Bored by Joy: Fairy Tales as Appetisers for Beatitude: A Response to Matthew Moser

David Russell Mosley

Lent 5 April 2014 On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire Dear Friends and Family, Over at Christ and University, Matt Moser has written another post about teaching Dante to which I feel inclined to respond. Moser notes and laments that as he and his students (along with Dante) entered Paradise in the Commedia, the students found it boring. As Moser himself notes, this is somewhat to be expected. Even in the best translation, this is still a translation of sixteenth century Italian epic poem. Even the Paradiso is filled with political and contemporary (to Dante) commentary. This, however, was not the centre of their boredom, rather the happiness was. Moser goes on to relate his own acquisition of an appetite for joy which was kindled by a reading of The Lord of the Rings.

He remembers how he had to foster an appetite for joy just as he had to foster an appetite for classical music. Moser again asks the question of how do we do this for those we teach, how do we help them foster an appetite for joy? In my previous response to Moser’s challenges on teaching Dante, I suggested that living in such a way that shows our belief in a cosmos (unity, order, harmony, created). Today, I wonder if another possible answer, or first step is the reading of fairy-tales. Spending too much time talking about fairy-tales can make a person seem rather childish. But what was it Lewis said, when I became a man I ceased to think like a child, including the fear of being thought childish, or something to that effect. I want to suggest that perhaps beginning with fairy-tales and working towards heavier works like Dante might better train a student’s appetite for joy.

G. K. Chesterton writes in his book, Orthodoxy:

‘The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense’ (299).

For Chesterton, Fairy Tales taught him about this world, the fostered in him that desire for joy. For Lewis and Tolkien it was fairy tales coupled with the myths of the North, of the Scandinavian countries, the tales of Sigurd and Fafnir.These stories awakened a desire in these authors. This is the purpose of fairy-tales according to Tolkien: ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded’ (‘Tree and Leaf’, 63). This desire, Lewis would call Joy in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. This would all suggest that to help our students or our children (or anyone for that matter) to gain a desire for joy, an appetite for beatitude, we should start them on the milk of fairy-tales before moving them onto the meat of works like the Commedia or even The Lord of the Rings Unlike Moser and many I know, I’ve spent my whole life reading stories like this. Tolkien was a part of my life from around the time I was born until now. Lewis I discovered in elementary school. I had resurgence of Tolkien when the films came out so long ago now and have never stopped reading The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings 2 or 3 times a year. Even now, I have begun reading The Hobbit, having already read ‘St George of Merrie England’ and Smith of Wooton Major to my unborn sons, hoping to infuse their lives with the sound of my voice and the majesty of Tolkien’s work. I don’t know how this will affect my children, but I know the effect it has had on me. Therefore I propose a return to fairy-tales. If in Tolkien’s day they had been relegated to the nursery, it seems as though in ours they have been relegated to the attic or the bin. Let’s fish them out, dust them off, and read them once again to prepare our desires for the greater works like that of Dante, and even more so for the Beatific Vision to come.   Sincerely yours, David Russell Mosley

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Creativity as Deifying: On Fairy Stories, Part II

David Russell Mosley

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Lent
4 April 2014
On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,
Here is the lengthier part 2 of yesterday’s thesis extract. This section is, in essence, a commentary on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’. Let me know what you think.

On Fairy Stories

‘Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.’1 One could easily replace fantasy with poetry, make with create or poetise, made with created or a poem, and Maker with Creator or Poet. What Tolkien says about Fantasy and fairy-tales is equally true of poetry. As Tolkien writes, ‘Fairy- stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.’2 In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien is laying out what he thinks fairy-tales are and what they are meant to do. Tolkien, as noted above, tells us that the purpose is to elicit desire. This desire is simultaneously a desire for what is past, namely a nostalgia for Eden. Equally, however, the desire is for what is to come, namely the new Heavens and new Earth, or deification, though Tolkien is not so explicit.

Nevertheless, Tolkien’s own work here bears out that fairy-tales are for more than the awakening of this desire, we might even call it a natural desire for the supernatural, but that it also serves as a kind of corrective lens. In chapter 2 I argued that the Fall incurs and includes an obfuscation of our sight, that humans can no longer see correctly. This is something Faerie can help us overcome. He 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 “see- ing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”––as things apart from our- selves. 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.3

In Faerie we can see things for what they really are or could be or at least for how we are meant to see them. In any event, the fairy-tale helps us see more clearly. However, Tolkien also makes it clear that fairy-tales are not the only way to do this. ‘Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovering, or, prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough.’4 Nevertheless, fairy-tales mixed with humility will help serve as a corrective lens so that the world may be glimpsed in a the light we were meant to see it. This passage from Tolkien is particularly provocative on this point:

Faërie includes many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.5

Tolkien begins by showing us the things we expect to see in Faerie, or Elfland as Chesterton called it in Orthodoxy: fantastical beasts, mythological creatures, wicked and benign. Then, however, Tolkien shifts to things we see in the mortal world, the first four perhaps have a commonplace in our modern imaginings of Faerie (see Disney’s preference for his heroines to be accompanied by birds and other woodland creatures). Then, Tolkien makes a very deliberate shift that helps knit this chapter together, bread and wine, which is meant to incite images of the Eucharist. Indeed, even the inclusion of water, which may at first had us thinking of Bombur’s en- chanted sleep after falling in the river of Mirkwood, but after seeing bread and wine listed, baptism ought now to be in our minds, perhaps even the stone can evoke images of medieval fonts. Even humanity, when enchanted is encompassed by Faerie.

What Tolkien does here is show forth the notions of a sacramental universe as I described above. All things are or can be more than what they are because all things exist in Faerie. All that is needed is eyes to see them. This is one of the roles fantasy plays, that poetry plays. For Chesterton, this rendering strange is an essential aspect of fantasy. He writes, ‘The only words that ever satisfy me as describing Nature are the terms used in fairy books ‘charm’, ‘spell’, ‘enchantment’. They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.’6 Perhaps one of the first things fantasy can do for us (particularly when written from a Christian perspective) is to show us that the God of Christianity and the Creation of Christianity are not the ones of deism. Rather God is, as I have argued throughout, Poet, Creator, intimately connected with his Creation/Poem.

This alone perhaps shows the purpose of including a long discourse on the purpose of fantasy/poetry in a chapter on redemption in an essay on deification. There is, however, more. Following on what Milbank has said above, the writing of poetry and fantasy, and particularly the act of world-creating, at least according to Tolkien, is a gift and therefore graced and also an aspect of our deification. Alison Milbank provides a perhaps even more crucial link between the writing of fiction (specifically fantasy, but all fiction ultimately) and deification. She writes, ‘And it is in the ability to create––fiction is linked to the Latin verb facere, to make––that the artist comes closest to God. For us to recognize the world as God’s creation, we have to see it as a work of art; for us to recognize the creative power of the artist, we similarly have both to experience his or her fiction as a world but also be aware of its constructed nature.’7 First note that our word fiction is related to facare which provides the latter portion of the word deification. This is the same as noting that the latter half of the Greek theopoiesis, namely poiesis, is the source of our word for poetry. Even more so, however, Milbank, alongside Tolkien, notes that this act of creativity, this act of artistic creation renders the artist as an imitator of God. What is more it reminds us that just as we need to immerse ourselves in an artists creation without forgetting its constructed nature, so too should we not forget the created nature of the cosmos around us because it has a Creator.

George MacDonald writes in an essay on imagination, ‘man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms–which is the closest, perhaps, he can come to creation.’8 Again, connecting this to Milbank’s notions of our own creativity as a participation in the divine creativity––and indeed noting our creativity as an aspect of humanity being made in the image and likeness of God––, allows us to see this closeness to acts of creation (that is creation ex nihilo) already implies the deificatory and deifying significance of fantasy writing, of world creation. However, as MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, and the Milbanks all make clear, this is a participatory creation. However real it is, however much it can be termed an addition to the Poem, it is still participatory and a gift. MacDonald writes:

In the moral world it is different [from the physical]: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent.9

MacDonald while noting that human creators can rework our physical world, as he does when he has a bedroom transmute into a forest glad right on the edge of Faerie, believes that the moral world cannot be changed. We can imagine a world in which humans are kept in cages and apes perform studies on them, but we are not to imagine a world where morality can become amorality, where falsity is given the place of prominence of truth, or evil the place of goodness, or ugliness/disorder the place of beauty.

What MacDonald writes of as almost a kind of suggestion, Chesterton sees as the only true laws of our universe. For Chesterton there are immutable facts even in world-creation:

But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened––dawn and death and so on––as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by their tales.10

Chesterton is here criticising the sciences which seek to suggest that the things they have observed and can predict with an amount of certainty are laws. The only laws, according to Chesterton, are those things we cannot imagine differently without unmaking them or redefining them. Two and one cannot not make three unless we change the meanings of two, one, and/or three. Similarly good cannot be evil without changing what the word good means. Alison Milbank writes that this view of the world is sourced in Chesterton’s consumption of fairy-tales, ‘Fairy-tales, however, are not natural but cultural productions and it is by means of these fictions that Chesterton comes to view the world itself as magical: utterly real and enchanted at one and the same time.’11 Thus, for Chesterton, the world is real, but it is also enchanted and this affects the way fantasy is written. While Chesterton, in the passage above, is not specifically writing about writing, that is, he is not directly speaking of the act and art of human creativity, it is implicit in what he writes. When we create worlds, whether in poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, etc., we may unhinge the ‘laws’ of nature:

break them open and make them stand on their heads. What we cannot do, however, is break the laws of mathematics or goodness/morality. It is not that the author is not allowed to do these things, but that they are not possible, or at least not possible consistently.

Milbank gives this its most theological voice when he writes:

Of course, in human beings other than Christ there is no absolute coincidence of the human will with the divine creative will; but nevertheless one can logically speak of a ‘participating’ in this creative will, where human action brings about something that is generally now, as in the case of a new sort of legal convention or a new sort of artistic idiom. But because the creative human being is ‘inspired’, and because she does not fully grasp or command the new thing she has brought about, there is no absolute creation here: the new thing invented is also ‘discovered’, given to the creator herself as a mysterious new potency.12

Milbank reminds us that humans cannot create in the same way as God. Not even divine creativity rests in us in the exact same way it does in the Godhead, despite the fact that (or perhaps precisely because) we are made in the image of God. Milbank couches our creativity in terms of gift and participation. It is our participation in divine creativity that allows us to create, yet that participation is a gift. What is more, the very things we create, insofar as they are good, are gifts from God. We receive them just as much as we create them. This is why, for MacDonald, ‘A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer the art, the more things it will mean.’13

MacDonald takes this notion of true art having multiple meanings and applies it to the differences between creations of humans and God: ‘One difference between God’s work and man’s is, that, while God’s work cannot mean more than he meant, man’s work must mean more than he meant.’14 Here, MacDonald is not denying a multiplicity of meaning within the works of God, but that the number of meanings cannot exceed God’s intention. This is not the case with human creation. The numerous interpretations of works by human beings stand as testimony to this. Yet this multifariousness can be a good thing when applied to meaning in human works. In this way Tolkien’s work can be considered both an indictment on capitalism15 through his depictions of the Shire and yet also as providing commentary on the necessity of war but without the love of it particularly in the words of Faramir.

In the end, for Tolkien, the fairy-story serves an even larger purpose, which is the introduction into our minds of eucatastrophe and participation in the Evangelium. A fairy-tale is almost not a fairy tale, for Tolkien, if it lacks a happy ending.16 This is precisely what makes it different from tragedy. Rather than a sudden turn that causes all events to go awry (Hamlet’s mother drinking the wine meant to kill Hamlet, Laertes being stabbed by his own poisoned sword, etc.) there is a sudden turn of events that causes all to go right. Tolkien called this the eucatastrophe. For Tolkien, ‘The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of the fairy-tale, and its highest function.’17 This is so because the happy ending participates in an even greater story. ‘But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater––it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.’18

The Gospel is, for Tolkien, the greatest fairy-tale, and is the source for all fairy-tales, even those that come before it. He writes in words similar to those I have used in the previous chapters, ‘But the story has entered History and the primary world; the desires and aspirations of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. 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.’19 The Poet enters the Poem, but it is more than this. The entrance of the Poet into the Poem hallows (deifies, theo-poetises) the work going on within the Poem by us. For Tolkien:

But in God’s Kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, to hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.20

Our creative faculties, that aspect of our being made in the image of God, are redeemed and pulled up to the level of creation. In writing fantasy and poetry we imitate and participate in God as Creator, as Poet. What’s more, we participate in God as storyteller through salvation history, particularly through the story of the Incarnation which serves as the source for our storytelling.

All of this discussion of human creativity in fantasy and poetry, however, needs now to also be connected more directly to deification. Having looked at the foundations and purposes to which poetry and fantasy are put, I want to turn now to two stories about creation to show, in part, how they relate to deification, how they relate to the whole Poem and the process of Poem becoming Theo-Poem.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 75.

2 Ibid., 63.

3 Ibid., 77.

4 Ibid., 77.

5 Ibid., 38.

6 G. K. Chesterton, ‘Orthodoxy,’ in Everyman Chesterton (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 302.

7 Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 64-5.

8 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ in The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. by U. C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 5-6.

9 Ibid., 6.

10 G. K. Chesterton, ‘Orthodoxy,’ 121.

12 John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 196.

13 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ 7.

14 Ibid., 9.

15 See the chapter entitled ‘Fairy Economics: Gift Exchange’ in Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 117-141.

16 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ 85.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 88.

19 Ibid., 88-9.

20 Ibid., 89.

Creativity as Deifying: An Extract from My Thesis Part I

David Russell Mosley

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Lent
3 April 2014
On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Inspired by this post from Artur Rosman, ‘John Paul II, the Artist in You, and Coleridge’, I thought I would share a portion of my thesis on a related topic. This extract comes from my fourth chapter which focuses on the Christian life in light of the Ascension and the Indwelling and how deification continues and grows in us during this time. The portion I want to share is a bit long, so I’ll be sharing it in parts. Please, let me know what you think.

Sub-Creation

I want now to turn my attention to human creativity and the role it plays in the life of redemption and deification. John Milbank has suggested in Beyond Secular Order, that the human creatures is a fictioning creature, that is, a creature who shapes and re-shapes the nature around them, ‘Likewise, they are as animals fictioning creatures, or in other terms cultural and historical creatures, whose very nature is artificially to question and reshape (though not thereby to destroy) this nature.’1 This is based, for Milbank first in the Incarnation’s ability to re-shape history, ‘If the Incarnation permitted a reshaping of the world, then it was to be expected that time would bring forth beneficial innovations, including technological ones, in which the Holy Spirit was at work through human hands.’2 Note how Milbank argues that if the Incarnation has reshaped the world then as a result of this reshaping (a reorientation of humanity in a general sense towards its end) the Spirit, who is given in one sense to all humanity and in another to Christians in a particular way, will be active in bringing about additions to creation, or new parts to the Poem. This is all even further based in the notion that culture and creativity are themselves gifts and deifying participations in the divine creativity:

The ‘cultural supplement’ to which our purely animal natural reason is already, through our ‘trans-naturality’, obscurely drawn by the lure of the supernatural implanted within us, simply is, as revealed in the light of the Incarnation, the supplement of grace, the beginning of the work of deification which is always (as Sergei Bulgakov saw, through his eastern appropriation of western experience) the work of a further participation in divine creativity.3

Thus, for Milbank, culture is a gift and our participation in culture is an aspect of our deification. For this reason, the rest of this chapter will look specifically at the work of George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis for modern examples of what Tolkien would come to call sub-creation, as a kind of sub- poetical contribution to the Poem which in turn contributes to our becoming Theo- poems.

Participation in the Poem

Humans, then, are to play a role as poets, participating in the Poet and in a real, but qualified sense, adding to the Poem. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has written, ‘Our highest vocation as human persons is to reproduce on earth, so far as this is possible for us, the movement of mutual love that passes eternally between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’4 What God is, which is what we participate in and are in the image of, we are to recreate, re-poetise here on earth. George MacDonald, writing on the importance of imagination, writes, ‘man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms–which is the closest, perhaps, he can come to creation.’5 These worlds which we can create, however, must hold to the moral law (one of the only laws in Elfland, as Chesterton told us above). To do otherwise is to inherently create inconsistent world. Again, MacDonald writes, ‘In the moral world it is different [from the physical]: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent.’6 For MacDonald the moral world can be recast in new clothes, but it cannot change its substance.

If we can, as I have already suggested, in some ways equate poetry and fantasy, or at least poetry and Faerie, which all have to do with creation, then this human activity is immanently important to theology and philosophy. Josef Pieper, writes:

poetry and philosophy are more closely related to one another than any of the sciences to philosophy: both, equally, are aimed, as one might say, at wonder (and wonder does not occur in the workaday world)––and this by virtue of the power of transcending the everyday world, a power common to poetry and philosophy.7

Note that Pieper equates poetry with a world beyond the workaday. His own point here is that a utilitarian world misunderstands the point of both philosophy and poetry. These are searches for wonder. Tolkien, writing about Fairy-stories, says, ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.’8 This desire which is awakened is akin to the wonder that Pieper writes about, or even the joy that haunted Lewis in his pre-Christian days.9 Therefore it is necessary here to discuss fantasy and its implications in our deification.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 220.

2 Ibid., 218.

3 Ibid., 213.

4 Kallistos Ware,  ‘The Holy Trinity: Model for Personhood-in-relation,’ in The Trinity and an Entan- gled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology, ed. John Polkinghorne (Cam- bridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 113.

5 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ in The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. by U. C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 5-6.

6 Ibid., 6.

7 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 95.

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

9 See C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Orlando: Harcourt Inc., 1955).

The Thing I’ll Miss Most in England: Pubs

David Russell Mosley


St Patrick’s Day 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today being the feast of St Patrick, you might think I’d be doing a post on him, but this year, you would be wrong. You can check out the post I did on him last year, a post Peter Stevens has done this year, and an excellent article on him from here.

Today I am writing about pubs. No, I didn’t choose this topic because today is St Patrick’s Day. Rather, I have been sitting on this topic for quite some time and finally have a free moment to write up my thoughts.

As the academic year progresses and I get closer to finishing my PhD, my children get even closer to make their grand entrance into the outside world, my time in England is beginning to come to a close. People ask me what I’ll miss most when my family and I move back to the United States. There are many things I’ll miss, a pedestrianised culture, the landscape, the climate, the food, but most of all I’ll miss the pubs.

IMG_0994I will admit, I had romanticised pubs before I came here. I thought they were all places with home-cooked meals by plump landladies, fresh pulled ales from the pub-owned brewery, bands playing folk music every evening, and good conversation ruling the day. Imagine my shock when many of the first pubs we went to had televisions, gambling machines, and standardised touristy food to boot. I was even more shocked when I found out several of the pubs in the City Centre of Nottingham doubled as nightclubs in the evening. It was a blow to my romantic picture of England as a place that hadn’t yet succumbed to the greed and vice that often surrounds the American bar scene.

Nevertheless, by the time my birthday had rolled around in our first year I found what would come to be (though not always literally) “my local”.IMG_0996 The Crown Inn isn’t a perfect pub, but it is an excellent one. Alongside excellent decor, they have an excellent real ale selection. But a pub is more than a lack of individualistic distractions and good ale. Pubs, also known as public houses are places of community congregation. They are places to meet with your friends to discuss life over excellent libations. They are places to sit quietly and contemplatively. They are places to have conversations with strangers. In fact, they are excellent places to spread the gospel.

Now I’m sure my friends in America will be able to tell me what the pub/bar scene is like back home. Truth be told, when we moved to England I had only just begun to understand beer and wine and other types of alcohol. In fact, the American craft beer movement gives me quite a lot of hope that perhaps America can begin to shift its understanding of alcohol from something to get you drunk to something you enjoy especially when used for its proper end, conviviality. This isn’t to say England has everything in order, far from it, but the proper British pub is certainly a bastion of hope in a world of cheap, tasteless booze and community-less individualism. And therefore, it is what I will miss the most.

I want to leave you with a poem by G. K. Chesterton another Christian and lover of ale:

The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

In Defence of Beer

David Russell Mosley

English: The Crown Inn Beeston Hardy Hanson pu...

English: The Crown Inn Beeston Hardy Hanson pub (now part of Greene King). The trees to the right were subsequently removed to make way for an apartment block Later became a Free House 1523868. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

18 September 2013
The Edge of Elfland
Windermere, Cumbria

Dear Friends and Family,

I’m in the Lake District on holiday with my wife and in-laws. This morning we were watching a morning news program on ITV where a brief story was given about police forces wanting to turn over dealing with drunks to private security companies. People who are drunk would be locked up in privately run cells and left there until they sober up, being charged a fee upon release. I don’t want to go into the politics behind these ideas, but I do want to write briefly about beer.

Britain is well known for its drinking problems, as is Ireland, and the USA. People are drinking large amounts of alcohol trying to get drunk, trying to get sex, trying to escape from their own problems. For whatever their reasons, people drink to excess and cause social and domestic problems. This, I want to argue, is offence to all who truly enjoy alcohol.

I love beer, especially local cask ales; I love wine, especially good dry reds; I love whisky, especially good single-malts. I love alcohol. I love pubs, proper pubs. In Beeston we have two excellent pubs, neither of them have gambling machines, nor televisions. They have musical groups in from time to time, they have darts and board games, one serves excellent food and both have excellent cask ales. They are bastions in a world of night-clubs and dive bars. They are strongholds against a world which goes to two different extremes, binge drinking and abstinence. For those of us who love the various kinds of alcohol for how they taste and the effects a temperate amount of them can have on us find solace in these places where a proper enjoyment of alcohol can be experienced.

G. K. Chesterton wrote an often forgotten novel The Flying Inn wherein a local British community has outlawed all non-government sanctioned inns, taverns, and pubs. A rogue sailor and inn keeper, join forces to combat this abstinence movement, by taking the sign of the Inn and moving from place to place, taking beer with them and exploiting an ambiguity in the law. In a sense, the point of Chesterton’s work is that abstinence from alcohol for all people is not the proper response to issues people can have with alcohol. I would argue, as Chesterton does implicitly, that alcohol, beer particularly, is a great part of Western Civilisation (though fermentation of liquids for consumption is Egyptian in origin). It therefore must, like all things in life, be enjoyed virtuously. Temperance, true temperance, is a middle road, between the extremes.

If you love alcohol as I do, stand with me against the drunks and the militant teetotallers. If others wish to abstain, bully for them, for don’t put that on the rest of us. For those who wish to abuse, well, they need to be taught how to properly consume alcohol and the purposes it serves. It is a social lubricant, it is a delicacy to be enjoyed for its subtleties. It is not for drowning our sorrows, or forgetting our problems, or releasing all our inhibitions. Let us also stand against cheap booze which is created purely for the purpose of allowing people to get smashed on the cheap. We must stand firm for alcohol and against the abuses. Let us stand with Chesterton and others who remind us of all the good uses to which alcohol can be put and against the abusers of this wonderful product of our civilisation. Remember, Christ himself turned water to wine and was called a wine-bibber because of the company he kept and the drinks he drank.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Faeriean Metaphysics: The Necessity of Poetry, Fantasy, and Faerie in Theology

David Russell Mosley

 

 

 

5 September 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

 

Gregory the Theologian (Fresco from Kariye Cam...

Gregory the Theologian (Fresco from Kariye Camii, Istanbul). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

Today I’m sitting outside, smoking my pipe, enjoying the wind on my face and my thoughts turned to my last post on the importance Faerie and Fantasy in the Christian Theology. I didn’t come to the importance of fantasy literature and today I’ll only touch on it lightly. What is more on my mind is the importance of poetry.

 

Writer

Writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I think I’ve always associated poetry with faerie in my own mind, good poetry anyway. Poetry describes the world, ourselves, love, loss, pain, suffering, mystery, the supernatural, the philosophical, it, like Faerie, encompasses the whole world. Chesterton once wrote that while the Romantic poets wrote about Nature, describing their interactions with her, describing their impressions of trees, mountains, lakes, flowers, people it was the ancients and Medievals who truly understood nature. They peopled it with naiads and dryads, elves, fairies, giants, trolls, they saw that Nature, the sister she is to us, has a soul. They may have gotten it wrong from time to time, making it too much like us, fallen and broken in the same ways, but they understood that Nature is a creature just like us. Chesterton didn’t eschew the works of the Romantics, he merely pointed out that the Medievals and ancients also knew Nature even if they didn’t spend as much time describing their impressions of her.

 

In theology we need a return to poetry. Poetry as a word has its roots in a Greek verb, poieeo. It means to create. This is the kind of creation God does in creating our world. It is not inappropriate then, though perhaps anachronistic, to refer to God not only as Creator, but as Poet, the Poet and all our poets and poetry exist only insofar as they participate in the Poet and his acts of poetising, that is creating. Not only this, but God is also the Theo-poet, he is the god-creator, the deifier. He created this great Poem, Creation, in order to turn it into a Theo-poem, a created god. He does this through his coming into the Poem in the Incarnation and his Indwelling the Poem through the Holy Spirit in us in a special way and the rest of Creation in another. If all this is true we must have a return to poetry in theology.

 

Tolkien

Tolkien (Photo credit: proyectolkien)

 

The greatest theologian, or at least the only one outside of St John, who is called the Theologian in both East and West is Gregory of Nazianzus, or Gregory the Theologian. But Gregory the Theologian was also Gregory the Poet. Gregory understood the need for humans, theo-poems in the making, to create, to poetise. J. R. R. Tolkien also understood this when called humans sub-creators, and the writing of fantasy, which is the creation of little worlds of our own, sub-creations. This is an inherent part of our Tradition. We ignore it to our detriment.

 

We must return to Elfland, we must write poetry, we must create worlds because in doing so we participate in the Poet, we add to the Poem in a way that only we, human beings, theo-poems, can. It is through us that all Creation will be reunited to God. And while we cannot accomplish this task fully ourselves, while only Christ, who is both Poet and the first-fruits of the Theo-poem, can bring this about, we have our parts to play as well. Let us not neglect them. Let us write poetry once again.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

 

 

Faeriean Metaphysics: Why Faerie and Fantasy Matter in Christian Theology

Novgorod school, 15th century,

Novgorod school, 15th century, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

David Russell Mosley

 

Festival of St Monica, mother of St Augustine
27 August 2013
The Borders of the Perilous Realm, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

Today I want to write yet again about something very close to my heart: Faerie and Fantasy in Christian theology. I have posted on this topic enough times now that I have included a whole menu above to it. This theme is one that has brought quite a bit of ire my way, though never directly. That is, people like to comment about my posts without commenting on them. Still I trudge on.

 

One of my favourite critiques is a backhanded comment. It usually goes something along these lines: ‘I bet it gets funding.’ I think this humorous. First, and perhaps this is what confuses them most, I don’t write posts that are intended as academic articles. I don’t have an idea for something I think could make a good journal article and then decide to write a blog post about it instead. My blog is primarily for hobbies and passions of mine. The second funny thing about this is the backhanded nature of the comment. By suggesting that my work will receive funding they are implying that only a certain kind of work receives funding, work they disdain and not their own work, thus since they aren’t getting funding, they assume my work will. I enjoy good critiques, but would prefer them be about the substance of what I write, not suppositions about my motivations or the nature of my research.

 

Moving on then, I want today to write about the importance of fantasy or belief in Faerie for doing good Christian theology.  J. R. R. Tolkien writes in ‘On Fairy Stories’ ‘Faërie includes many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men when we are enchanted.’ Faerie is thus the world when viewed through enchanted eyes. It is completely consonant with our own world, we just lack the eyes to see it.

 

For Chesterton, Fairyland is the place of common sense. He writes in the section ‘The Ethics of Elfland’ in his Orthodoxy, ‘Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.’ This land of common sense, however, is not a land of laws, not primarily. In Fairyland there is one test to find out if something is a law, imagination. I have written more about that here. The point here is that if you can imagine it differently, then it is not a law. There are, however, unimaginable things: Three take away two is always one; black is never white; good is never evil. These words lose their meaning if we try to define them as their opposites.

 

Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

Simon Ushakov’s icon of the Mystical Supper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thus for both authors, Faerie is the place where the world can be seen rightly. It is the place where the ordinary is seen to be extraordinary. This is necessary to theology. Notice what Tolkien wrote above, Faerie includes wine and bread and man enchanted. Faerie contains the world and renders it strange, it renders trees into dryads, and populates the world with creatures beyond humanity’s knowledge. We need to understand this in theology, for only then can we begin to see how, as the old hymn says, ‘This is our Father’s world.’ Theologians are in the job of rendering the ordinary extraordinary. Wine and bread become blood and flesh; humans become gods; the timeless enters into time; the deathless tastes death. As Tolkien writes, ‘God is the Lord, of angels, and of men––and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.’

 

“The Death of King Arthur”

“The Death of King Arthur” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

 

P. S. This post was getting too long, be on the look out for my next post which will discuss the necessity of writing fantasy for Christian theology.