Tolkien on the Art of Redemption, the Beauty of Reality, & Joy

The famous author of The Lord of the Rings believed that the power of art was to explain reality, the power of story to touch on deep truths about the universe, human history, and the future of all things. In his essay “On Fairy-Stories, ” J.R.R. Tolkien explains that a fairy story can give us a “sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.”

That’s why Tolkien explained the gospel to C.S. Lewis as being a true myth. This concept deeply impacted Lewis who converted to theism after a late night conversation with Tolkien and another man named Hugo Dyson. Lewis came to see how all of the longings that have made their way into our stories, our songs, and our art throughout human history converged into one explanation: Christianity. Or as Tolkien said, far better than I can, “Art has been verified. Legend and History have met and fused.”

Here’s an excerpt from Tolkien’s essay that I think is particularly powerful:

(The word ‘eucatastrophe’ used below means a decisive turn of events that produces a happy ending.)

“The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels – peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving ‘mystical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophes. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration 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. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality’. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of the Primary Art, that is of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”