A Brief Theology of Poetry and Fantasy: A Thesis Extract

David Russell Mosley


St George’s Day
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire,

Dear friends and family,

Well, with a thesis submission deadline of 31 May, and my wife getting a new job (which means I’m watching the boys while she’s at work), I have not had much time for blogging. So, today, I thought I would post a short section from my thesis introduction. In this section I try to develop a theology of poetry by looking at the works of David Constantine, Rowan Williams, and John Milbank. There are so many others I could have turned to, Coleridge would make the most sense, but these authors serve as a great connectors between poetry, fantasy, theology, and deification. I hope you enjoy.

The argument of this essay is that human creativity, particularly, but not exclusively that of poetry and fantasy is an essential aspect of deification. I am intentionally equating poetry and fantasy, not because every poem is a work of fantasy; I do not mean that true poetry only happens if it contains elves, fairies, goblins, dragons, and the rest. Nor is all fantasy poetic in the sense that it obeys certain rules of metre, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, etc. Instead, I am arguing for a similarity in goal that allows us to equate poetry and fantasy. According to Josef Pieper, poetry, as well as philosophy, is concerned with wonder.⁠1 It does this by ‘transcending the everyday world’.⁠2 Poetry takes the reader out beyond the world of our everyday experience, allowing the her to return to the world seeing it through the eyes of wonder. According to J. R. R. Tolkien, fairy-stories⁠3 have a similar goal. For Tolkien, the fairy tale’s chief aim is desire.⁠4 There are certain desires Tolkien associates with this, the ability to speak to animals, for one, and ‘survey[ing] the depths of space and time.’⁠5 However, these desires point the reader back even farther to an Edenic relationship with the world, one of intimate connection, of difference but not division. Fairy-tales awake, but do not fully fulfil this desire. If a fairy tale has done this, according to Tolkien, it has succeeded. What is more, works of fantasy serve, like poetry according to Pieper, to take the reader outside of the world, in order to return them to it. Tolkien writes:

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining––regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”––as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness of familiarity––from possessiveness.⁠6

I will go into more detail about the effects of poetry and fantasy in the final chapter. What I will argue is that these twin abilities of poetry and fantasy are human imitations of and participations in God the Creator, and are therefore part of the process of deification. In order to understand how this is so, it is necessary to provide a theology of poetry and fantasy. This will lay the foundation upon which the human creativity elements of this thesis are built. I will do this by examining two authors on the subject of poetry––David Constantine and Rowan Williams––before turning to John Milbank on the subject of fantasy and myth.

David Constantine in his book Poetry,⁠7 Rowan Williams in the fourth chapter of his The Edge of Words,⁠8 and John Milbank in his article ‘Fictioning Things,’ provide a useful grounding for a theology of poetry that will be underlie the rest of this essay. None of these authors goes so far as to suggest that the creation or reading of poetry and fantasy is deifying. However, their understandings of poetry can be utilised to uphold my argument that poetry/fantasy is deifying for both poet and audience.

Poetry, for Constantine, is a fundamental of human society. It is not a superaddition, but rather an integral cornerstone. He writes, ‘I don’t think poetry a grace or a luxury that society might adorn itself with from time to time and drop altogether when it pleases. And I don’t think that poetry is for the few, happy or not. It is for the many, belongs and can only thrive among them, speaks of and to their concerns.’⁠9 Constantine is arguing both that poetry is necessary for society, but also that it is for all of society. It is not only for the high, for the learned, for the “elite” but for all. In this sense, poetry is common, is vulgar, is meant to be part of all human life. This integral nature of human creativity in the form of poetry will be connected to deification in the final chapter of this essay. Poetry, therefore, is for all people, but what role does it serve?

Constantine has various answers to this question. However, he begins to explain it when he references a poem by Robert Graves, ‘From the Embassy’. In this poem, Graves calls the poet, ‘an ambassador of Otherwhere.’⁠10 The poet is seen as an almost alien creature from another realm making that realm known to us the readers. ‘The currency of that land, its language, is ‘Otherwhereish’. Made of our common words, poetry sounds, in the company of those words, like speech brought to us by translation from abroad. Poetry signals its strangeness.’⁠11 Poetry, like fantasy, re-crafts language, breaks it, as we shall see Rowan Williams argue, and puts it back together in new and strange ways allowing the reader/hearer to see reality afresh. This reality, says Constantine, is not always pleasant, even if it can be categorised under pleasure, one of the key functions of poetry. Constantine writes:

Beauty gives pleasure. Beauty is the form in which truth is brought home to us. The peculiarity of the pleasure that poetic beauty gives us lies in the fact that the truth the poem faces us with may, as fact in real life, be deeply unpleasant, even unbearable. And it may be that truth altogether––the immanent presence of it––is hard to bear, whether the facts-in-life of it are pleasant or unpleasant. The effects that a line of verse may cause a reader or listener to experience, may be indistinguishable as physical effects from those of terror or horror.⁠12

For Constantine, poetry takes truth and renders it strange, unbearably so. Remember Tolkien’s understanding of the fairy tale as awakening desire, but not fulfilling it. The awakened desire, says Constantine, might be unbearable (whether pleasant or unpleasant). This is the grotesque, the unbearably strange that allows the reader to see the truth more clearly.⁠13

Constantine also notes the inherent religiousness of writing poetry. The poet sees herself as a conduit, as not simply a writer, but a receiver of something given. He writes:

Realizing, materializing, embodying, incarnating: many of the words we might reach for to describe what happens when a poem is made have religious connotations; and some poets whose concerns can fairly be called religious (in any named faith or none) have understood the making of a poem not just as an image of the working of divine presence but as the very bodily experience of it or, even more boldly, the means by which that devoutly wished for consummation might be induced to happen.⁠14

These ‘religious connotations’ are not enough, however. Constantine is unwilling to make the absolute statement that the poet is a receiver, not only of her poetry, but of her place as poet. The poet is made in the image of the Poet, as I shall argue. This lack means he can only tell us so much, in this text, about the nature of the poet as poet.

He also has, I would argue, an incomplete view of what poets, and artists in general are trying to do. For Constantine, ‘Literature, and the arts altogether, are the chief means by which human beings attain to consciousness of their condition. Poets and novelists, makers of fictions, try to say what it is like being human now; what the truth of our condition is, what responsibilities that truth entails.’⁠15 This is true, but not I think, in the way Constantine seems to mean it. Constantine seems to be arguing that poets are here to help humanity understand itself, in its brokenness, in its goodness, in every aspect of life. Further, Constantine wants to hint that there is a response on the reader’s or listener’s part to the truth imparted in poetry. Yet Constantine limits this to ‘what it is like being human now.’⁠16 Yet what about humanity’s future condition? What about trying to say what it ought to be like being human now, or what it will be like to be human in Paradise (or Hell as Dante does)? If Constantine means, instead, that the poet describes the human condition as it is in reality––in God’s reality––then I will agree. This is not what Constantine says, however.

In the end, Constantine’s vision for poetry is laudable, but shortsighted. He desires poetry to become commonplace, to be available to all and not only the elite.⁠17 This is good and necessary if, as I will argue, poetry is a necessary aspect of deification. Nevertheless, this grander end of poetry, its deifying nature, means that poetry should be in the hands of all people in order to transform them.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and poet, argues similarly in The Edge of Words––composed from his Gifford Lectures––to Constantine concerning the strangeness of poetry. For Williams, poetry is concerned with trying to explain reality through other words, ‘The poet is under the discipline of routinely trying to see one thing through another; the language is marked as poetic by such obliqueness.’⁠18 The key way Williams interacts with poetry’s strangification is through rhyme. It is of course true that not all poetry rhymes, it has gone out of fashion in much of modern poetry. Nevertheless, the act of rhyming, says Williams, is one way poetry seeks to draw connections through unrelated words. He writes:

And the various techniques of rhyming perform another function, perhaps most important for the poet. Finding a rhyme––and ideally finding a rhyme that is not merely conventional––requires a unique moment of holding an idea in suspense while the writer looks for a way of saying it that will echo specific sounds. For the reader/hearer, the resultant echo will leave at least a trace of the sense of an unexpected connection. For the poet him- or herself, it will have been a matter of finding new phrases generated by the pressure of a discipline, meaning that a fresh perspective has been brought to birth. The most relentlessly complex schemes of assonance, like the classical rules of Welsh cynghanedd, intensify this as far as it will go, requiring not only rhyme by consonantal groupings and deliberate stress shifts on top of that.⁠19

The rhymed words, which are often unrelated, become related by the virtue of rhyming and the reader or listener is left to contemplate what connection might lay between two words. To take an example from the poetry of J. R. R. Tolkien, in his poem ‘Earendil’, Tolkien has an interesting rhyming scheme. To give a sample of it:

In panoply of ancient kings,

In chained rings he armoured him;

His shining shield was scored with runes

To ward all wounds and harm from him.

First note the combination of internal and external rhyming schemes. The last phrase of the first line rhymes with the first phrase of the second; the final phrase of the second rhymes with the final of the fourth; and the final phrase of the third line rhymes with the first phrase of the fourth line. Beyond this structural complexity, the reader is left to contemplate the connection of ‘ancient kings’ and ‘chained rings’––though this is not too difficult since ancient kings in Tolkien’s world often wore armour when they went to war. The connection of rune to wounds is more interesting, for here is the suggestion that words and symbols can serve as conduits of protection from bodily wounds. What we see, however, is how right Williams is, rhyme in poetry causes the reader or listener to bring together two words they would not previously have connected and to contemplate their relationship. Each word is rendered strange as she attempts to understand their new meaning together.

Williams goes on to suggest, as does Constantine, that there is something received in the creation of poetry. The poet is not the sole source of the poem. Williams notes that, ‘Poetic practitioners will often speak about the experience, in the composition of poetry, of listening, of being taken aback by what is heard and then said.’⁠20 Now Williams, like Constantine does not make explicit to whom are the poets listening, whom are they hearing. However, Williams, unlike Constantine, is using poetry in general to argue for language being evidence itself of God’s existence. The poetry that is created by this listening, says Williams, ‘may set out to reconstruct perception as if things were indeed being seen anew.’⁠21 Poetry changes the way reality is seen and causes both poet and audience to see things in a new light. Williams connects this ultimately to all storytelling and works of imagination. Telling a story becomes a way of ‘[disclosing] unnoticed wounds or unimagined possibilities or both.’⁠22 Here Williams agrees with Constantine that poetry, here meant in the broader sense of creations with words, is meant to represent the truth to us, even if that truth is unbearable or unpleasant. Again, here Williams goes further than Constantine. For Williams, poetry uncovers the deeper nature of the cosmos, both revealing it to the reader and mystifying it by revealing this nature through extreme language. Williams writes:

This element of ‘relearning our way’ in becoming human takes us back to the fundamental theme of why things are made strange in the work of imagination. The environment we encounter and inhabit is more than it seems; sometimes it takes extreme and excessive speech to prompt this acknowledgement, and the deliberate ‘making extreme’ of our language is a tool of discovery.⁠23

Poetry becomes a tool by which humanity relearns the deeper nature of the cosmos. This deeper nature, as I will argue in the following chapters is the sacramental nature of the cosmos. Williams does not go so far in this text, but that is likely due to the subject matter, namely natural theology.

Williams then argues that all human art renders humanity strange to itself.⁠24 This allows humanity to grow more fully by allowing us to become self-reflective, seeing ourselves in this strange new light. It allows us to understand, ‘hat our stability or virtue always stands under scrutiny and is always to be suspected of not being what we should like it to be.’⁠25 This is another place where Williams goes further than Constantine, for Williams recognises that this perspective garnered by the creation and experience of art causes us to realise that we are not, ‘the originator of speech but always the respondent; we are always at a disadvantage in our speaking in the sense that we do not ever ‘possess’ the first utterance that begins the exchange, and are aware of shaping our speaking selves always in answer to what we have never completely or definitively laid hold of.’⁠26 God is the originator of speech, and therefore when humanity creates art and experiences we are attempting to understand our position as respondents to the first speaker. Poetry and other versions of extreme language, like fantasy, therefore, ‘is simply this process at its most challenging and adventurous.’⁠27 For Williams, therefore, poetry and extreme language ‘is a necessary tool of human maturity’⁠28 precisely because it teaches the reader or listener to see the world, and themselves in it, differently. It causes us to view ourselves as respondents, attempting to read the world, as an instance of God’s speech to us, rightly and respond to it accordingly. Williams is willing to call poetry necessary concerning our maturity, but this maturity seems to be a pre-resurrection maturity. Limiting himself to natural theology, in this instance, he cannot go on to say that poetry is equally necessary for humanity’s ultimate maturity, namely our deification, but this is a logical conclusion if we see earthly maturity as an essential part of eternal maturity, something I will come back to when I discuss the natural desire for the supernatural.

A final text that is important to turn to is John Milbank’s ‘Fictioning Things’.⁠29 Milbank’s article lays out both the essential fictioning nature of humanity, the relationship between myth and folktale, and their relationship to Christianity and children’s literature. By fictioning, Milbank means the act of creating fiction; by fiction, he means works of imagination including, but not limited to, fantasy, fairy-story, and myth. Milbank, in this article, provides the beginning of a link between deification and the writing and reading of poetry and fantasy. He provides the rest of the link his book Beyond Secular Order,⁠30 which I will return to in the final chapter. Milbank also provides the same group of fantasy writers that I will focus on in this essay. He calls them the MacDonald tradition: George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien.⁠31 For Milbank, this tradition, beginning with MacDonald, though having its roots in Romanticism both German and British, particularly through Novalis and S. T. Coleridge, is an attempt not merely to, ‘re-presents Christianity in a fictional mode, as that it re-envisages Christianity altogether, in continuity with certain strands of the Romantic tradition, in terms of the categories of the imagination, the fairy realm and of magic.’⁠32 I will refer to this same group as the British Faërie⁠33 tradition for each of them emphasises the fairy-realm, which we shall examine more below, as the place where one’s vision is reoriented and Christianity is re-mythologised or re-enchanted.

Milbank begins his article by noting the lack of public influence from theologians, and yet ‘a public theological debate’ continues ‘through the medium of children’s literature and fantasy.⁠34‘ For Milbank, fantasy allows for the consideration of counter-factuals which in turn allows readers to see ‘the specific value of this elective set of circumstances.’⁠35 To give evidence of this, Milbank turns to George MacDonald’s fairy-tale ‘The Light Princess’.⁠36 In the story, a king and queen become the parents of a girl who was cursed at her christening to be without gravity (in both of its senses). MacDonald puts things in rather stark terms:

She [the Light Princess] is if anything a damaged, autistic child, gaping amorally at the world of gravity as if at the harmless bangs and crashes of a Disney cartoon, and the point of her fictional creation by MacDonald is to point out how our subjection to gravity is what literally helps to make us metaphorically “grave” and to value our being held-down, pulled towards finite things, including in a sexual sense.⁠37

Milbank alerts us to a key function of fantasy that I will return to in the final chapter, namely that it helps the reader to see their own world in a new light through seeing it first rendered strange. This princess who lacks subjection to gravity makes the reader aware not simply of the physical effects of gravity, but of the metaphysical as well. It is telling that the princess in MacDonald’s story is not only gravity-less, but is also levity-less. She laughs often, but never smiles. MacDonald’s story serves, in part, to teach us the nature of gravity and gravitas.

Milbank also recognises the importance of multiple purposes for children’s literature/fairy stories and play, under which category the reading of fairy stories certainly fits. The fairy-story, especially a national fairy-story can aid in, say, political critique. Milbank gives this example: ‘To sustain, for example, a political critique, within the United Kingdom, she must retain the mythical sense that the island of Britain belongs not just to the current government but to nature, to the past, to the future, and to many hidden communities and changing racial configurations….that the islands really belong to the Longaevie, the fairies (or else to the giants) is to do with just such an exercise of the critical imagination.’⁠38 One could critique Milbank for an overly anglo-centric example, but his point is valid that play, that fairy-stories are necessary as reminders that we are stewards of the nations in which we live and that they may belong more rightfully to the more inherently natural longaevi, the long-aged (the fairies or elves) more than they belong to us.⁠39 It is a short step from here to the reminder that non-even our very being belongs to us but is given to us by the Creator.⁠40

Milbank then shifts to a discussion of the difference between myth and fairy-story or folktale, relying primarily on the work of Marcel Detienne⁠41 and A. J. Greimas.⁠42 Milbank suggests that the term mythology, particularly as put forward by Detienne, ‘would simply denote the entire world of oral narrative reasoning––including what we tend to think of as fairy-stories as well as what we tend to think of as “myths.”‘⁠43 For Milbank, myth means something of the cosmogonic or cosmic origination stories: the breaking of Ymir to make Midgard, Marduk making the world out of the slain body of Tiamat.⁠44 These stories involve violence and typically the breaking of something in order to make the natural world. Fairy-stories, on the other hand, present their stories within a world, ‘where the bias of physical reality favors the doing of justice or the elevation of the weak in the shape of magically self-renewing sources of food, or Cinderella’s carriage, and so forth.’⁠45 In myths, the focus is on the players, the actors, the main characters who move the plot along, but not in the fairy-story; ‘in the fairy-tale, it is the girdle, the ring, the vessel etc. whose circulations move the plot––so much so that, as Greimas says, one can reduce the fairy-tale actors to the status of mere occasional sources for the shifting positions of significant objects.’⁠46 Fairy-tales emphasise ‘misty personages’ whom Milbank calls sender-helpers. These figures give the heroes and heroines, whom Milbank considers ciphers in their stories, the magical object or advice/secret knowledge that allows them, so often unlike their divine and heroic counterparts in myth to ‘in the end triumph, thanks to the mediations of the magical objects and a series of exchanges at the meta-narrative level with the “other” fairy realms.’⁠47 This brings the discussion to the nature of gift and gift exchange, a main theological emphasis of Milbank’s.⁠48

This becomes important for this essay when Milbank notes that the gift-exchange economics of the fairy-story is founded in and directed by the divine realm:

On the one hand, one could suggest that the entire inter-human and human-fairy interaction is teleologically lured through spiralling gift-exchange by a higher divine realm which the stories only ever remotely hint at. On the other hand it is notable that, for the usually mythological outlook, the divine realm itself is often seen as subject to fateful drastic reversal––so from this perspective it is more as if the fairy-tale narrates a mainly immanent reversal that leads to stability, and that this narrating has a wistful, ungrounded quality to it. An adequate grounding in a stable divine good is only provided first by Plato and the Hebrew Bible and later by Christianity. In this way the fairy-tale is elevated and newly granted an ontological disclosiveness beyond the power of myth, which its former wistfulness only intimated.⁠49

One can perhaps see this difference evidenced when one looks at the more Catholic ‘Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper’ as transmitted by Charles Perrault. Unlike the German, Protestant version of the tale laid down by the Grimm brothers where Cinderella is aided by nature in order to go to the ball, Perrault’s version has Cinderella aided by her fairy-godmother. Fairy-godmothers have made their way into modern fairy-tale parlance, but one must remember that godparenthood, a distinctly Christian (and primarily Catholic) position was one of intense spiritual and familial closeness.⁠50 This relationship too is filled with gifts, not unlike the sender-helper identified by Milbank.

Milbank explains the relationship between Christianity and fairy-story in this way, ‘The Christian narrative is more fairy-tale than myth. Initially, God confronts no primordial beast, but shapes a thing, the Creation, and then does further things with that thing. Human beings and even angels enjoy no original and independent spontaneity, but being and remain entirely objects of the divine shaping.⁠51‘ Christianity includes no breaking of a great beast or god in order to make the cosmos. Even the primordial chaos is not a divine being but impersonal disorder that is reordered, non-violently by God. For Milbank, this and much of the preceding allow us to see the MacDonald tradition (the British Faërie tradition) in a new light. Milbank writes:

For it is possible to read Christianity as finally imagining the origins and ending, the whole human and cosmic story, in terms of the hitherto inner-tribal local folktale, just as Christianity projects founding gift and gift-exchange beyond the inner-tribal also to this fundamental ontological level. These twin developments perhaps show us in a new way just why Christianity proposes itself as the universal religion, since it seeks to ensure that every locality, every tradition, is also the ultimate and universal location and tradition now that it no longer needs to undergo self-estrangement at its own borders. It is conceivable that Christianity properly understood is the metahistory of sending-helping which should rescue and not imperially overrule local tales and revelations.⁠52

This sending-helping leads to the ultimate gift from the divine realm, the Eucharist, ‘which as food is the most exact example of an object necessary for subjective identity which nonetheless ultimately subserves that identity. (In consuming this food, unlike all other food, says Augustine and many others, we must become what we eat.)⁠53‘ The sacramental nature of fairy-stories does not end with the Eucharist,⁠54 the whole of nature is shown to be sacramental, of pointing to something within and behind it in the fairy-story. Fairy-stories contain that, ‘integrity of nature to be respected, its own life which we cannot fully understand and yet which constantly teaches us in symbolic mode, ethical and aesthetic lessons––patience, hope, joy, keeping the right distance and perspective and so forth––if we will but pay attention.’⁠55 These stories, these works of human art, therefore point toward the divine through nature and Faërie. Milbank connects the art of the fairy-story to the art of the liturgy.

Liturgy is another theme to which I will return⁠56, but here Milbank makes explicit the connection between, if not fairy-stories per se, then at least Faërie itself. He asks the question, ‘if the supreme art is liturgy, does not this art magically invoke the divine through human work?’⁠57 Milbank is not implying that this “magical” invocation is the same kind the medium is said to preform, or the necromancer, who commands the spirit, demon, familiar, etc., with certain words and rituals that the other being must obey. Neither, however, are the invocations of liturgy ‘merely convenient pedagogic instruments for self-education.’⁠58 Instead, liturgy stands in the in between. Referencing Iamblichus,⁠59 Milbank states that the words and rituals of liturgy ‘”attune” us to the divine and so as it were “magically” channel divine power, even though God of course ultimately and entirely shapes our very invocations.’⁠60 Milbank moves from the preeminent instance of human art, liturgy, to the preeminent instance of art, namely creation. Milbank proposes that creation is a divine work of beautiful art and that the proper human response ‘is the grateful making and ethical exchange of things of beauty in turn….’⁠61 This leads Milbank to see Christianity as a fairy tale and the implications attendant to that claim:

Therefore, if the Christian narrative can be taken as a fairy-tale that centrally concerns the proper use of material things and their sacramental nature, it remains truer than we have suspected to the magical nature of the fairy-tale sign-object which is gift (and then supremely the Eucharist as Grail), just as it takes more seriously than we have suspected the immanent mediation of valuation that can be identified as “the fairy realm.” (The most astonishing example of this is the Presbyterian minister Robert Kirk’s neoplatonic and Biblical presentation of Scottish fairy-belief in his 1692 treatise, The Secret Commonwealth.)’⁠62

There is a natural and inherent relationship between Christianity and fairy-tales. Christianity, one can argue from Milbank’s preceding arguments, is what makes the fairy-tale possible. All the happy endings are either foreshadows of the ultimate happy ending in the resurrection of Christ or point back to it.⁠63 Christianity, therefore, not only legitimizes fairy-tales––and Faërie itself as Milbank seems to be arguing––but makes it necessary that fairy-tales continue to be read and written. Milbank writes, ‘By contrast, belief in God and in the triune God can perhaps only be revived if we re-envisage and re-imagine the immanent enchantments of the divine creation which appropriately witnesses to the transcendent One through a polytheistic profusion of created enigmas. The new tellers of fairy-tales to children and adults open out just this real horizon.’⁠64 Like the others above, Milbank, in this article does not go so far as to connect the reading and writing of fairy-tales/poetry to deification. Nevertheless, the connections are there. Fairy-tales and fantasy not only open up to its readers the sacramental nature of material things, but of the deeper meaning of themselves as made in the image and likeness of God. Connect this to the participatory and imitative relationship between the human creator of fairy-stories and the Creator and the deifying implications of writing and reading fairy-tales begins to become clear. This is what I will argue in this essay by way of examining the theological foundations of deification, by sourcing it in God’s act of creating, and human creativity, looking at humanity as imago dei and also as fallen sub-creators to use Tolkien’s language. Following the arguments laid out in this section, it is important to note that throughout this essay works of fiction and poetry will be used as arguments for the theological points I am making. If works of fantasy and poetry are truly humanity’s deifying participation in and imitation of God, then the works produced ought to stand alongside those works of philosophy and theology having the same level of authority or ability to speak on theological and philosophical matters coming from the imagination primarily, with a foundation in reason (Logos) and revelation.

Sincerely yours,

1 By wonder I mean something like enchantment or a sacramental ontology, seeing every thing in the cosmos as more than what we can see and pointing us beyond it to its Creator.

2 Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, 95.

3 Throughout this essay I will be using, fairy-story, fairy tale, fantasy, and even the general term Faërie synonymously.

4 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 63.

5 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 41.

6 Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ 77.

7 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

8 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

9 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 2.

10 Cite Graves here.

11 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 3-4.

12 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 60.

13 For more on the grotesque see Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (), Ch. 2.

14 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 77-8.

15 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 95. Emphasis original.

16 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 95. Emphasis original.

17 David Constantine, Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 139.

18 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 131.

19 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 133.

20 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 134.

21 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 134.

22 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 137.

23 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 139-140.

24 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 147.

25 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 147.

26 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 147.

27 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 147.

28 Rowan Williams, The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 153.

29 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 1.

30 John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013).

31 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 2. Milbank categorises the latter two, Lewis and Tolkien, under the writing group of which they were a part, namely the Inklings. While it is true that other Inklings such as Owen Barfield (see Michael Vincent Difuccia, Owen Barfield: Theology as Poetic Metaphysics. PhD Diss. University of Nottingham, 2014), Charles Williams, and others have written works countering the demythologising of modernity, Lewis and Tolkien are not only the most well known but put the most focus on the writing and reading of fantasy and the role of Faerie.

32 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 2.

33 By Faërie, I mean the realm in which, or on the borders of which, most fairy-stories take place. It is synonymous with Chesterton’s Elfland, see G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, …. and Chapter # ….

34 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 1.

35 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 6.

36 George MacDonald, ‘The Light Princess,’ pages in The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. by U. C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin Books, 1999).

37 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 6.

38 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 9.

39 The notion of elves belonging more to nature than we do can be seen most beautifully examined by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Silmarillion.

40 I will return to this in Chapter 1.

41 Marcel Detienne, The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology (Atlantic Highlands: The Humanities Press, 1977); L’Invention de la Mythologie (Paris: Gallimard, 1981).

42 A. J. Greimas, ‘La Littérature Ethnique,’  Sémiotique et Sciences Soicales (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1974);  Introduction à la Sémiotique Narrative et Discursive, ed. by J. Courtés (Paris: Hachette, 1976); On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesote Press, 1993).

43 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 11. Cf. Detienne L’Invention de la Mythologie, 15-50.

44 Dennis Bratcher, ‘Enuma Elish: “When on High . . .”

The Mesopotamian/Babylonian Creation Myth’ http://www.crivoice.org/enumaelish.html. accessed on 17 April 2015.

45 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 13. It should be noted that one cannot be certain that Milbank’s distinction between myth and folktale can be applied to all stories that fit within that category or that difference might not be recognised by other cultures with their own myths and folktales/fairy-stories. The importance, however, of the distinction, which comes up later in Milbank’s article, is that Christianity is more akin to fairy-stories than it is to myths in the sense in which Milbank defines them.

46 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 15.

47 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 15.

48 Cf. ‘Can a gift be given?’…Theology and Social Theory, Being Reconciled, The Word Made Strange, as well as “Fairy Economics” in Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians.

49 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 22-3.

50 See Catherine Pickstock, After Writing (), 140(3).?

51 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 24.

52 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 24.

53 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 25. I will return to the Eucharist in the penultimate chapter.

54 Milbank makes some interesting connections between the Arthurian Grail legends and the Eucharist, that while interesting are not necessary to get into here. See John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 26.

55 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 26.

56 See Chapters £ and £.

57 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 29.

58 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 29.

59 Cf. Iamblich, On the Mysteries, trans. Emma Clarke et al. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003).

60 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 29.

61 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 29. Milbank goes on to connect this the “magical connectors” of Proclus and suggests that he is behind Aquinas’ analogy of attributes. He further suggests that Pico della Mirandola retains this magical dimension of the analogia entis better than the neo-scholastics.

62 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 30.

63 See ‘On Fairy Stoies’…. and Chapter £.

64 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 31.

What I’m Reading- Fransiscans, Analogies, Bears, and Elves

David Russell Mosley

Holy Week
Maundy Thursday
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’m in the midst of some intense thesis writing/editing which, alongside caring for twins, one of whom has been sick lately, has left me little time for blogging. Still, I thought I would do a quick post on what I’m reading these days.

To my children: A Bear Called Paddington
Having finished the Narniad (also known as the Chronicles of Narnia), I decided to read Michael Bond’s classic A Bear Called Paddington. I never read any of the Paddington books when I was a child. Reading the first one now I must say that I am rather enjoying it, more than Theodore and Edwyn are, no doubt. A talking bear who has recently emigrated from darkest Peru to England is taken in by the kindhearted Brown family. I’m not far into it yet, but the story seems delightful as normal human (and British) activities are rendered strange for us when we view them through the eyes of a child-high bear.

For devotional/spiritual purposes: Bonaventure from the Classics of Western Spirituality Series
Not unlike with Paddington, this is my first time reading the Franciscan spiritual master. I’m still in The Soul’s Journey into God. I’m afraid I’m not giving it quite the thought or reflection I should. However, I do love Bonaventure’s approach to the world, namely that every created thing can work to take us to God, starting with the external and moving evermore internally. Bonaventure reminds us of the sacramental nature of the cosmos and the spiritual effects of this.

For the thesis: Analogia Entis: Metaphysics: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm
This is Erich Pryzwara’s magnun opus finally made available for English audiences (who are too lazy not to learn theologically dense, but beautiful, German) by translators John Betz and David Bentley Hart. I haven’t time to read the whole thing right now (it’s over 500 pages long), but have read probably half of it. It is a masterful explanation of the analogia entis as “finalised” (I can’t think of a better term right now) by Thomas Aquinas, primarily. If you have any interest in Thomas Aquinas, 20th century Catholic theology, metaphysics, or the analogy of being more generally, you need to read this book. It is beautiful in its use of Aquinas and other sources, including some instances of poetry. I have found it very useful both for explaining the relationship of the analogy of being to deification and the role human creativity plays in deification.

For fun: The Lord of the Rings
827764-2Lastly, I’m doing my annual read of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve already re-read The Hobbit and intend to move on to The Silmarillion after. This book has had a profound impact on my life. It has done the most to shape my imagination as well as my vision of the cosmos. It is has influenced my theology and my spirituality (as well as my economics, politics, poetry, and more). I cannot say enough good things about this book. Read it, read it with fresh eyes, and let it render the world around you strange so you may see it anew.

That’s what I’m reading. What are you reading these days?

Sincerely yours,