Posts Tagged ‘On Fairy Stories’

One of my earliest childhood memories is that of staring at snow and puzzling over what it was:  not the white drops falling from the sky, but the end product, several inches of a “blanket” that completely covered the grass.  We had moved from southern Texas to a much colder climate (Denver) a few months before, and so at age 3 1/2 I literally did not know what snow was.  I remember staring out the window, several times over a few days, puzzling over what had happened to the grass, and thinking of different words to describe what I saw.  I knew that the grass was green, and that this white thing looked like a blanket; the best explanation I could come up with was that this white blanket had completely swallowed up the grass and the grass was gone forever.  After a few days of checking on this new white coating, though, I finally saw very clear spots where the white stuff was now gone, revealing that the grass was still there after all.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in his classic lecture/essay On Fairy Stories, noted the power of the human mind to discriminate between a substance and its attributes:

The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faerie is more potent.   The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water.  …
When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes.

Indeed Tolkien himself made good use of color in his descriptions of Middle Earth scenery:  the greensward (a word which refers to ground turf that is green with growing grass), for instance, as well as the richness of several colors of nature.

The “enchantment” continues in the development of a “green stone,” using the adjective green for a stone, and its special significance developed within the second half of Fellowship of the Ring.  First, Bilbo explains to Frodo about a poem he had written, that it was all mine.  Except that Aragorn insisted on my putting in a green stone.  He seemed to think it important.  The green stone finally appears, as a gift to Aragorn from the Lady Galadriel, one of the early scenes that hints at Aragorn’s kingship:

She lifted from her lap a great stone of a clear green, set in a silver brooch that was wrought in the likeness of an eagle with outspread wings; and as she held it up the gem flashed like the sun shining through the leaves of spring.  …”In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil!
Then Aragorn took the stone and pinned the brooch upon his breast, and those who saw him wondered; for they had not marked before how tall and kingly he stood.

I consider also the significance of the color green: it represents plants, and springtime, and thus the renewal of life.  Our God is a great artist, who gave us the rainbow and its full palette and range of colors.  But He marked out certain colors to signify particular themes.  God could have made the plants purple, or blue, but instead we see the many references in the Bible to “green”:

  • The green plants created in Genesis
  •  The green plants eaten up, everything green, by the locusts during the plagues of Egypt
  • The green pastures and green plants described in peaceful scenes in the book of Psalms (such as Psalm 23)
  • Then Jesus’ words to the women, as He carried His cross to Golgotha, to weep for themselves: for if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when the tree is dry — a metaphor describing the spiritual life of the nation as healthy and “green” now, but it will be dry, no longer green, when the judgment comes.
  • The judgment theme continues into Revelation, where one of the judgments includes mention — hearkening back to the plagues of Egypt — that “all the green grass was burned up.” (Revelation 8:7)

Another significant use of the color green, in the Bible, is to the emerald — a green gem.  This is one of the 12 gems mentioned in the Old Testament ceremonial law, as one of the gems on Aaron’s breastpiece, where the twelve gemstones represented the twelve tribes of Israel always remembered by God.  But the emerald especially comes out in a wonderful description in Revelation 4, of the throne-room scene.  In Revelation 4:3, “a rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne” — thus indicating special significance in the color green.  This rainbow is not showing the full spectrum of all colors, but specifically green — referencing life and renewal.

It is this reference, as I see it, that especially relates to Tolkien’s choice of not just any stone of any color, but a green stone.  Whether or not Tolkien himself had Revelation 4 in mind, this text certainly agrees with the theme of Aragorn as the returning king.  For it is well known that Aragorn, as seen in glimpses throughout Lord of the Rings, and especially revealed in Return of the King, is the returning king and a clear type of Christ as our great King.  As the rainbow around the throne is green, so this green gem is especially fitting for the type, Aragorn the King of Gondor.

I thank God for so many of the little things in life, such as natural beauty and the color green.  I’m also thankful for imaginative fiction such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for bringing out the grandeur of creation and showing us features of God’s word in mythic form.

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At the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo did not see the end of his journey:  For where am I to go?  And by what shall I steer?  What is to be my quest?  Bilbo went to find a treasure, there and back again; but I go to lose one, and not return, as far as I can see.

Even then, Gandalf pointed out that he did not know what would happen.  Later, Frodo learned from Faramir of Boromir’s death.  Frodo already thought Gandalf was gone — he had seen him fall into the abyss — and so now he considered that in addition to Boromir, likely all of his companions were dead.  Faramir also encouraged him, pointing out a reason to believe that at least some of his companions still lived — who else had prepared Boromir as for a funeral?  Frodo faithfully continued in his quest, to see the destruction of the ring in the fires of Mount Doom.  Then came an unexpected turn, the “eucatastrophe” as J.R.R. Tolkien coined the phrase: in how the ring was destroyed, and especially after that.  Sam and Frodo woke up to see Gandalf, who had returned from the dead.  As Sam exclaimed in a famous line, “Gandalf!  I thought you were dead!  But then I thought I was dead myself.  Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

Likewise, Christ’s followers thought Jesus was dead and gone.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus — they thought He was the one to redeem Israel, but now He’s dead.

The women went to the tomb; “why do you search for the living among the dead?”  Even more so than Gandalf, Jesus had told them it would happen — that He would be killed and then three days later He would rise — but they weren’t listening.  What great joy they then experienced, beyond belief, when they finally saw the risen Christ (ref. Luke 24:41).  The Don Francisco song “The Traveler / Joy” captures that feeling of joy so well —

Some lifted hands toward heaven
And then knelt without a sound
Some just stood and stared at Him
As if rooted to the ground

But I could not contain the joy  That flooded heart and soul
It came rushing out in praises  I had no wish to control!

As J.R.R. Tolkien said so well, in his lecture On Fairy Stories, the gospel is the true story and the great eucatastrophe:

But this story has entered History and the primary world… The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history.  The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.  This story begins and ends in joy.

A very blessed Good Friday and Easter / Resurrection Sunday to all!

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