Select Page

“Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien1

5

Minute Read

Why Read Fantasy

We’ve been disenchanted long enough. Rediscover the wonder just beneath the skin of the world we walk. To aid this end, I’ve added music to enhance your experience. Take a few minutes away from what you know so you can return refreshed. It will be worth it.

Explanation through Exploration

I set out to write an apologetic for Fantasy. But as I forged my logic link by link, I found the heavy chain loathsome. Were I to drag you by force into this world, would not my cold steel deny its warmth? Tolkien described the realm of fantasy (or Faerie) as “wide and deep and high and filled with many things… beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”2 Will you join me as we explore the mysteries of fantasy? Perhaps you too may taste a breeze from this land both foreign and familiar, far and near within the woods of all our hearts.

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythopoeia

Origins

The word “fantasy” has its roots in the Greek concepts of making visible the invisible. It involves imagining, having visions, or bringing things to light. Fantasy literature can be described as “the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds,” and though these worlds spring as numerous and varied as wildflowers of the field, it is the same wind that blows through them3. However, definitions will always fail to capture the enchantment they bring: “Faerie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible”4.

 

Proxy Falls, Oregon

“Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”5

Thin Spaces

I once tread ground glossed with the dust of fairy feet. Or so it seemed. If such things as Thin Places exist, “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses,” then Proxy Falls, Oregon, is one such place6 . The moss ornamenting fallen logs is an almost musical green. When I saw the sunlight beams mingle with water streams off the cliff’s crown, I was paralyzed. Like the ocean, it pulled me in, threatened to drown me. Beauty is a dangerous thing.

<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fphoto.php%3Ffbid%3D10152879228386784%26set%3Da.10152877275661784.1073741860.518661783%26type%3D3&width=500" width="500" height="338" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="true"></iframe><!-- [et_pb_line_break_holder] -->Credit to my sister Hannah Higgins for the photos of our trip.

Beauty as Danger

Beauty invites us near, knowing the closer we draw the greater threat we face. For beauty does not thrive in “safe” spaces. Surely it was the sirens who called me to climb those moss-dressed stones! Why else would any rational person endanger themselves to a seemingly pointless end? Looking back, I wish I’d climbed higher. Such is the power of a Thin Place. 

Childlike Wonder

We cannot all physically travel, nor anyone travel all the time, to experience such lasting wonder. But to read a good Fantasy is to walk a Thin Space. Become enchanted and transformed. Through these journeys into other realms “we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel”7. To see the world anew, to walk beneath familiar trees and hear the music of elves in their cool shade, is to find the joy of childlike wonder with the appreciation of adult faculties. 

Often these circumstances appear far-fetched, or at least “not in the primary world”8. High Fantasy, especially, can concern itself with world-altering implications that leave us feeling insignificant. Perhaps this dwarfing is part of Fantasy’s gift, part of a poignant Joy.

Joy Lives In Fantasy

Not exclusively, of course, but few paths through Faerie don’t intersect with his. Tolkien called this idea eucatastrophe, which he defined as “the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’” of a “miraculous grace”9,10. We see this in The Return of the King when Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn’s forces are rescued by the arrival of the eagles and destruction of the ring, in Aslan’s resurrection during The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or the resurrection of Galbatorix’s conscience in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance.

Good Fantasy is Honest

Honest enough to acknowledge the power of evil and darkness, showing the struggle as one that leaves Good clinging to cliff’s edge by its fingertips, even falling – only to be caught up on the wings of eagles. This is because traditional Fantasy, in Tolkien’s conception of it, “denies… universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief”11.

Smith Rock, Oregon

Can you find me?

Smith Rock Is Big

You can’t understand what I mean until you see it, until you stand face-to-face with this sleeping giant and feel insignificant in its shadow. As I stood and stared at its dancing shades of red and brown, I felt a strange peace. What comfort to be small in a big world! What joy to acknowledge my field of vision cannot encompass all there is to see! It is a relief to admit we are finite, a first step toward the Joy of being as we are instead of how we might think or wish to be. To see the Grand Canyon or watch the sun rise over the continental divide is to be re-formed by Big Places. Fantasy, with its awe-full dragons and chivalric sacrifices, becomes our Smith Rock.

Re-Formed

Both Thin Places and Big Places shape us. We are transformed by contact with the divine and immeasurable. We are re-formed by glimpsing the material and shrinking before the vastness of the measurable. Fantasy’s ability to engage us in such unique ways is largely due to the foreignness of its content.

Watchful Dragons

C.S. Lewis, reflecting on his Chronicles of Narnia, said that he was not trying to write Christian things to a particular audience. It was only after he fell in love with the form of the fairy tale that he began to recognize the potential for such stories to shape people’s views on things they thought they already knew.

The freshness of Fantasy is in large part due to its newness. We have new lands to define, new words and people and places to assign associations, and in this venture we escape from the binds of our preconceptions.

“But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”12

Why Read Fantasy


Do you want to be transformed? To experience the joys of life as you did the first time?
Do you want to be re-formed? To gain perspective and peace from understanding your own limitations in this life?
Read Fantasy. Read good Fantasy. I’d say Tolkien, Lewis, and Paolini are great guys to read. Perhaps one day, you’ll say the same of me.

Works Cited

  1. Tolkien, J. R. (2001). Tree and Leaf: Including the Poem Mythopoeia. London: HarperCollins. Pg. 31
  2. Ibid. Pg. 3
  3. Ibid. Pg. 41
  4. Ibid. Pg. 10
  5. Weiner, E. (2012, March 10). Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer. Retrieved October 01, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Tolkien, Pg. 48
  9. Ibid. Pg. 68
  10. Ibid. 69
  11. Ibid.
  12. Lewis, C. S. (2017).  “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” On Stories: and Other Essays on Literature. New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Other Things

House of Stories

This FREE novella is your gateway to the Shard.

Love to Fear

The first novel in the Spellbreaker Saga.