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The Fantasy Writer (Part 2)

The Fellowship, The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2015) provides a detailed account of the famous quartet of mid-20th century Oxford-based authors (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams), in particular how they expressed their longing for tradition and re-enchant through the literature of fantasy.

A long-standing tradition of folklore, fairy tales and fantasy motifs permeates English literature, starting with Beowulf and reaching its apex with Narnia and Lord of the Rings (not to ignore the later success of J.K. Rowling and the world of Harry Potter). Each of the four Inklings (the name they gave to themselves) chose to write in this genre.

“Their passion arose, in part, from the sheer excitement of the genre, the intoxication of entering the unknown and fleeing the everyday. For all the leading Inklings, however, the rapture of the unknown pointed also to something more profound: it was a numinous event, an intimation of a different, higher, purer world or state of being. Fantasy literature was [for them] a pathway to this higher world and a describing, through myth and symbol, its felt presence. Fantasy became the voice of faith. And it made for a cracking good story.” (The Fellowship, The Literary Lives of the Inklings, p.11)

That brief summation encapsulates it, at least for me.

I had not intended to write The Ravenstones series. I had not even intended to write one volume of such length, let alone seven. But when the story took hold, I realized there was so much to explain, so many characters who demanded a place in the telling, so many intertwined aspects to explore that it required so much more. Somehow, telling the story through animals in a fantastical world made the most sense to me.

Of course, like so many others, I grew up with C.S. Lewis in my life (the Narnia series, at least; his science fiction and Christian writings came later in life). I discovered Tolkien only in university, reading The Hobbit but never getting around to The Lord of the Rings. After graduation and entering the work world, my life soon became exceptionally busy. It was only through being laid up in the hospital for several weeks (a series of collapsed lungs) that provided me with an exceptional amount of reading time.

I took advantage of the enforced rest to complete the trilogy. I was as captured by the magic and story-telling as everyone else, and recall weeping when I finally finished it, mainly at the thought that these tremendous, engaging characters would no longer be a part of my daily life. Of course, I reread the trilogy later on, appreciating the world and mythology that Tolkien weaved into it.

As it would be impossible to write at length upon Lord Of The Rings in a single blog post, I will content myself with two quotes.

The first comes in Part II, The Two Towers, Chapter 8, The Stairs of Cirith Ungol. Sam and Frodo are talking about their path forward through the ‘accursed’ place, en route to Mordor. Sam says,

“We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull…But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in mind. Folk seem to have just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it…I expect they had a lot of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.”

That’s more or less, how I view things in The Ravenstones – two travellers who stumble unwittingly into the adventure of their lives and will not turn back because it’s the right thing to do, because going forward seems easier than going back and because they must meet their destiny.

And one more quote, attributed to Gimli, the dwarf:

“Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?”

I haven’t been able to find the exact location of that quote in the book. It was definitely in the movie though, so it might have been the screenwriters taking liberties with Tolkien. Whatever the case, I love it.

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