Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Function of Fantasy According to Tolkien

So, in my Real Life (aka, apart book deal excitement and craziness!), I'm trying to finish my Master's degree in Literature. And I'm presenting at an academic conference in two weeks for an abstract I sent in and was accepted in December... for a paper I haven't exactly written yet... or, as of two days ago... started!!! (I'm not a giant-slacker, this is actually common, well maybe not waiting this long, but still!)

This has been remedied in a frantic last two days of researching, and really, this paper is just a small chunk of what will be in my thesis--I've thought out the theory and thesis statement and all those lovely things. I've been a giant stress-ball lately, so it was a nice surprise when I was able to chill out, read theory all weekend, and get excited about research again.

Because, the thing is, I'm writing about YA fantasy literature for my thesis. How cool is that? Reading up on theories of how fantasy functions is actually AWESOME. The paper I'm presenting is on C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, so I got to read these lovely essays by him and Tolkien on what they thought fantasy literature actually DOES, you know, insight into why we love it and how it satisfies us. Now, I don't completely agree with Tolkien. As a good post-modernist, I can't quite. But oh I do find myself resonating with the longing he speaks of:

"The consolation of fairy-stories [i.e. fantasy], the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-story can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist,' nor 'fugitive.' In it's fairy-tale--or otherworld--setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief" (Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories").

Lewis' Prince Caspian is full of this longing--nostalgia for the Old Narnia that has been lost and become ruin. All the pages are filled at the beginning are filled with loss and ruin and brokenness and forgotten glory. Then enter the hero. Then enter the wild of the awakening Old World. I can't deny the power of this storyline. I guess I'm still moved by redemption and regeneration stories after all.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Heather! I wrote my M.A. thesis on The Lord of the Rings and psychoanalysis. It feels great to show the rest of the scholarly world that fantsy literature is worth stuyding, debating and theorizing about. We're having the 1st Tolkien and Anglo-Saxon fantasy literature Conference in Mendoza, Argentina, in October this year. Here's our e-mail, in case you're interested in more info about it: Thanks a bunch! good luck with the presentations and with your thesis.