construction, of course).  We fear "magic" because we have no idea what it is or what we really mean by it; we watch the ancients cower under a sky rent by a thunderbolt and call it superstition because our time can explain the sky exploding into light. 
Just because we know how it works does not mean it isn't magic.
Wherein is the mastery of the human soul?  Wherein is the god-like regency of a race populating a world full of wonder and colour and expression?  We pity and abhor the small, petty witches who play with dark powers too much for them and fill their minds with lies.  There, we know instinctively, is a "magic" to be rigorously avoided.  It is unwholesome.  It is unholy.  But every now and then (less now than when the world was young and the sun brighter than it is now) we get a man of power, a man of vision, and he has half a right by virtue of his strength to stand in the great shadow cast by the mighty men of old.  We try to explain away his greatness - the fault of his education, the circumstance of his home life - but the truth of it stands: the man was great.

Don't tinker with a fear of "magic," don't tinker with an understanding of mankind.  No mother today stands her boy up and straightens his tie, polishes his shoe, and tells him he comes from a people who were once noble and terrible and ruled the earth.  But it would be true.  And the fact of the matter is: it will be true again.  Man is not done being majestic.  Man is not done being the "stones of a crown."  Men like Tolkien and Lewis, and Chesterton before them, wrote the way they did because they were not deceived into believing that the shabby, tattered fabric of the world now is all that there will be, is the only reality, the end-all, the holy backdrop against which men shuffle in their dance like circus monkeys.  We are in the middle to latter half of the story: the glory is diminished, but not put out; the gods are buried, but not dead; the magic of a purer air seeps through a heavenly casement and, out of place in a world that hardly knows them now, a world they hardly know, men are learning the mastery again. 

What else do you call the Kingdom?  What else do you call the promise that Jesus will make all things new?  It is not some detached, airy-fairy notion for which we have no real mental image.  But the problem is, what sketches we are given in Scripture - and in the oldest of the old stories - are as boldly thrown upon the canvas in a blood-red ink as the stories of man's tyranny.  It is frightening.  We played with ideas of ghouls and spells and witches and called them evil - because they are - and said it was magic, and divorced outright all stamp of power completely, little realizing what legacy runs in our own veins, what treasure the hinged bone of our skulls hide, or the charter of creation which was given to us at the very beginning.  We are being made men again, made, not only in the imago Dei, but once more in the imago Christi.  By love and thunder, what a story it makes, too!  And man's realm then (as it was in the past) will be a fitting setting for such a race of monarchs. 

"The great colossus: Man," I called him once.  I still call him that.  Jesus, in some and very important ways unique, is in other ways (for us very important) only the first fruits.  Our heritage is one of power and authority, mercy and love.  I have said it before, I will say it again.  My take on magic in fantasy - my own fantasy - is that: that it paints bold and red and beautiful the humility and the mastery of man.  Too long we have forgotten the rock from whence we were hewn, too long we have ignored what we are becoming.  We read Lewis and Tolkien and think what nice stories, and so well written, so full of virtue, and the blow between the eyes somehow misses us that the crowning jewel of God's creation was a fine creature and a damned fine creature, and is now a bloody redeemed fine creature, and magic - for now perhaps a mere child's drawing of what is really meant by a halo and what is really meant by holiness - is skirted in haste.

5 ripostes:

  1. A neat way of thinking of this, Jenny! I especially love the last sentence. ^.^

  2. Wow...you made my spine tingle! :) I liked it - a LOT!
    Great job!
    Powerful thoughts!

  3. Wow. *is speechless*
    I'm stealing this next time someone tells me they don't read Lewis and Tolkien because of the magic.
    Oh, and don't mind my expression. ;D I get excited when people take my thoughts and write them better than I ever could. <3

  4. 'For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?'

    I bleed in the veins of Lewis and Tolkien too, see :). I think this is quite a telling quote by Tolkien about 'magic' and it came to my mind as I read this post of yours, Jenny, which I might add was really thought-provoking and well-thought out! Thank you for taking the time to write up a response to the questions I posed in your last post. As I have not allowed myself to think this topic through very deeply, the question of magic and fantasy does seem a little out of my depth, but I shall try my best with the comment

    I confess, probably from having been brought up (and I will say this gratefully for when you are young I believe reference to the fantasy and magical is quite confusing to a child's mind) with little exposure to faerie/fantasy/legend/magic tales and only started reading Lewis and Tolkien in my teens, I probably am still shy of delving too much into the faerie/magic side of things in literature without being sure of the theological soundness and spiritual benefit of them. But I love the realm of fantasy, and how through it a tapestry can be painted of deep realities and virtues of life, philosophy/theology and faith which otherwise could not be covered. I did not feel upset with any of the references to 'magic' in Narnia and Middle-earth which the authors of these mythical lands created for instance. Rather I saw the dark magical powers of the enemy vs. the good and wholesome 'magic' (a word which Galadriel seemed loath to use) that the heroes had been given more as a reflection in a mythical world of what is supernatural in our world, of the cosmic battle between good and evil, light and darkness, angels and demons, the children of light and the children of darkness. 'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.' (Ephesians 6:12)

    Aragorn or Tirian or Gandalf for instance all wield a power that seems to me not to come from 'magic' but rather as you put it 'the humility and the mastery of man' as in the imago Christi. As you said, 'Man is not done being majestic. Man is not done being the "stones of a crown." Men like Tolkien and Lewis, and Chesterton before them, wrote the way they did because they were not deceived into believing that the shabby, tattered fabric of the world now is all that there will be, is the only reality, the end-all, the holy backdrop against which men shuffle in their dance like circus monkeys. We are in the middle to latter half of the story: the glory is diminished, but not put out; the gods are buried, but not dead; the magic of a purer air seeps through a heavenly casement and, out of place in a world that hardly knows them now, a world they hardly know, men are learning the mastery again.' YES! and in a way this is the recapturing of the 'magic' and 'faerie-ness' of our world 'recapturing the splendor and glory'! Obviously I agree with what you wrote here and all I am trying to say is really a dull echo if it :). I truly loved the last three paragraphs you wrote! That is my take on fantasy and magic as well, more or less :). I still have some reservations about magic in tales, if the 'good' side start waddling into witch-craft or even the evil side's 'magic' is portrayed with too acute a vividness than I would do well to stay away! But you tell me how to stop loving the writings of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien! ...or your writing for that matter :)

  5. "By love and by thunder!" I have discovered an online writer who CAN write... a fairly kindred heart, too. Thank you!