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Mythic techniques in the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and George MacDonald

Updated on September 27, 2012
The author's personal collection of the books mentioned in this article, minus The Princess and Curdie.
The author's personal collection of the books mentioned in this article, minus The Princess and Curdie. | Source
George MacDonald, c. 1870
George MacDonald, c. 1870 | Source

Mythic techniques have been used in storytelling and literature for thousands of years. Here is a midterm critique I wrote years ago for an English class on the some of the works of three authors who wrote predominately Christian material; C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and George MacDonald. All works that were referenced are in the "Recommended Reads". If you have not read these works, my suggestion would be to check them out!

Mythic techniques in the works of C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and George MacDonald

The role of the supernatural is significant in the fiction works of C. S. Lewis. The lion Aslan and the Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea in the Chronicles of Narnia become evident of this supernatural technique because they both embody an otherworldly power that creates Narnia. It is the Emperor who gives both Aslan and the White Witch their powers, and it is those powers that allow Aslan to come back to life after sacrificing himself for Edmund. In the space story Out of the Silent Planet, the characters of Oyarsa, Maleldil, and the eldil race in its entirety demonstrate the supernatural because they are not human but rather spirits that can travel through time and space.

J. R. R. Tolkien also uses the role of the supernatural in his stories. In The Hobbit, the role of the supernatural is embodied in the "Master who ruled them" and in the characters of the Necromancer and other Wizards, whom all have great power. There is also a spirit world evident as portrayed by the darkness and evil of Mirkwood Forest. The Lord of the Rings demonstrates this supernatural role both through the powers of Sauron and his minions and though the pure innocence of the hobbits.

George MacDonald uses the character of Irene's grandmother, the Grand Old Princess, in his work The Princess and Curdie as the portrayal of the supernatural. With her rosewood fire and her ability to change her appearance, yet always seem the same, she is the embodiment of supernatural powers.

Powers given to nature are also evident in the works of all three authors. Lewis gives animals the power to talk and gives trees spirits in Chronicles of Narnia. In The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien gives the land a spirit. He also gives speech to eagles and birds as well as thoughts to spiders. MacDonald creates an entire army of creatures that have the power to communicate with each other and with humans in his book.

All three also use the imagination; creating other-worldliness and fantasy in their works. Talking animals, always winter but never Christmas, a lion who has the power to appear and disappear as he wishes, a prince who turns into a jackass are all examples of this imagination in Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. In Out of the Silent Planet, he creates aliens from another planet and a spirit world unseen by human eyes. The entire creation of the Middle-Earth, with hobbits, elves, orcs, talking eagles, skin-changing men that dance with bears, Gollum, a magic ring, mysterious forests with giant spiders and a talking dragon are all embodiments of the imagination and the fantastic in The Hobbit. MacDonald uses the idea that humans can be changed into other creatures, magical emeralds, a shape shifting woman and an army of doves to illustrate this concept in The Princess and Curdie.

With this imagination also comes the concept of magic, which plays an enormous role in the three authors' works. Lewis gives the White Witch the power to turn people to stone, whilst Aslan has the power to change them back. In Out of the Silent Planet, the Oyarsa has the power to "unmake" races and govern over them. Tolkien gives Gandalf a magic wand and the bard a mystical arrow in The Hobbit. MacDonald gives Curdie the power to determine human hands and Peter a magic stone in his work.

Imagery and symbolism also play a role in the aforementioned works. Father Christmas is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and Aslan is the image of Christ in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In Out of the Silent Planet, Weston and Divine become embodiments of greed and evil while Ransom becomes a symbol of good, of man's possibility to change. In The Hobbit, the image of a meek, mere hobbit going out and conquering his fears while having an adventure and changing the world is a symbol of the ordinary Christian who can change anything if he or she starts out on the journey. The ring that Bilbo finds, and Frodo later carries in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is a symbol of evil and greed. The grandmother is the image of God in The Princess and Curdie, while Lina is a symbol of loyalty and unfailing love. The "Uglies" also are a symbol, for they represent men and women who have fallen and are working their way back to God.

Article © 2012 by Kelley Davis


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