Lewis, Tolkien, and True Myth

There’s a good piece today from Fr. Stephen Freeman revisiting C. S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien’s exploration of myth – not myth in the popular sense of “a story that isn’t true”, but in the sense of a “primal, shaping story” that is “profoundly and deeply true”.

Tolkien, reflecting on [fellow Inkling Owen] Barfields’s work, said, “If God is mythopoetic, then we must become mythopathic.” This is to say that if God’s primary mode of revelation is through the instrument of mythic stories and events, then we ourselves must be open to understanding such mythic expressions of realities. Strangely, myth (in their use of the term) is far better suited to expressing Realism than any possible materialist account.

And this brings us to my original point: Why do the imaginative works of Lewis and Tolkien speak to the modern heart as much as they do?

They do so because they are true! But the truth that they relate is a truth known primarily by the heart and it is this dynamic that gives myth both its nature and its effectiveness.

Fr. Stephen goes on to say that the Christian liturgy (Fr. Stephen is Orthodox, for whom the liturgy is significant and ornate) is a way of including that deep, primal, indescribable truth into our worship of God. And while I’m not really tempted to move to Eastern Orthodoxy, I do think it’s something that us cerebral evangelicals would do good to consider from time to time.

We’ve been shaped by the Enlightenment to systematize and study and intellectualize our faith, which is all well and good. But we should also not be afraid of the primal truths of the universe that God created, even if we can’t always find words to express it. Lewis described in Narnia a “deep magic from before the dawn of time”. Let’s revel in the God who created it, both with our intellects and with our primal souls.

10 thoughts to “Lewis, Tolkien, and True Myth”

  1. I think Rich Mullins belongs on this list of those who capture timeless truth thru something like myth. “The Color Green” and “Wildfire ” come to mind. He titled one whole album “a liturgy, a legacy, and a ragamuffin band”. Sure do miss him.

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