Review of Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings

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The following are extracts from a far longer and more detailed review that appeared in Tolkien Studies 6 (2009) on pages 277-283.

Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings, ed. Eduardo Segura and Thomas Honegger. Zollikofen, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2007. [6], iv, 342 pp. $21.25 / £10.35 (trade paperback) ISBN 9783905703085. Cormarë Series no. 14.

This collection of essays undertakes a discussion of a subject of great importance. Segura and Honegger explain in their Preface that their goal is to work towards "a profounder understanding of what the Inklings considered the key of literary creation, and of Art" (ii). The editors cite their hope that the volume will "become a first stepping-stone in the process of reconstructing those conversations in which the Inklings discussed, argued, and thoughtfully debated on Myth and Language" (iii). The essays in the volume engage these central concerns from various perspectives, examining the notions of myth-making and subcreation, of magic and art, as Lewis and Tolkien theorized about them in their critical writing and embodied them in their fiction.

In drawing its readers into this complex and invigorating discussion, the book very appropriately directs our attention to the questions and debates that lie near the center of Inkling studies. Lewis and Tolkien's inquiries into the nature of myth and art and into the relationship between language, imagination, and subcreation inform almost all of their personal and intellectual interests, such as linguistics, medieval literature, fairy-stories, poetry, and Christian apologetics. [...]

In "New Learning and New Ignorance: Magic, Goeteia, and the In- klings," Tom Shippey points out that the fiction of both Tolkien and Lewis manifests their reflections on the different senses in which the word "magic" can be used, and the very different moral and spiritual implications of those senses. [...] Shippey engages primarily with the criticism and fiction of Lewis, beginning with his long discussion [...] of the differences between the medieval conception of magic, associated with Faerie, and the Renaissance magia of books and spells, which is closely linked both to scientia, scientific inquiry, and to goeteia, witchcraft or the summoning of spirits. [...]

Dieter Bachmann's essay, "Words for Magic: goetia, gûl, and lúth," ex- amines Tolkien's terms for magic and serves as an excellent complement to Shippey's consideration [...]. Bachmann argues that, like Lewis, Tolkien appealed to the distinction [...] but "that the moral distinction lies in the magician's motive or purpose, not in the technical question of whether he is acting on matter or on a spirit" (50). [...]

In "When is a Fairy Story a Faërie Story? Smith of Wootton Major," Verlyn flieger [...] demonstrates how Smith of Wootton Major serves as a "practical application" of the criteria of a true fairy-story that Tolkien laid out in his essay "On Fairy-stories" (57). [...] flieger suggest[s] [...] that Tolkien's story of the craftsman in Faërie can also be understood as "dramatizing the relationship of the artist with the world of imagination," thus encapsulating the experience of both the reader and the writer of fairy-stories.

Patrick Curry compares Tolkien's concerns about the modern world and its perspective with those of social philosopher Max Weber in "Iron Crown, Iron Cage: Tolkien and Weber on Modernity and Enchantment." Curry claims that the two writers' "diagnoses of modernity ... were tantalizingly similar" (99), stating that the heart of this similarity lies in their conceptions of magic and enchantment.

In "A Mythology for England?: Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth," a wide-ranging and authoritative essay, Thomas Honegger outlines how Tolkien attempts to place "his mythopoeic writings within a framework that would allow him to dedicate it to England [...]. [I]n early versions of the Legendarium, Tolkien explicitly identifies Tol Eressëa with the British Isles themselves. Although Tolkien's later writings moved away from these explicit ties between Elvenhome and England, Honegger argues that The Lord of the Rings remains mythologically tied to England through the literary activity of the hobbits, who capture "some of the best elements of ‘Englishness'" (126).

In "Lewis's View of Myth as a Conveyor of Deepest Truth," Devin Brown argues that [...] Lewis believed that fiction serves as a more powerful vehicle for spiritual truth, enabling him not merely to state, but to suggest (133). In his fiction, therefore, Lewis attempts to "express truth through a mythic format" (133). [...]

This collection is a noble undertaking, and it contains much learning and several very important and enlightening studies. There is no denying, however, that its contents are rather uneven — uneven in some superficial though jarring ways, such as the length of the chapters: one essay is over Book Reviews five times the length of one of its near neighbors. More importantly, the essays vary significantly in how fully they engage with the fascinating central concerns of the collection. Some essays engage Lewis and Tolkien's notions of myth and art very directly and very fruitfully. Others are only connected to this central theme tangentially, and some seem disinclined to engage the primary concepts involved in the discussion.

(extracts from book review by Corey Olsen, Washington College Chestertown, Maryland)

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