Casual Wednesday evening musings with Matt Segall on the power and place of imagination, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.G. Jung, war, art, psyche, and cosmos.
The Astrology Hub’s 2019 Forecast Marathon was an extraordinary success, and I felt the tremendous excitement and joy of being part of a group of professional astrologers looking ahead at the transits and celestial dynamics of the coming year. The videos from that event are still available for free until Sunday, January 20 at midnight, or you can sign up for the Astrology Hub’s Inner Circle to gain lifetime access to these recordings.
I had the great privilege of learning astrology within a community of scholars, and I cannot emphasize enough what a gift it is to work with astrology in a group of dedicated individuals. Astrology Hub’s Inner Circle offers an online community of astrological devotees, and I am honored to be one of thirteen astrologers this year who are the Lunar Guides for the Inner Circle members.
Each month, members of the Inner Circle will be guided by a different astrologer through the transits of that lunation cycle, and participants will have the opportunity to learn to work with astrology in their daily lives through New Moon and Full Moon classes and ceremonies.
I will be leading the Sagittarius lunation cycle, offering a New Moon class titled “Celebrating the Arts” on November 22, and a Full Moon class titled “Deepening Our Relationships” on December 9, both of which will include the Mastery Topic “Cultivating Your Archetypal Eye.” There are soulwork practices aligned with each lunar phase during the month, as well as transit updates throughout the lunation cycle.
If you have wanted to learn more about astrology, and how to practice this discipline in your daily life, I highly recommend joining this online community. The enrollment period is currently open, and there is no contract or commitment to stay longer than you wish. There are a variety of benefits when you enroll, not only access to the recordings of the Forecast Marathon and classes with the Lunar Guides, but also a different astrological gift from each participating astrologer.
It would be a delight to commune with the cosmos with you in community.
Iceland seems to be calling us back. My husband Matt and I traveled there for our honeymoon last October, and only six months later an opportunity has arisen for us to return. From April 26-29 we will be participating in the third annual Spirit of Humanity Forum, taking place in Reykjavik. We are going to learn about spiritual leadership in governance, and how to bring about lasting transformation in the world that enshrines love, respect, and compassion at the core of decision-making. I hope also to connect with the Professor of Folklorists at the University of Iceland, who I synchronistically met in Berkeley right after watching him speak in several documentaries on the Huldufólk, Iceland’s hidden people, who I was researching for a presentation at Esalen.
But before departing once more for Iceland’s volcanic shores, we first had the opportunity to experience an outpost of Iceland’s popular art when we saw Sigur Rós play at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. I’ve always enjoyed the music of Sigur Rós, the ethereal voice of Jónsi Birgisson contrasted with the deep drum beats and guttural distortions for which the group is so well known. Yet I had a feeling that seeing them perform live would be a radically different, powerful experience—and I was right.
First I will mention that this concert took place while the Sun was aligned with the powerful Jupiter-Uranus-Pluto T-square that is shaking the world into chaos at our current moment. The Sun was in a conjunction with Uranus, bringing this highly charged and deeply revolutionary alignment into even greater focus and clarity. One would expect individual creativity to be at its peak, pushing the edges of what has previously been achieved to greater heights and extremes.
From its first notes, the full sensory experience of the concert was remarkable, sound moving through light that shifts and plays across the space like Faërian lanterns from a future world. Yet it was when Sigur Rós reached the third song of their set that I felt I could really take in what they were capable of, the new edges where art can be explored. The third song of the set is entitled “Glósóli,” from the 2005 album Takk. Paired with the release of this album, Sigur Rós crafted an enchanting yet haunting music video to illustrate “Glósóli.” The short film depicts a group of children, all dressed as though from the pages of a fairy-tale, walking together across the open Icelandic landscape.
When Sigur Rós played “Glósóli” live, the images displayed behind the musicians showed footage of Iceland’s topography, shown from the perspective of someone traversing the landscape. It was almost as though as the audience member you had become one of the children walking over the stones and hillsides of Iceland’s starkly barren regions. At the end of the original music video the children jump off a sheer cliff side, and as the viewer your understanding of what has occurred hovers for a moment in uncertainty. You may not yet comprehend what these children are really doing, until you recognize that they are able to fly, to soar above the ocean waves. In the live performance, as the musicians reach this same point in the song, the view of the footage on stage lifts off the cliff so that you as an audience member feel the sudden drop in your stomach like you too have taken flight. In this moment I could feel the intertextual dialogue being woven between the live performance and the music video, the footage shown on stage overlaid by the memory of the events unfolding in the music video. You have become one of the flying children, crossing that threshold from this realm into the next, entering into the mystery of the imaginal realm.
Yet in the music video of “Glósóli” the narrative ends there, with the final child jumping into the air. Does he keep flying? The music video leaves you uncertain. But in the live stage show Sigur Rós takes you to the beyond. The music continues, escalating into a powerful, rhythmic climax. As you soar far beyond the cliff’s edge you enter a realm of clouds, of bursting lightning, and the rolling drums of thunder. For all of us with the memory of the “Glósóli” music video echoing through our imagination, the live performance has swept us into the next stage of the story.
The themes that brought the live performance of “Glósóli” to a soaring conclusion fully carried the archetypal patterns of our current moment: the dazzling experience of breaking into a new realm that is so characteristic of the Jupiter-Uranus alignment, along with the powerful, almost overwhelming rhythms of Jupiter-Pluto, and the electronic display of lightning and thunder symbolized by Uranus-Pluto. In the dialogue between sound and light, visceral, somatic rhythm, and the blended imagery of memory and film, I felt art being pushed past a new limit.
The rest of the concert carried forward these themes, cresting again in the final song of the set. In this concluding song I felt the performers begin to channel powerful, even demonic, Plutonic energies, grasping members of the audience into its frenzied motion. The intensity of the music and the light displays continued to escalate, finally reaching a peak in which the musicians themselves faded away off the stage, and nothing but sound and light dazzled the audience, pounding the extremity of the artistic experiment into every pore of one’s senses. The thought began to creep in as the crescendo kept rising that they had pushed the entire display so far beyond the human that as the audience we might lose connection to the narrative arc of the concert if they didn’t conclude the song in some tangibly human way. Yet the song reached its final peak and cracked, coming to a sudden end—silencing the fragmenting display of technology and chaos into darkness.
I almost felt my heart fall in disappointment. They hadn’t resolved it into the human. They had chosen to go the way of spectacle and technological achievement.
And yet, following this blazing conclusion, in the subtle darkness of the stage, a single light came on and illuminated the three musicians walking forward, dressed simply in all black, linking arms affectionately as they bowed, applauding the audience as the crowd roared back in approval. I realized that they had resolved the crescendo in the human realm—by stepping forward as mere human musicians, no spectacle anymore, but purely incarnated talent. The word “takk” appeared projected at the back of the stage, the word for “thank you” in Icelandic.
Following the show I decided to explore the birth chart of Jónsi, the lead singer, and found one of the most remarkable configurations of planets I have ever seen. Each alignment in his complex chart can be seen expressed through the unique blend of styles and sounds that is Sigur Rós’s music. Jónsi was born on April 23, 1975, interestingly on the same day as Shakespeare’s birthday, although 409 years later.
The first alignment that stands out is his exact Venus-Neptune opposition, expressed so clearly in the angelic and otherworldly tones of Jónsi’s singing voice. This Venus-Neptune opposition is in a T-square with Mars, which brings in the assertive fire that also runs through their music. Furthermore, the Venus-Mars square clearly fits the chart of a musician, a performer bringing the art of music (Venus) to life and action (Mars) upon the stage.
Jónsi has a second T-square in his chart, this one comprised of Jupiter opposite Pluto, each squaring Saturn at the midpoint. Without knowing his birth time it is uncertain whether his Moon is also in this alignment. One can see the expression of this Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto T-square in both the guttural heaviness and the intense grandeur of the music.
The two oppositions that make up these two T-squares in Jónsi’s birth chart, of Venus opposite Neptune and Jupiter opposite Pluto, are also part of another major aspect pattern: the Mystic Rectangle. The two oppositions cross each other, two trines forming two of the sides of the rectangle, and two sextiles forming the other two sides. This remarkable aspect pattern brings together both the dynamic tensions of the two oppositions, with the flowing, harmonious aspects of the trines and sextiles. Thus Jónsi was born with Venus trine Pluto and Venus sextile Jupiter, each lending a greater depth and breadth to the artistic creativity of his music; and he was also born with Jupiter trine Neptune and Neptune sextile Pluto, bringing in the expansive transcendence and mystical power of his music.
A trine of Mars and Saturn also tie the midpoints of the two T-squares together, which can be recognized in the marching, almost militaristic drumbeats that so often punctuate Sigur Rós’s songwriting.
Finally, Jónsi was born with a Sun-Mercury conjunction in a tight opposition to Uranus, reflecting the individual brilliance, creativity, and even genius that he is able to bring forward through his musical performances.
Of course, the complexity of Sigur Rós’s music is also shaped by the natal charts of the other two current band members Georg Hólm and Orri Páll Dyrason, and the past members Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson and Kjartan Sveinsson, but exploring the dynamic interplay of all of their charts is beyond the scope of this essay. However, the band formed in 1994 under the exact Uranus-Neptune conjunction of the last decade of the 20th century, and I could still perceive the archetypal qualities of this alignment in Sigur Rós’s musical style—the blend of flowing, ethereal melody with electronic, technological experimentation, the use of light and flowing imagery, sparkling sunlight dazzling across ocean waves, and the overall feeling of wonder and enchantment running through every aspect of their artistic creation. These Uranus-Neptune qualities of exploratory imagination and mystical play, blending the contemporary with the eternal, have now been brought into dialogue with the titanically revolutionary energies of the current Jupiter-Uranus-Pluto alignment, giving birth to an art form that pushes imagination to its peak, bursting beyond the merely human sphere into a realm of both mystical transcendence and underworldly depth—finally to return to the humble human performers bowing low on a darkened stage, illuminated by the glow of a single, focused spotlight.
On this last New Moon of 2015, I am sharing the introduction to my comprehensive exam on the works and context of J.R.R. Tolkien, the composition of which has been my primary occupation over the last seven months. This is the first of two comprehensive exams to be written for my dissertation on the Red Books of Tolkien and C.G. Jung. Because much of the material in the exam will be included in my dissertation I am not posting it publicly, rather allowing it to gestate until the full book is ready to publish. But I wished to share something of the labor of love in which I have been most recently engaged.
A Comprehensive Exam
The Works & Context of J.R.R. Tolkien
“On the edge of a valley one of Professor Tolkien’s characters can pause and say: ‘It smells like elves.’ It may be years before we produce another author with such a nose for an elf. The professor has the air of inventing nothing. He has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity which is worth oceans of ‘glib’ originality.”
– C.S. Lewis, Review of The Hobbit
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
When Professor J.R.R. Tolkien of Oxford, England set out to write a mythology, he did not know he would end up writing one of the most beloved works of literature of the 20th century. Indeed, he did not know of Hobbits or the King of Gondor, or even of Mount Doom. But he did know about Elves, and Middle-Earth, the endless Sea, and the far shores of Faërie. He knew he wanted to write poems and tell stories that had a particular “quality of strangeness and wonder,” stories that would bring “the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires”: the desire “to survey the depths of space and time” and “hold communion with other living things.” And this he did, penning thousands of pages that came to tell the many myths of Middle-Earth.
Over the course of his lifetime, Tolkien published the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the short stories Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham, and Smith of Wootton Major, and the book of poetry The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. He translated the medieval English poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, and wrote scholarly papers on Beowulf and the Ancrene Wisse. But, except for the twelve long years dedicated to the composition of his masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s primary creative occupation was writing and re-writing the cosmogonic myths and epic tales of the Silmarillion, a book never published in his lifetime. Indeed, when he passed away in 1973, he left behind him “the serried ranks of box files that contained . . . like beads without a string, the raw material of ‘The Silmarillion.’” As his publisher Rayner Unwin says: “although over the years some authors have written at greater length, few if any have left behind a more purposeful yet inchoate creative complexity than Tolkien.” But, thanks to the decades-long effort of Tolkien’s son Christopher, the world can now read these pages, published as a compact narrative in The Silmarillion, and in the vast drafts and retellings found in Unfinished Tales and the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-Earth.
Who knows what form the Silmarillion may have taken if Tolkien had given it the same level of perfectionist revisioning that he gave The Lord of the Rings. But perhaps that is not how the tales of the Silmarillion were meant to be told. Perhaps they were meant to be received in the way primary myth is: with overlapping narratives and changing names, some stories drawn with great detail in both poetry and prose, others sketched as tales to be glimpsed in the background. Exploring the world of Middle-Earth can be like crossing a threshold into another realm, losing sight even of the pages in one’s hands, as far landscapes and poignant beauties pierce to the depths of one’s experience.
As his philological collaborator Simone D’Ardenne writes, “Tolkien’s personality was so rich, so diverse, so vast and so elusive” that to paint any portrait of his life will inherently be inadequate. Although born in South Africa in 1892, Tolkien spent the majority of his life in England, only going to the European continent a few times, or occasionally across the water to Ireland. But this does not mean he was untraveled. Tolkien arguably explored more distant lands than many, but they are lands only found in the imagination. In this comprehensive exam I seek to understand Tolkien’s life and work in the context of his imaginal experiences, and the people and ideas that supported him in having them.
I begin with Tolkien’s family and friends, the literary midwives who helped him bring his mythology to birth. From there I turn to Tolkien’s artwork, the paintings, drawings, and sketches that he made before his writing had begun to take shape. I focus primarily on the early years when he was illustrating The Book of Ishness, although Tolkien continued throughout his life to make beautiful works of art to accompany his stories. From these images I shift to language, the subject that was central to the person Tolkien was. Not only was he a professional philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon, first at Leeds University and later at Oxford, he was an artist of language as well, inventing words, grammar, and etymology for multiple languages of Middle-Earth. Finally, I turn to an exploration of Tolkien’s experience of the imagination, looking particularly through the lens of his theory of Sub-creation. To conclude, I touch on the connection between Tolkien’s work and The Red Book of C.G. Jung, the subject on which my subsequent dissertation will be focused.
Tolkien’s personality was multifaceted; one could encounter him as “the Christian, or the friend, the artist or the humanist, the father or the teacher,” as D’Ardenne writes. Many possibilities are open to us for exploring who he was. In an obituary written long in advance of Tolkien’s death, his close friend C.S. Lewis says: “He was a man of ‘cronies’ rather than of general society and was always best after midnight (he had a Johnsonian horror of going to bed) and in some small circle of intimates where the tone was at once Bohemian, literary, and Christian.” If he was best in his small circle of intimates, perhaps that is the place to meet him first—among his own Fellowship.
 C.S. Lewis, qtd. in Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 209.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 78.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson (London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014), 4.
 Rayner Unwin, “Early Days of Elder Days,” in Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-Earth, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000), 247
Unwin, “Early Days of Elder Days,” 6.
 Simone D’Ardenne, “The Man and Scholar,” in J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam, ed. Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1979), 33.
 D’Ardenne, “The Man and Scholar,” 33.
 C.S. Lewis, “Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Hobbits and Inventor of a New Mythology” in J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam, ed. Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1979), 15.
Barfield, Owen. Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Oxford, England: Barfield Press, 2010.
Caldecott, Stratford. The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2012.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008.
Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends, London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006.
–––––. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Chance, Jane, ed. Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004.
–––––. Tolkien the Medievalist. Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003.
Croft, Janet Brennan and Leslie A. Donovan, eds. Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Altadena, CA: Mythopoeic Press, 2015.
Curry, Patrick. Deep Roots in a Time of Frost: Essays on Tolkien. Zürich, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2014.
–––––. Defending Middle-Earth. Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books, 1997.
Dickerson, Matthew and Jonathan Evans. Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006.
Duriez, Colin. The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien and Their Circle. Oxford, England: Lion Books, 2015.
–––––. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2003.
–––––. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings: A Guide to Middle-Earth. Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2001.
Edwards, Raymond. Tolkien. London, England: Robert Hale Limited, 2014.
Flieger, Verlyn. “But What Did He Really Mean?” Tolkien Studies 11 (2014): 149-66.
–––––. Green Suns and Faërie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2012.
–––––. Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien’s Mythology. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2005.
–––––. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1997.
–––––. Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2002.
Flieger, Verlyn and Carl F. Hostetter, eds. Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Garth, John. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012.
–––––. The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.
–––––. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jung, C.G. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark
Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
Knight, Gareth. The Magical World of the Inklings. Cheltenham, England: Skylight Press, 2010.
Lang, Andrew. The Red Fairy Book. Mineola, NY: Dover Children’s Classics, 1966.
Lee, Stuart D. ed. A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2014.
Lobdell, Jared, ed. A Tolkien Compass. Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 2003.
Lönnrot, Elias. Kalevala: Land of Heroes. Translated by W.F. Kirby. London, England: Everyman’s Library, 1966.
Milbank, Alison. Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real. New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2007.
Noel, Ruth S. The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974.
O’Neill, Timothy R. The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien and the Archetypes of Middle-Earth. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979.
Owens, Lance. “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.” In J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life. Salt Lake City, UT: Westminster College, 2009. http://gnosis.org/tolkien/lecture1/index.html.
–––––. “Tolkien, Jung, and the Imagination.” Interview with Miguel Conner. AeonBytes Gnostic Radio, April 2011. http://gnosis.org/audio/Tolkien-Interview-with-Owens.mp3.
Reilly, R.J. Romantic Religion: A Study of Barfield, Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1971.
Salu, Mary and Robert T. Farrell, eds. J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1979.
Scull, Christina and Wayne G. Hammond. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Vol. 1: Chronology. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.
–––––. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Vol. 2: Reader’s Guide. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.
Shippey, Tom. J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
–––––. The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Skogemann, Pia. Where the Shadows Lie: A Jungian Interpretation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publication, 2009.
Tolkien, Christopher. Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Edited by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014.
–––––. The Annotated Hobbit. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
–––––. Beowulf. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2014.
–––––. The Children of Húrin. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007.
–––––. The History of Middle-Earth. Vol. 1-12. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2010.
–––––. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
–––––. The Lord of the Rings. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
–––––. The Monsters and the Critics. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006.
–––––. On Fairy-Stories. Edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014.
–––––. The Silmarillion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
–––––. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1995.
–––––. Smith of Wootton Major. Edited by Verlyn Flieger. London, England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.
–––––. Tales from the Perilous Realm. London: England: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1997.
–––––. The Tolkien Reader. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966.
–––––. Unfinished Tales: Of Númenor and Middle-Earth. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.
Zaleski, Philip and Carol Zaleski. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.
Zimbardo, Rose A. and Neil D. Isaacs, eds. Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.
“But whoever looks from inside, knows that everything is new. The events that happen are always the same. But the creative depths of man are not always the same.”
– C.G. Jung, The Red Book
As I have already explored in the essay “The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images,” C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien simultaneously underwent profound experiences of the imaginal realm, transformative encounters with the deep psyche that became the prima materia for their lifeworks. While I have previously analyzed the synchronicity of the two Red Books through the parallel images, symbols, and stories brought forward by each of their authors, I have not delved too far into the significance of their synchronic timing. Jung’s and Tolkien’s deep imaginal experiences both began around 1913 and continued until the end of that decade, although the particular vein of creativity set in motion during that time lasted for each of them until the close of the 1920s.
The primary experiences of active imagination for Jung were from 1913 to 1917, but his Red Book period is considered to have lasted until 1930, when he left off inscribing and illustrating his imaginal encounters onto the pages of the Liber Novus. Nearly simultaneously, from 1912 to 1928, Tolkien was illustrating The Book of Ishness, his sketchbook that contained a series of visionary drawings and paintings. The early years of this project were the most abundant, but he continued intermittently to add fantastical images until the end of the 1920s. Meanwhile during the heart of those years, from 1916 to 1925, Tolkien was primarily dedicated to the composition of his mythology, the great cosmogonic cycles that narrate the creation of Arda and the First Age of the world.
Why is the synchronic timing of Jung’s and Tolkien’s imaginal experiences important? Is it simply another coincidence? Or does it intimate some deeper, more profound implication concerning the nature of human existence in the cosmos? One hermeneutic method of unpacking the significance of this timing is archetypal astrology, which reveals the underlying archetypal patterns of the times through the correlated positions of the planets. When two or more planets come into geometrical alignment, the correlated archetypal energies can be seen unfolding multivalently in human and worldly events for the duration of the alignment. When the slower-moving outer planets of Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto align with each other, whole epochs of history, lasting years to decades depending on the configuration, reflect the relevant archetypal qualities in myriad ways.
Archetypal astrology provides a lens that can shed new light on our understanding of Jung’s and Tolkien’s experiences during this time period. By looking at the world transits during the years of their imaginal encounters we will be able to see the larger archetypal gestalt in which these experiences were emerging, while touching on Jung’s and Tolkien’s natal charts will illuminate the archetypal patterning of their individual psyches and how this may have further shaped the character of their experiences. Furthermore, we will look at the unfolding personal transits Tolkien and Jung underwent during their Red Book periods, honing in on several significant dates throughout this time, to see how the same world transits interacted with their unique birth charts, indicating differing modes of creative expression for the same archetypal energies.
The planetary alignment that correlates most significantly with Jung’s and Tolkien’s awakening to the imaginal is the opposition of Uranus and Neptune that lasted from 1899 to 1918. The most potent time of both men’s visionary periods took place in the sunset years of this alignment, from 1913 to 1917. In the modern astrological tradition, the archetype of Neptune, as Richard Tarnas writes, “is considered to govern the transcendent dimensions of life, imaginative and spiritual vision, and the realm of the ideal.” Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.” Furthermore, “the Neptune principle has a special relation to the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious, to all nonordinary states of consciousness, to the realm of dreams and visions, images and reflections.” In contrast, the planet Uranus, as Tarnas articulates,
is empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; with births and new beginnings of all kinds; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality.
When the archetypal natures of these two planets, Uranus and Neptune, come into relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect their combined energies. Repeatedly throughout the world’s cultural history Uranus-Neptune alignments correlate with
widespread spiritual awakenings, the birth of new religious movements, cultural renaissances, the emergence of new philosophical perspectives, rebirths of idealism, sudden shifts in a culture’s cosmological and metaphysical vision, rapid collective changes in psychological understanding and interior sensibility . . . and epochal shifts in a culture’s artistic imagination.
The first couple of decades of the twentieth century, when the Uranus-Neptune opposition was in effect, was a period of tremendous cultural and artistic innovation and creativity. As Sonu Shamdasani, the editor of The Red Book, writes, “On all sides, individuals were searching for new forms with which to depict the actualities of inner experience, in a quest for spiritual and cultural renewal.” Jung’s and Tolkien’s unexpected awakenings to active imagination and fantasy, and their subsequent outpourings of creative genius, perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. In Jung’s words, “Our age is seeking a new spring of life. I found one and drank of it and the water tasted good.” His use here of liquid metaphors and symbols—spring, drank, water—are particularly characteristic of the Neptune archetype.
Uranus-Neptune alignments also correlate with “cosmic epiphany” and the “birth of new forms of artistic expression,” which can be seen in the unique artistic format of Jung’s Red Book, and the new languages and mythological composition of Tolkien’s cosmogonic cycles.
If it were possible to briefly summarize the essence of the material that emerged for Jung and Tolkien at this time—an impossible task—one might say that it is an expression of “the quintessential Uranus-Neptune theme of a radical transformation of the God-image and a revolutionary new understanding of the divine will acting in history.” Jung’s Red Book can be seen as a participation in the death and rebirth of God, a renewal of the sacred through an encounter with soul. Similarly, the myths Tolkien began to compose during this same period are a new expression of the creation of the world, a reemergence of God’s creativity in an imaginal realm. As Shamdasani writes, “Jung held that the significance of these fantasies was due to the fact that they stemmed from the mythopoeic imagination which was missing in the present rational age.” Tolkien also would have agreed with this statement as is evidenced in his poem Mythopoeia, of which the following is a fragment:
Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Although human beings have fallen, in Tolkien’s view, and become estranged from the divine imagination by the emergence of disenchanted rationality, we are still able to become alchemical vessels for that sacred creativity, to refract the light of the mythopoeic imagination into our own fantasies and imaginal encounters.
During the primary visionary years of Jung’s Red Book period, the previously discussed Uranus-Neptune world transit was crossing his natal Sun-Neptune square (see Figure 1). In an individual’s birth chart, the Sun is an expression of the personal identity, the autonomous self imbued with conscious awareness, the personality and ego identity, the will to be and to exist, as well as what the individual identifies him or herself to be. Jung’s Sun square Neptune can be seen multivalently expressed throughout his life, for example, in his personal exploration of the archetypal realm, his permeability of identity to the imaginal and spiritual, his later understanding of the Self as an archetype, and his lifelong effort to bring individual consciousness and the archetypal unconscious into fruitful relationship.
At the time Jung’s imaginal experiences began, the Uranus-Neptune opposition of the early twentieth century was crossing not only his natal Sun-Neptune, but the Ascendant-Descendent axis of his chart, the horizon of his birth moment, initiating both a dissolution and liberation of his identity (see Figure 2). The Uranus-Neptune transit was activating and awakening Jung to the eternal vastness of the archetypal realm, drawing forward encounters with imaginal figures who confronted his personal assumptions about the nature of spiritual reality and the psyche, leading to a descent and dissolution of his Solar egoic identity in an encounter with his soul.
The same Uranus-Neptune opposition was also shaping the archetypal atmosphere of Tolkien’s imaginal encounters, but the transit was crossing a different part of his chart, and thus manifesting in a realm other than his Solar identity. When Tolkien wrote the first words of his Middle-Earth mythology in September 1914 the Uranus-Neptune opposition was crossing his natal Venus, whose corresponding archetype relates to art, beauty, artistic creativity, and aesthetic expression (see Figure 3). Because at this time Uranus and Neptune were widening in their orb, now ten degrees apart, Uranus was tightly conjunct Tolkien’s Venus, while Neptune had yet to come into potently effective orb with his Venus. However, over the next several years, from 1916 to 1922, when Tolkien’s mythology was pouring forth from a seeming wellspring of imaginative creativity, Neptune was in tighter opposition to his natal Venus. That the Uranus-Neptune opposition crossed Tolkien’s Venus, rather than the Sun as it did for Jung, is reflected in his chosen form of expression for the emerging material: Tolkien channeled the stream of imaginal energy into the artistic form of mythopoeic narrative, rather than using the experiences as tools to explore his own psyche and personal identity as Jung did. Interestingly, after 1915 all of Tolkien’s works of art were illustrations for his stories, unlike the earliest visionary drawings in The Book of Ishness which have no explanation for their origins other than their titles. Other powerful forces were coming through for Tolkien in those early years of creativity which we will explore later in this essay, but it seems that only once Uranus and Neptune activated his natal Venus did he find his preferred artistic outlet for the imaginal visions he was receiving.
While the long Uranus-Neptune transit crossing Jung’s Sun and Tolkien’s Venus reflect the larger gestalt of the experiences they were each undergoing, a deeper look at their individual transits will reveal the nuanced differences in their experiences and their individual expressions of those encounters. While the larger arc of this project is to show the uncanny convergence of Jung’s and Tolkien’s explorations of the imaginal realm, the current analysis of their divergence will help to unveil the cosmic underpinnings of their unique creative expressions.
A repeated vision shared in different manifestations by Jung and Tolkien was that of a Flood, or the Great Wave as Tolkien called it. While we know that Tolkien’s Great Wave visions came to him throughout his life beginning in childhood, primarily as dreams, we do not have specific dates for their occurrence. However, Jung’s first Flood vision took place on October 17, 1913 while on a train journey. He saw an immense flood that engulfed all the lands of Europe, destroying civilization and carrying floating rubble and corpses in its wake. The waters then turned to blood. Two weeks later he had the vision again; eventually he would come to recognize it as a premonition of the coming First World War.
Besides the Uranus-Neptune opposition on Jung’s Sun previously discussed, another major world transit was beginning to come into orb at this time: Saturn conjunct Pluto. As Tarnas writes, Saturn-Pluto alignments coincide with
especially challenging historical periods marked by a pervasive quality of intense contraction: eras of international crisis and conflict, empowerment of reactionary forces and totalitarian impulses, organized violence and oppression, all sometimes marked by lasting traumatic effects.
Less than a year after Jung’s Flood vision, World War I broke out in Europe when the Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in almost exact alignment. Yet during the previous autumn of 1913, Jung had been granted a painful premonition of that war as the wide Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in opposition to his natal Mars, the archetype of the warrior, of battle, anger, and violence (see Figure 4). Jung’s vision contained the combined Mars-Saturn-Pluto themes in the images of mass destruction and violent death, and the bloody wave of battle engulfing the continent. Yet the experience was also a precognitive visionary awakening reflective of the Uranus-Neptune alignment previously explored.
The same Saturn-Pluto conjunction that corresponded with Jung’s Flood vision and World War I was also transiting Tolkien’s chart, but in his case it was opposing his natal Mercury. The archetype of Mercury relates to language, speech, thought, writing, the intellect, education, and all forms of communication. Tolkien’s greatest love, it might be argued, was for languages, for their phonetic sound and resonant meaning, their evolutions and transformations, and their histories and lineages. Tolkien was born with his natal Mercury in an exact square to Saturn, which can be seen in his appreciation for ancient languages and literature (he disliked nearly all literature written after Chaucer, instead dedicating himself to medieval epics like Beowulf and the Norse and Icelandic sagas such as the Elder Edda), his meticulous attention to the details of language and expression, his painstaking and repeated revisions of all his manuscripts striving for an unattainable level of perfection, and his habit of what he called “niggling” over the finesses of his invented languages (see Figure 5). As Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “Tolkien had a passion for perfection in written work of any kind, whether it be philology or stories. This grew from his emotional commitment to his work, which did not permit him to treat it in any manner other than the deeply serious.” All this eloquently expresses the Saturn archetype of seriousness, the old and the ancient, precision, strict standards, revision and correction, meticulous attention to details, all in relation to Mercury’s realm of language and writing.
Pluto slowly transited Tolkien’s natal Mercury-Saturn from 1909 to 1919, the years which encompassed his education at Oxford in Philology, his deeply painful separation from the love of his life Edith Bratt (who later became his wife), the visionary drawings in The Book of Ishness, the composition of his first Middle-Earth poem The Voyage of Earendel, his fighting in World War I including in the Battle of the Somme, the deaths of two of his closest friends, and the earliest compositions of The Silmarillion stories including the cosmogonic myth called the Ainulindalë. As Saturn conjoined Pluto in the sky leading up to World War I, the powerful transformational energies associated with Pluto that had already been working on Tolkien’s mind found a Saturnian form and structure in his invention of languages and the creation of myths to accompany them. If anything truly sets Tolkien apart in the realm of fiction authors it is that he developed multiple, fully-fledged imaginal languages with their own syntax and etymology, languages that feel ancient and powerful in tone and character, with grammatical structures that trace their linguistic evolution through time—all Mercury-Saturn-Pluto themes. During these years it was as though his linguistic capabilities had been opened to the evolutionary stream of language itself, and he was able to participate in the generation and rebirth of new linguistic structures.
Interestingly, coming out of the ten-year transit of Pluto across Tolkien’s Mercury, Pluto then began to oppose Tolkien’s natal Sun, a transit that lasted until the end of the 1920s as he continued to compose the cycles of the First Age of Middle-Earth. Thus, the nearly twenty-year transit of Pluto across his wide Sun-Mercury conjunction entirely encompassed the years Tolkien was writing the myths of The Silmarillion. This was the time period when Tolkien was having the powerful visionary experiences that became the prima materia of his later, more refined works: The Red Book of Westmarch, known better as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
To return to that pivotal moment in the late summer of 1914, when Saturn was conjunct Pluto and the destructive wave of the First World War had been unleashed across the continent of Europe, another potent transit was in the sky, also activating significant aspects of both Tolkien’s and Jung’s charts. At that time the planet Jupiter had come into the Uranus-Neptune alignment, making a conjunction with Uranus that lasted from December 1913 to January 1915. Archetypally, Jupiter is associated with “the principle of expansion and magnitude, providence and plenitude, liberality, elevation and ascendency, and with the tendency to experience growth and progress, success, honor, good fortune, abundance, aggrandizement, prodigality, excess and inflation.” In time periods when Jupiter was aligned with Uranus, as Tarnas writes, “An expansively and buoyantly energizing quality characterized such eras, one that often engendered a certain creative brilliance and the excitement of experiencing suddenly expanded horizons.” As we examined earlier, at this time Uranus was opposing Jung’s Sun, while it was conjoining Tolkien’s Venus. Thus, when Jupiter entered the configuration the expansive, elevating, liberating, breakthrough qualities associated with the Jupiter-Uranus combination could be seen in the profound shift that took place for each of these men during this fourteen-month period.
Under the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction transiting his Venus (see Figure 6), Tolkien encountered the names Earendel and Middle-Earth in the lines of an old Anglo-Saxon poem, both of which played profoundly prominent roles in his mythology. After this discovery, Tolkien composed on September 24, 1914 the poem The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star, now recognized as the first written work in the Middle-Earth legendarium. Truly it was a breakthrough moment, as Tolkien was finding expression for the images and languages that had been coming to him for the last few years. After this point he began to write more stories about Middle-Earth and the peoples that inhabited this land, the Eldar, the many races of Elvenfolk living in the imaginal realm.
Coinciding with this same Jupiter-Uranus alignment, Jung’s Red Book visions were taking a profound turn. A new figure had entered into his imaginal experiences, a wise guide and teacher, one who instructed Jung in a caring, loving, and spiritually illuminating way. This figure was Philemon, the ancient alchemical wisdom-keeper who became Jung’s mentor in the realm of Soul. In Shamdasani’s words, “To Jung, Philemon represented superior insight, and was like a guru to him.” On the day that Philemon was first recorded appearing, January 27, 1914, a remarkable configuration of planets was in the sky. Not only was Jupiter conjunct Uranus in opposition to Neptune as previously discussed, but the Sun, Moon, Mercury, and Venus were also conjoining the longer Jupiter-Uranus conjunction (see Figure 7). This rare and powerful configuration was all crossing Jung’s natal Sun. Not only did this event occur at the new moon, when the Moon conjoins the Sun in a coniunctio of yin and yang energies, but the emergence of Philemon brought into Jung’s psyche a Solar figure representative of his higher self, or Self, whose teachings brought tremendous new insight and awakening, communicated with love, compassion, and wisdom. The transits on this day could be seen as the birth chart of Philemon, which itself would be a fruitful topic to explore in depth.
Finally, to conclude this brief archetypal study, I would like to look at one major aspect that both Jung and Tolkien carried throughout their lives, that can be seen not only reflected in their Red Book periods, but in the entirety of their lifeworks. This is the conjunction of Neptune and Pluto, which occurs when the long cycles of the two outermost planetary bodies align, a meeting that takes place approximately every five hundred years and lasts for about 25-30 years each time. Neptune-Pluto alignments have occurred at the rise and fall of civilizational epochs, the most pivotal moments in history when the entire paradigm of a culture dies and is reborn from the ashes, whether it is the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages, the dawn of the Renaissance, or the turn of the 20th century. As Tarnas writes,
the major Neptune-Pluto cyclical alignments appear to have coincided with especially profound transformations of cultural vision and the collective experience of reality, which often took place deep below the surface of the collective consciousness. 
The most recent Neptune-Pluto conjunction took place from 1880 to 1905, and Jung was born on the cusp of the transit in 1875. Jung lived the first thirty years of his life in Neptune-Pluto’s culturally transformative gestalt, while Tolkien was born in 1892 with the conjunction within 1° orb (see Figures 1 and 5). While a full study could be given to the ways just this single alignment is apparent in both Jung’s and Tolkien’s entire oeuvre, I want to particularly attend to how two specific themes of this most recent Neptune-Pluto conjunction came through Jung and Tolkien: these manifestations are, as Tarnas describes them, “the dying of the gods that had ruled the Western spirit for two millennia and more” and the simultaneous “powerful upsurge of ‘the unconscious’ in many senses.” The profound and transformative encounters with the deep psyche and imaginal realm that both Jung and Tolkien experienced in their lifetimes are highly reflective of the Neptune-Pluto conjunction they each carry. They both had an encounter of overwhelming potency with the collective unconscious by passing through the underworld gateway of imagination. The powerful visions of the Flood that initiated Jung’s descent, and Great Wave dreams that haunted Tolkien, are also clear expressions of Neptune-Pluto: consciousness being violently “flooded” by the unconscious with overwhelming images of decimating waters that destroy and subsume all in their path. Furthermore, the death and rebirth of God in Jung’s Red Book, and the rebirth of Creation and the fall from grace in Tolkien’s cosmogony are but a taste of the ways Neptune-Pluto manifested in their life works. In a time of disenchanted rational modernity these two men seem to have been chosen as alchemical vessels for a deep, cosmic truth to be reborn. As Jung wrote in the pages of The Red Book, “To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” This is the karmic task both Jung and Tolkien carried in their own ways, to encounter the gods in the archetypal realm, and to express their living truths on the pages of imagination.
Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by Aniela Jaffé. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.
–––––. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
Owens, Lance. “Lecture I: The Discovery of Faërie.” In J.R.R. Tolkien: An Imaginative Life. Salt Lake City, UT: Westminster College, 2009. http://gnosis.org/tolkien/lecture1/index.html.
–––––. “Tolkien, Jung, and the Imagination.” Interview with Miguel Conner. AeonBytes Gnostic Radio, April 2011. http://gnosis.org/audio/Tolkien-Interview-with-Owens.mp3.
Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “Mythopoeia.” In Tree and Leaf, New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
–––––. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
–––––. The Lord of the Rings. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
–––––. “On Fairy-Stories.” In The Monsters and the Critics. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
–––––. The Silmarillion. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
 C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani, trans. Mark Kyburz, et al. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 239.
 Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 365.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 355.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 93.
 Ibid, 356.
 Sonu Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 194.
 Jung, The Red Book, 210.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 412.
 Ibid, 411.
 Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 208.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia,” in Tree and Leaf (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1988).
 Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989), 175.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 209.
 Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 142.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 294.
 Shamdasani, “Introduction,” in Jung, The Red Book, 201.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 417.
 Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 418.
 C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani, trans. Mark Kyburz, et al. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), 311.
This is a condensed version of my presentation on “The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images” given in the fall of 2014 at Esalen Institute. The longer presentation is available here, and the accompanying paper can be found here. For further exploration, the methods section of my dissertation is also available.
“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
With these words J.R.R. Tolkien introduces his readers to Faërie, the domain of fairy-story, a realm encountered through Imagination. But what, one might ask, are fairy-stories? Often fairy-stories have been construed as short tales written for children, of little weight or importance in the world of adult matters. In five separate essays, this simplistic perspective is argued against by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, and Stephen Clark, who each wrote their own defense of the genre of fairy-story. From differing yet complementary perspectives, these five authors address what fairy-story is and why it is important, exploring the relationship between fantasy and reality, Truth and Imagination, and the laws of consistency and morality that allow an true imaginal world to come into being.
Lewis opens his short essay “On Stories” by pointing out that little attention has been paid by critics to Story, or at least to the particular qualities of Story that make it alluring. The particulars, the details of the experience, that which creates the tangible atmosphere and aura, are what draw the reader into the narrative—not some abstract plot concept but rather the unique qualities of the story lure us to return again and again to certain tales. Indeed, Lewis writes,
We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness. The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words.
Although Lewis here refers to children’s appreciation of fairy-story, he and Tolkien—and I would argue the other three authors discussed here as well—agree that fairy-stories are by no means exclusively intended for children. Tolkien writes,
At least it will be plain that in my opinion fairy-stories should not be specially associated with children. They are associated with them: naturally, because children are human and fairy-stories are a natural human taste.
Tolkien goes on to say, “If fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults.” The stories that affect us most as children are usually those we read again and again long into adulthood. Such stories shape who we are as individuals, allowing us as readers to fully inhabit the emotions, experiences, challenges, and breakthroughs of a multitude of people. Through story, and the inherent awakening of Imagination, we can bring more of ourselves forth into the world and develop more fully.
To create a fairy-story worth reading, a successful fantasy, the creator must imbue it with what Tolkien calls an “inner consistency of reality,” a quality that is bestowed only by the power of Imagination. The successful storyteller “makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside.” MacDonald, as written in his essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” shares with Tolkien this perspective on internal consistency: “To be able to live a moment in an imagined world, we must see the laws of its existence obeyed.” Without such laws an imaginal world could not hold, it would fall apart into meaningless disconnection. For Tolkien and MacDonald, these internal laws, the ‘inner consistency of reality,’ are given by the power of Imagination. Imagination allows one to access to Truth, and Truth is what provides an imaginal world with its own reality.
Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow; beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garment to fit her, and Fancy his journeyman that puts the pieces of them together, or at most embroiders their button-holes.
Both MacDonald and Tolkien reference the theory of Imagination articulated by S.T. Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria, which delineates the difference between the creative powers of the Primary and Secondary Imagination from the function of Fancy. The role of Fancy is to reassemble aggregates of remembered experience. Imagination, on the other hand, gives birth to new life: the Primary Imagination births the Primary World of creation, the Secondary Imagination births Secondary Worlds of human Art and creativity. The Primary and Secondary Imagination differ only in degree, and the Secondary Imagination is simply the Primary Imagination creating through the vessel of the human being. For this reason Tolkien refers to one who creates a Secondary World as a “sub-creator” because she or he is creating under the Primary Creator. Tolkien writes, “Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” Human creativity is the gift of Divine creativity.
Within the heart of Faërie, as understood by these authors, is also a consistent moral law that is more pronounced than the moral law of the Primary World. Chesterton writes in his essay “Fairy Tales”: “I think poets have made a mistake: because the world of the fairy-tales is a brighter and more varied world than ours, they have fancied it less moral; really it is brighter and more varied because it is more moral.” Indeed, the clear morality present in fairy-stories is a sign of their enchantment; when such connection is severed the world becomes disenchanted. Perhaps this is why, in a time when the dominant world view is largely disenchanted, fairy-stories are so alluring—even when the critics say that as adults we must put them aside. Fairy-stories allow access to Truth in a way that everyday lived experience may not. Tolkien points towards this when he writes, “The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world; but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’” Shining through the fantastical narrative is that glimpse of Truth, which can be perceived more clearly through the fresh lens of fairy-story, rather than the clouded window of our ordinary, everyday perception.
The Truth glimpsed in fairy-story is the Truth that broadens one’s perspective beyond the confines of a disenchanted, materialistic world view. Clark, in his essay “How To Believe In Fairies,” writes,
It is to take folk-stories seriously as accounts of the “dreamworld,” the realm of the conscious experience of which our “waking world” is only a province, to acknowledge and make real to ourselves the presence of spirits that enter our consciousness as moods of love or alienation, wild joy or anger. In W.B. Yeats’s philosophy fairies are the moods and characters of human life, conceived not as alterations in a material being, but as the spiritual rulers of an idealistically conceived world.
Clark articulates the idea that to believe in fairies, or mermaids or dragons, or other inhabitants of Faërie, is not to reduce them to some facet of the known material world—such as insects, manatees, or other mistakenly glimpsed animals—but to accept as an essential part of these beings the very mystery of what they are. Tolkien writes that Elves, and other creatures of Faërie, are “true” “even if they are only creations of Man’s mind, ‘true’ only as reflecting in a particular way one of Man’s visions of Truth.” The beings of Faërie are born of Truth and mystery, and if we do not reduce them to mistaken perceptions of the physical world, or mere flights of Fancy, Truth and mystery comingle and give birth to something real.
For Tolkien fairy-stories provide a “recovery” of the Primary World, “a regaining of a clear view.” Fantasy gives us the opportunity “to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness and familiarity.” Returning from the pages of fantasy to one’s life, our mundane habits give way to the patterning of story. Imagination breathes new life into the simplest actions—once again we can recognize the miracle in good food, the laughter of a friend, the colors of the setting Sun. In Lewis’s words, “. . . the whole story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life.” Yet Lewis seems to diverge from Tolkien when he says: “This excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual.” I do not feel Tolkien draws such a distinct line between the ‘preposterous’ and the ‘actual.’ Fantasy and reality for Tolkien cannot ultimately be separated.
On this matter, Clark seems to be in greater agreement with Lewis than Tolkien. Lewis writes “that is one of the functions, of art: to present what the narrow desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude.” I would argue that real life does not exclude the fantastical with which art reacquaints us; rather habit and routine allow us to forget the fantastical inherently present in real life. Clark argues that the ‘desperately practical perspectives of real life,’ as Lewis describes them, are what allow us to fully appreciate and understand the world of Faërie:
Only those who have lived out of water know what water is. Only those whose ordinary human life is structured by ceremonial and human meaning, who know of their duties and their perils, their friends and children, can clearly conceive that form of life which is fairy.
I would say that the experience of disenchantment, of seeing the world from a desperately practical perspective, is simply a forgetting of the enchantment inherent in our lived reality, the magic of the waking world. Such forgetting is its own form of enchantment. We are compelled, as Lewis felt, to return again and again to the great stories that affected our lives so deeply because some part of us knows we want to remember. We forget so that we may remember. “The primal desire at the heart of Faërie,” Tolkien writes, is “the realisation, independent of the conceiving mind, of imagined wonder.” We forget so that again and again we may return, through story and Imagination, to experience wonder once more.
Chesterton, G.K. “Fairy Tales.” In G.K. Chesterton. New York, NY: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014.
Clark, Stephen R.L. “How To Believe In Fairies,” Inquiry, 30:4: 337-355.
MacDonald, George. “The Fantastic Imagination.” In A Dish of Orts, 232-237. Hazleton, PA: The Electronic Classics Series, 2012.
Lewis, C.S. “On Stories.” In Of Other Worlds, 3-21. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Inc, 1994.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy-Stories.” In The Monsters and the Critics. Edited by
Christopher Tolkien. London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories” in The Monsters and the Critics, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 109.
 C.S. Lewis, “On Stories,” in Of Other Worlds (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Inc, 1994).
 Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 135-6.
 Ibid, 137.
 Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 138.
 Ibid, 132.
 George MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination,” in A Dish of Orts (Hazleton, PA: The Electronic Classics Series, 2012), 233.
 MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination,” 233.
 Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 145.
 G.K. Chesterton, “Fairy Tales,” in G.K. Chesterton (New York, NY: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014).
 Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 155.
 Stephen R.L. Clark, “How To Believe In Fairies,” Inquiry, 30:4: 337.
 Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 113, n. 2.
 Ibid, 146.
 Lewis, “On Stories.”
 Clark, “How To Believe In Fairies,” 349.
 Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 116.