I am not going to tell you a story of this world. And I am going to tell you a story of this world. It is for you to find out where the story came from. Or I will tell you. Or something in between.
For no apparent reason the One chose to become many. For no apparent reason. The key here is whether it was apparent, not whether it was without reason. How can one ascertain the appearances of the reason of the One? The One alone knows the reason for being, and from thence does faith in the One arise. A faith based on reason. But no apparent reason.
We are going to enter a world together. Likely it is a world with which you are deeply familiar. Or somewhat familiar if you have chosen me (or I have chosen myself) to be your guide into this world. But to enter the world together we must, on this day, begin outside it. Usually we awaken already within the circles of this world, if we have chosen to explore it. But today we shall suspend time—for who is more able to suspend time than that which (or whom) we wish to encounter on this journey? We shall suspend time and enter the imagination of a world before time, the world before the world, the world even before the waking into reality of imagination.
I wish to explore Creativity as Trickster. If, as Lewis Hyde claims, Trickster Makes This World, who makes Trickster? The ambiguity, the shape-shifting, the amorality, the potential and paradox: these qualities of the Trickster are birthed from Creativity. Is the Trickster really Trickster? Or does Creativity take hold for some time, and make Trickster what Trickster is?
The world into which were are entering is one that happened to be penned by a single author, or so it is often said. You probably already know his name if you know me. Can you imagine that moment when a cosmogonic myth made itself apparent to a single human imagination? What must that have felt like? How many times has that happened in the history of our one species? How many beginnings have been retold of our world?
J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term “sub-creation” to describe the desire to create and experience Art, what he saw as the shaping and crafting of imaginal experience into artistic form. Yet Tolkien used the term “sub-creator” because he believed the desire to create arose within created beings because they in turn were first created by a divine Creator. “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.” Tolkien saw himself as a sub-creator, making Art—an enchanted, Secondary World—under the creative imagination of God. But the Secondary World Tolkien shaped, a world called Arda, is one that tells the stories of other sub-creators, other divinely created beings who wished to create in their own measure and derivative mode. A world within a world, sub-creators under sub-creators. The desire to create itself, what we might call the embodiment of Creativity, has a Trickster form. Yet no single figure in Tolkien’s world remains Trickster for long: rather the Trickster energy appears to move on, igniting creativity and even chaos, yet ultimately bringing more beauty into the world for its disruption.
I would like to turn to Tolkien’s cosmogonic myth, called the Ainulindalë, the Music of the Ainur. Again, can you imagine that moment when a cosmogonic myth made itself apparent to a single human imagination? The Ainulindalë began with Eru, the One, who first made the Ainur, spirits of divine thought. Eru, called also Ilúvatar in the world of Arda, inspired the Ainur to make music—and they did. Their singing, unbeknownst to them, shaped the world they would eventually build. The Ainur are the first sub-creators under Ilúvatar, shaping the divine imagining they received from Eru. The musical strands wove together and formed the first harmonies:
. . . a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.
But one among the Ainur wished not to be a sub-creator, one whose musical threads were woven into the melodies of all others seamlessly. He wished to be a creator in his own right. His name is Melkor, and at this moment he is the first embodiment of the Trickster in the Deeps of Time before the world of Arda is brought into being. “He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own . . . . Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar.” Melkor’s thoughts and desires began to give rise to a new music, a strand of melody that clashed with the harmonies already in motion. Some of the Ainur followed his lead and soon the music became “a sea of turbulent sound.” From amidst the “raging storm” Ilúvatar, with a smile, brought forth a new theme. Again Melkor’s discord ignited disruptive clashing and violent disharmony. And in response Ilúvatar drew forward a third theme. The two melodies played simultaneously, conflicting yet interwoven: “there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came.” Melkor’s music was loud, violent, drowning, and repetitive, “but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.” The rebellion of Melkor, the desire for individual creativity apart from the Creativity of the One, was ultimately woven into the very patterning of the third theme of music making it all the more beautiful. For it was the sorrow of the third theme, sorrow in response to the violence of the disharmony, that gave it its profound beauty.
Many Trickster themes are woven into this narrative, although the Trickster is not embodied by one being alone. The Trickster energy moved quickly from being to being, never settling but still creating the dynamism of the moment. In Melkor’s rebellion and Ilúvatar’s creative response, the Trickster moved between them, crossing the boundaries between Creator and sub-creator. The Music of the Ainur is the moment of Creation, when the world is first imagined into being. It cannot be done again, and there are no mistakes. Disharmony is part of the world’s story from the beginning, and the suffering it causes gives rise to greater beauty than if all were melodious. So it is that Trickster does indeed make this world, or rather shapes it, by being many agents of creativity in succession.
After the making of the Music, Ilúvatar showed another of the most powerful Ainur how the discordant Music of Melkor had reshaped his own Music, that which had made the waters:
Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heat and fires without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth!
To this, the Ainu of the Waters responded: “Truly, Water is become now fairer than my heart imagined, neither had my secret thought conceived the snowflake, nor in all my music was contained the falling of the rain.”
In his rebellion Melkor became identified with the Trickster. He had wandered through the Void looking for the Secret Fire, that which grants true Being to the creative impulse. To Melkor is seemed “that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness.” As Lewis Hyde writes, the Trickster “embodies and enacts that large portion of our experience where good and evil are hopelessly intertwined. He represents the paradoxical category of sacred amorality.” Melkor faced the darkness of the Void looking for the Imperishable Flame of Creativity, searching for consciousness in unconsciousness. As Tanya Wilkinson writes, “The archetypal Trickster faces both ways, toward consciousness and unconsciousness, embodying contradiction.” Melkor’s desire to create was the gift bestowed on him by the Creator, but it was a gift he sought to wrest to his own devices, and the violence of his attempt to rip away that gift and make it solely his own changed the course of all subsequent actions. Ilúvatar showed the Ainur a vision of their Music, that they might see how their melodies each unfolded into form. Ilúvatar then said: “And thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.” Perhaps here the One outwitted the Trickster, and became Trickster himself.
Melkor’s role in the beginning was ambiguous, as the role of the Trickster should be. He is the mightiest of the Ainur, “given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge,” and his desire to use those gifts walks the boundary of good and evil. The evils he caused served the ultimate good of Ilúvatar, sorrow and suffering making the poignant beauty of Creation. Only later, when Melkor’s fall was complete, when he became identified no longer as a sub-creator under the One but simply a being marring the sub-creations of the other powerful Ainur, did he lose his ambiguous position. No longer was he named Melkor, meaning “He who arises in Might,” but Morgoth, “the Black Enemy.” If the Trickster is to be found at the boundary, the place of ambiguity, then the moment Melkor chose not to remain in that ambiguity he ceased to be the Trickster. Creative Trickster energy moved on, and found its home in other sub-creators who walk the fine line between good and evil, following the ambiguous path of ingenuity and clever creativity.
Melkor has a foil among the Ainur, one who also desired to make his own independent creations: Aulë, who longed for beings to whom he could teach craft and wisdom. Like the other Ainur, Aulë had recognized that the third themes of the Music signified the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Eldar and Edain—Elves and Humans—who would people the world. Yet Aulë was impatient for their coming, and instead crafted a new race of beings, the Naugrim, called also the Dwarves. In this moment Ilúvatar came to him, and we are able to see here most clearly the divine relationship between Creator and sub-creator. Ilúvatar spoke to Aulë saying: “For thou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle. Is that thy desire?” Aulë replied with an explanation of his seeming rebellion, so like Melkor’s rebellion in many ways: it came not from a desire for power and lordship in his own right but from a desire for “things other than I am, to love and to teach them.” But it was the inherent desire to create, to be a sub-creator, that Aulë gave most convincing voice to: “Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father.” This supplication of the sub-creator is not that of the Trickster, but its effect on the One is such that the Naugrim awaken with their own individual life and wills, independent of their maker. Something new is introduced that would have not existed otherwise, without the seeming rebellion of the sub-creator, or the unexpected move of the Creator to give them life.
A sub-creator shapes a world within a world, Art from the raw material of Imagination. A world within a world naturally has its boundaries, but while within the world it can be difficult to see where the boundaries lie, if it is possible to see them at all. Only when a new world is created do we see that boundary drawn, the moment sub-creator and Creator work together to breathe life into new form. The Trickster waits at the boundaries, the crossroads, the borders, leaping between those who dare to draw a line against what has come before to make something new and different.
In this world we have entered the Trickster seems particularly evasive, changing names and changing shapes, crossing from good to evil and back before there was good and evil to cross between. If he who seems to be a Trickster falls from grace, the Trickster energy moves on, finds somewhere else to be. The Trickster seems to be Creativity itself, the Imperishable Flame that gives life, that is within Ilúvatar and yet is not Ilúvatar. And what is the Imperishable Flame, the Secret Fire?
Why was there a great Music to begin with? Why were the Ainur brought into being? For no apparent reason . . . Is that not the sign of the Trickster?
Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “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.
Wilkinson, Tanya. Persephone Returns: Victims, Heroes and the Journey from the Underworld. Berkeley, CA: PageMill Press, 1996.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories” in The Monsters and the Critics, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London, England: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 145.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 15.
“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).
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.” – C.G. Jung
“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.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
This essay was the seed of what is currently being developed into my Ph.D. dissertation, which will be available in spring 2017. Many of the ideas have been expanded and revised as I have brought in new perspectives and further research.
When you close your eyes and images arise spontaneously, what is it that you are seeing? The inside of your mind? Your imagination? The interior of your soul? Are you seeing something others can see also? Is it real? Is it inside just you, or inside everyone? Is it only internal, or could it be external as well? Might you actually be seeing a place, a realm, into which not only you but others also can enter? Does this realm have a name? These are questions I have often asked myself, when I close my eyes and am beckoned down some new road I have never encountered in this green world beneath the Sun, or when I read a story flowing from the pen of some author and find that I somehow already know the tale, am familiar with the names, have seen the images of these places before. Reading stories is an anamnesis, a discovery of the new found by treading down the paths of the old. Creativity, creation from the imagination, is that rediscovery, that recollection and remembrance. As C.G. Jung writes, “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.” But how do we begin to undertake that task? And what does it look like when we do?
The Red Book. Carl Gustav Jung undertook the task of giving birth to the ancient in his time by following the meandering pathways of his imagination into the darkest depths of his psyche; the images with which he returned he inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, on large pages bound by two covers of red leather.
The Red Book of Westmarch. J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write a mythology—“a body of more or less connected legend,” cosmogonic myths and romantic tales whose “cycles should be linked to a majestic whole”—which came to the world in the form of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. But within the world of the story itself these tales are written out in a book that has been passed on from generation to generation: inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, in a large book bound by two covers of red leather. The book is referred to—by Tolkien who presents himself simply as the translator of this work—as The Red Book of Westmarch.
At first glance the parallel names of Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books just seem to be an odd coincidence. They could not actually have anything to do with one another, or share anything in common in content. On the one hand, Jung was one of the founders of depth psychology, an explorer of the unconscious, of the archetypal realm, of the phenomenon of synchronicity, a man of Switzerland born in 1875. On the other hand, Tolkien was firmly English, a philologist, famous author of The Lord of the Rings, one of the founders of the genre of fantasy literature, a younger man born in 1892. At first glance there seems to be little common ground between the two men, let alone between their work. There have, of course, been Jungian analyses of Tolkien’s work—focusing on both the content of his fiction, and on aspects of his biography. But, as of yet, there have been few, if any, extensive “Tolkienian analyses,”  to use Lance Owens’ phrase, of Jung and his work, particularly his work with active imagination and its product: the Liber Novus, also named The Red Book.
As I began to explore Jung’s Red Book in the context of Tolkien’s writings I started to find certain similarities between their work beyond the titles and color of the leather binding. There seemed to be a certain resonance between the two bodies of work, a convergence of images—a synchronicity, in Jung’s terminology—a synchronicity of imagination. The following essay is not so much the laying out of one particular thesis, but rather an exploration of this synchronicity of images, a journey through art, language, and story. Because of the nature of this exploration I will also quote at greater length than I usually might, because the original words of each of these men carries great power in themselves.
The first parallel that stood out to me was the timing of when Jung began his “Red Book period”—the time of his psychological descent when the fantasy images began to come to him in waking life—and when Tolkien began making an unusual series of drawings in a sketchbook he entitled The Book of Ishness. In 1913 both men, Jung an established psychoanalyst, Tolkien a young man early in his undergraduate studies at Oxford, took an unusual turn in their lives, turning away from the outer images of the world of common day and focusing instead upon the inner images of the imagination. Jung’s Red Book period is considered to have spanned the years 1913-1930, but the primary content of his visions came to him from late 1913 through around 1917, the first vision taking place on December 12, 1913. The majority of the sketches in Tolkien’s Book of Ishness were done over a shorter period of time: from December 1911 through the summer of 1913 he made his “Earliest Ishnesses,” but he continued to add to The Book of Ishness up until 1928. Alongside the visionary drawings another form of creativity was emerging through Tolkien as well: the arts of language. Tolkien was trying his hand at writing poetry and prose not only in English, but in languages of his own invention as well. The first mythic stories that were to become part of The Silmarillion Tolkien wrote down in September 1914. Although the primary creative period for both Jung and Tolkien was during these potent years of the 1910s, they each spent the next forty years of their lives developing the material they encountered during that time. As Jung wrote of that period:
The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.
One means of understanding the simultaneity of Jung’s and Tolkien’s periods of creative imagination is archetypal astrology, which interprets archetypally the relational positions of the planets in the sky at the time Tolkien and Jung were having these unusual experiences. Yet, although astrology sheds a strong light upon the timing of the outpouring of this imaginal material, that is not the primary direction this particular essay will be taking. However, I would briefly like to point out a few significant planetary alignments before moving deeper into exploring the art and writings of Jung and Tolkien.
From 1899-1918 there was an opposition between the slow-moving outer planets Uranus and Neptune. 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.” He goes on to say that Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.” Finally, “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 also writes,
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 geometrical relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect the combined energies of these archetypes. 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 visionary periods of both Jung and Tolkien perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. The most potent time of both men’s imaginal experiences took place in the sunset years of the early 20th century opposition alignment, from 1913-1917. Furthermore, they were not the only of their contemporaries to be having fantasy visions and translating them into paint and the written word.
The following two axial, or quadrature, alignments of Uranus and Neptune since the turn of the 20th century have also correlated to significant periods in terms of the work of both Tolkien and Jung. During the square alignment of the 1950s Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955. Under the same alignment, in 1957, Jung began working with Aniela Jaffé on compiling his autobiographical memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Finally, under the most recent alignment of Uranus and Neptune, the conjunction that lasted from 1985-2001, the film renditions of The Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson, were produced in New Zealand, with the first installation released in December 2001. Also at the end of that same Uranus-Neptune alignment in the year 2000, the decision was made by the Society of Heirs of C.G. Jung to at last publish the long-awaited seminal work of Jung’s career, his Liber Novus, The Red Book.
Intimations of the imaginal explorer Jung would become were present from his childhood, particularly in his relationship to his dreams, visions, and sense of having two personalities, one of whom he felt was connected to an earlier historical period. Jung referred to these two personalities simply as No. 1 and No. 2. No. 1 was the personality who corresponded with his age and current time in history, a schoolboy who struggled with algebra and was less than self-assured. No 2. Jung felt was an old man, who perhaps lived in the 18th century, but also had a mysterious connection to the Middle Ages. Yet No. 2 was also not tied to history or even time, for he lived in “God’s world,” a boundless, eternal realm. Jung described this realm as follows:
Besides [personality No. 1’s] world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself. . . . Here nothing separated man from God; indeed, it was as though the human mind looked down upon Creation simultaneously with God.
In another description, Jung writes how he felt when experiencing life as personality No. 2, saying,
It was as though a breath of the great world of stars and endless space had touched me, or as if a spirit had invisibly entered the room—the spirit of one who had long been dead and yet was perpetually present in timelessness until far into the future. Denouements of this sort were wreathed with the halo of the numen.
The vision Jung paints in these descriptions brings to mind a quote from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” in which he describes a similar perspective, like a view from above, that one gains while in the realm of Faërie—Faërie being Tolkien’s term for the realm of imagination. He writes,
“The magic of Faërie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires. One of these desires is to survey the depths of space and time. Another is to hold communion with other living things.”
Tolkien too had the sense he somehow had been born into the wrong time. His interests lay primarily in the Middle Ages, and he was drawn to ancient languages such as Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and several other tongues no longer spoken in the contemporary world. Tolkien had an intuitive feel for these languages as if they were his own. He was most inspired by pre-Chaucerian literature, particularly favoring the heroic myths of the Finnish Kalevala, and the world of monsters and dragons presented in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Even his voice had an other-worldly or ancient tone to it. As his biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “He has a strange voice, deep but without resonance, entirely English but with some quality in it that I cannot define, as if he had come from another age or civilization.”
Both Jung and Tolkien painted and drew as children, but their art, leading into adulthood, was always representational in nature, usually of the surrounding landscapes. However, there was an abrupt change in the style of each of their artwork from the early 1910s onward, moving from depictions of topography to abstract, semi-figurative, and symbolic art. 
One of the earliest visions that came to both Jung and Tolkien was of major significance to each of them: an overpowering Flood, or as Tolkien sometimes called it, the Great Wave. The first of Jung’s Flood visions came to him while awake, on October 17, 1913:
In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. . . . I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.
Two weeks later Jung had the vision again, this time accompanied by a voice saying, “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.”
An uncannily similar vision came also to Tolkien, both while awake and while sleeping, beginning when he was about seven years old and continuing throughout much of his adult life. He called the vision his “Atlantis-haunting”:
This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I wake gasping out of deep water.
When World War I broke out in August 1914 Jung recognized that his vision of the destructive Flood was prophetic of the war; his interior images were reflective of the external political and cultural situation occurring in Europe. The outbreak of the war indicated to Jung that he was not, as he had been afraid, going mad, but was rather a mirror of the madness unfolding in the external world. Tolkien, being an Englishman and of a younger generation than Jung, fought in that very war that Jung’s vision had prophesied. Needless to say, the war had a tremendous effect upon Tolkien, particularly the Battle of the Somme in which two of his most beloved friends were killed. Later in his life, as Tolkien was creating The Lord of the Rings, world events began to reflect what he had already written in his narrative. As his close friend, and fellow Oxford don, C.S. Lewis wrote, “These things were not devised to reflect any particular situation in the real world. It was the other way round; real events began, horribly, to conform to the pattern he had freely invented.”
The next vision that came to Jung, and the first that he wrote out in calligraphic hand in his Red Book, marked the beginning of his “confrontation with the unconscious.” To get a fuller sense of the experiential nature of this vision, I will quote at length from Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
It was during Advent of the year 1913—December 12, to be exact—that I resolved upon the decisive step. I was sitting at my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off the feeling of panic. But then, abruptly, at not too great a depth, I landed on my feet in a soft, sticky mass. I felt great relief, although I was apparently in complete darkness. After a while my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, which was rather like a deep twilight. Before me was the entrance to a dark cave, in which stood a dwarf with a leathery skin, as if he were mummified. I squeezed past him through the narrow entrance and waded knee deep through icy water to the other end of the cave where, on a projecting rock, I saw a glowing red crystal. I grasped the stone, lifted it, and discovered a hollow underneath. At first I could make out nothing, but then I saw that there was running water. In it a corpse floated by, a youth with blond hair and a wound in the head. He was followed by a gigantic black scarab and then by a red, newborn sun, rising up out of the depths of the water. Dazzled by the light, I wanted to replace the stone upon the opening, but then a fluid welled out. It was blood. A thick jet of it leaped up, and I felt nauseated. It seemed to me that the blood continued to spurt for an unendurably long time. At last it ceased, and the vision came to an end.
In this inaugural vision of The Red Book are contained many symbolic images. But for this particular study, what stands out to me are the numerous parallels to images in Tolkien’s own works of the many underworld, underground journeys that take place in Middle-Earth: the dark journey through the lost Dwarf realm of Moria in which Gandalf is lost in a battle with Shadow and Flame; Frodo and Sam’s fearful passage through the monstrous spider Shelob’s midnight tunnel on the borders of Mordor, which has resemblance to the giant scarab Jung describes; Aragorn and the Grey Company’s journey through the Paths of the Dead, in which they encounter a dead host of restless shades, another parallel to Jung’s encounter with the Dead deeper into The Red Book; Bilbo’s encounter with the dragon Smaug in the dark halls of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain; and Bilbo’s fateful encounter with the twisted creature Gollum, whose lair was deep within a mountain cavern, upon a little island rock set within the icy waters of a subterranean lake. Upon that rock, like the red crystal of Jung’s vision, lay long-hid the One Ring, the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. In both stories the heart of the narrative begins here, upon this island rock, where a lost treasure of unknown power is hid, awaiting for a new hand to grasp it.
At about the same time Jung was experiencing these early fantasies, Tolkien started to draw the visionary illustrations in his Book of Ishness. Two particularly stand out in correlation to Jung’s own vision, as they seem to symbolize a similar entrance into an underworld imaginal realm. The first is titled simply Before, and depicts a dark corridor lit with flaming torches, leading to a gaping doorway from which a red glow issues ominously (see Figure 1).
Lance Owens describes Before as “primitive, quick, a statement of the deep dream world.” Verlyn Flieger also comments on the sketch, saying that “The title Before conveys the dual notions of ‘standing in front of’ and ‘awaiting,’ or ‘anticipating.’ The sketch is remarkable for its mood, which conveys both foreboding (the dark corridor) and hope (the lighted doorway).”
The second sketch seems to be intended to follow directly after Before: it depicts a solitary figure walking out of a doorway of the same shape as in the previous drawing, and heading down a long hall lit with many torches. The drawing is titled Afterwards (see Figure 2). The coloring is in great contrast to the stark red and black of Before; Afterwards is sketched in yellows and blues, although it too conveys a sense of darkness and gloom, yet less foreboding than the previous drawing.
The Book of Ishness contained a series of Tolkien’s drawings, all of them symbolic or abstract in nature. As previously mentioned, Tolkien underwent a shift in the subjects he chose to illustrate. As Owens explains it, Tolkien felt “a need to draw not what he saw on the outside, but what he saw on the inside.” Interestingly, in 1911 not long before he began to draw his “Earliest Ishnesses,” Tolkien visited Switzerland, Jung’s homeland, for the only time in his life. He went on a walking tour through the Alps, whose majestic peaks had a tremendous impact on him. How close geographically Jung and Tolkien might have been to each other at that time, one can only guess. While in Switzerland Tolkien came across a postcard on which was a painting by J. Madlener, titled Der Berggeist, “the mountain spirit” (see Figure 3). The painting depicts an old man in a cloak and wide-brimmed hat, seated beneath a tree in an alpine setting.
Many years later Tolkien made a note on this painting: “Origin of Gandalf.” Within The Book of Ishness Tolkien also composed a painting he entitled Eeriness, that seems to depict a wizard-like figure bearing a staff who is walking down a long road lined with dark trees (see Figure 4). Like all the illustrations in The Book of Ishness, there is no explanation of the content of the pictures beyond their titles—we can only guess what inner images of Tolkien’s they are reflecting.
Perhaps the most striking of all the Ishnesses is the one titled End of the World (see Figure 5). In this drawing a small figure is stepping off of a cliff extending over the sea. The Sun is shining brightly down onto the scene, and seemingly within the water itself shine white stars, and a crescent Moon bends across the horizon line. Although the image of a man stepping off a cliff, and its corresponding title, may seem to be somber, even depressing, they convey a dual meaning: this is not only the “end of the world” in reference to its demise, or to the death of the individual, but it is the “end of the world” in that the individual has reached its edge and wishes to continue on his journey. As Owens says of this image, “that fellow has stepped, and he is not falling, he is walking into a Sun, into a Moon, into Stars.” One might see End of the World as a symbol of the threshold Tolkien appears to have crossed at this time—the doorway to the imaginal, into what he called the realm of Faërie.
Much of Jung’s fantasy material came to him not only as images but in the form of runes and words that he would hear. No easy translation of his fantasies was available to him. As written in the Translators’ Note to The Red Book, “The task before him was to find a language rather than use one ready at hand.”
When Tolkien began to take up the creation of his own language systems, it was because he too was hearing words, languages with no correlate in the outside world. Owens compares Tolkien’s hearing of languages to Mozart’s experiences of hearing full melodies playing out in his mind. He wished to compose languages as others composed symphonies. Accompanying these languages were races of people, Elves he soon discovered, who came replete with names and histories of their own. The images of story seemed to arise from the music of the languages themselves. In a passage in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien illustrates an experience Frodo has in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell while listening to Elvish music, which I believe may be a description of Tolkien’s own experience with the story visions that would accompany the Elven languages:
At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.
The same year Jung’s Red Book visions began, Tolkien came across a pair of lines in an Anglo-Saxon poem titled Crist, written by the poet Cynewulf.
“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
above the middle-earth sent unto men”
Many years later Tolkien wrote of his finding both the names Earendel and Middle-Earth: “I felt a curious thrill . . . as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.” Tolkien felt as though he had come across something he somehow already knew, a stirring of remembrance, of anamnesis. In September 1914, just after World War I broke out and while Jung was gripped by the visions of his psychological descent, Tolkien wrote his first poem about this figure Earendel, who was to become a central character in his mythology, with the slightly altered name Eärendil.
“The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star”
Earendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim; From the door of Night as a ray of light Leapt over the twilight brim, And launching his bark like a silver spark From the golden-fading sand Down the sunlit breath of Day’s fiery death He sped from Westerland.
The poem is describing the journey of a lone wanderer across the night sky, a single light entering the realm of darkness before making his descent into the West, the direction in which, according to Tolkien, dwelt the Faërie realm.
The journey of the Evening Star seems to have entered Jung’s imagination also, although by another name. Upon the cornerstone of the tower he built at Bollingen, Jung had inscribed this line, among several others: “This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.”
When Tolkien showed “The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star” to his close friend G.B. Smith, he asked Tolkien what the poem was really about. Tolkien gave an unusual response: “I don’t know. I’ll try to find out” He always maintained that the stories he was writing were true in a sense, that he was not making them up but rather discovering them. As his biographer writes, “He did feel, or hope, that his stories were in some sense an embodiment of a profound truth.” Jung too, “maintained a ‘fidelity to the event,’ and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction.” What then was it that both men were encountering, that appeared to be an internal experience, and yet had such a profound air of reality?
The Liber Novus, Jung’s Red Book, “depicts the rebirth of God in the soul.” The Red Book is “Jung’s descent into Hell” and is “an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.” Tolkien’s own Red Book, in the form of his mythology and The Lord of the Rings, is also an attempt to shape an individual cosmology and cosmogony, a world containing the God he loved and worshipped. And Tolkien also depicted a descent into Hell—into Mordor, and into worse Hells: the dark realm of Thangorodrim, the darkness of lost and corrupted souls.
Both Jung and Tolkien were drawn to the style of medieval manuscripts, with their calligraphy and illuminated letters, and emulated the medieval aesthetic in their artwork. Jung spoke of the style of language in which he wrote The Red Book, saying: “First I formulated the things as I had observed them, usually in ‘high flown language,’ for that corresponds to the style of the archetypes. Archetypes speak the language of high rhetoric, even of bombast.” The language used in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and even in the latter chapters of The Lord of the Rings, has a similar tone, sounding mythic, almost Biblical in nature.
The term “fantasy” was of great significance for both Jung and Tolkien, and although the specific language in which they defined the term differs somewhat, there are certain significant overlaps. In A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, “Fantasy” is defined as the
Flow or aggregate of images and ideas in the unconscious Psyche, constituting its most characteristic activity. To be distinguished from thought or cognition. . . . “Active” fantasies, on the other hand, do require assistance from the ego for them to emerge into consciousness. When that occurs, we have a fusion of the conscious and unconscious areas of the psyche; an expression of the psychological unity of the person.
The Jungian dictionary finds a contradiction in the further definition of Fantasy, saying that Jung seemed to have “two disparate definitions of fantasy: (a) as different and separate from external reality, and (b) as linking inner and outer worlds.” Although these definitions seem contrary, perhaps when read in light of Tolkien’s definition of “Fantasy” they may not seem to be quite as at odds as first appears: “Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie.” Tolkien goes on to say, “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity.” He also adds, “Fantasy is a rational not an irrational activity.” According to this definition, Fantasy appears highly similar to Jung’s practice of active imagination, that links a person of the external world to the internal realm of Faërie, yet is also the very heart of that separate realm of the Imagination.
Diving further into the content of The Red Book itself, there are many significant parallels simply between the style of artwork composed by Jung and Tolkien. For one, they both painted multiple dragons, symbols of the archetypal monster to be confronted in the heart of the underworld (see Figures 6, 7, 8 and 9). Another archetypal symbol both
men painted multiple times was of a great tree, that could be seen as the World Tree or the Tree of Tales. Tolkien “regularly” drew what he called the Tree of Amalion, which particularly resembled a single tree painted in Jung’s Red Book with large ornaments situated upon each branch (See Figures 10 and 11). Jung wrote in his memoir, “Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason the woods were the place where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.” Trees were beloved, even sacred, to Tolkien: “he liked most of all to be with trees. He would like to climb them, lean against them, even talk to them.” The entrance to the realm of Faërie, for Tolkien, lay not underground, as was depicted in many traditional fairy-stories, but through the woods; in the world of trees lay the transition between realities. While for Jung the archetype of the World Tree played a significant role, Tolkien’s mythology had at its heart not one World Tree but two, the Two Trees of Valinor, whose intermingling silver and gold lights illuminated the newly created world before the Sun and Moon were formed of their last fruit and flower.
One of the most prominent figures Jung encounters in The Red Book is Philemon, an old man who provides guidance and teaches magic. Many chapters could be dedicated solely to Philemon and the teachings from his wisdom, but in this study I will focus primarily on his resemblance to another old man who provides guidance and is an embodiment of magic: Gandalf the Grey, one of the Istari, a wizard, who within the course of The Lord of the Rings becomes Gandalf the White and guides the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth to victory against the Dark Lord Sauron. Gandalf not only plays a similar role as Philemon, but also his original name—his Maia name by which he was known in the Undying Lands in the West, before he was sent in human form to Middle-Earth—was Olorin. The name Olorin comes from the Elvish olor which means “dream” but, as Flieger writes, “that does not refer to (most) human ‘dreams,’ certainly not the dreams of sleep.” Furthermore, olor is derived from Quenya olo-s which means “vision, phantasy.”
The vision of the Great Wave stayed with both Jung and Tolkien and entered into their imaginal writings. Jung wrote out one particular fantasy of the Wave that came to him January 2, 1914 in the pages of The Red Book. Yet another synchronicity was that this recurring vision, which he seemed to share with Tolkien, occurred on the eve of Tolkien’s birthday, January 3. Yet because Jung always did his practice of active imagination late at night he very well may have beheld the Great Wave after midnight, on the date of Tolkien’s twenty-second birthday. As written in The Red Book, Jung’s fantasy unfolded as follows:
“Wave after wave approaches, and ever new droves dissolve into black air. Dark one, tell me, is this the end?”
The dark sea breaks heavily—a reddish glow spreads out in it—it is like blood—a sea of blood foams at my feet—the depths of the sea glow—how strange I feel—am I suspended by my feet? Is it the sea or is it the sky? Blood and fire mix themselves together in a ball—red light erupts from its smoky shroud—a new sun escapes from the bloody sea, and rolls gleamingly toward the uttermost depths—it disappears under my feet.
Tolkien also wrote of the Great Wave many times, in The Silmarillion, in his two unfinished tales The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers, and as Faramir’s dream in The Lord of the Rings. He said when he bestowed the dream upon Faramir he ceased to dream of it himself, although he found out years later his son Michael had inherited the dream in his turn. One of the most powerful narrations of the Great Wave takes place in the Second Age at the Downfall of Númenor, also called the Akallabêth: “Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm . . . the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds.”
And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of writhen snow bore them up amid the wreckage of the clouds, and after many days cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth. And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered, and ancient isles were drowned, and new isles were uplifted; and hills crumbled and rivers were turned into strange courses.
The name Númenor, given to the island kingdom that sank beneath the waves in divine retribution for a mortal transgression of hubris, has often been mistakenly written as “Numinor,” even by Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis. Tolkien felt such a mistake came from associating the name with the Latin numen, numina that is the root of the word “numinous,” a term of particular significance to Jung. Tolkien explains that the name Númenor is actually derived from the Eldarin base NDU, meaning “below, down, descend.” This base is the root of the Quenya word nume, meaning “going down, occident,” and númen “the direction or region of the sunset.” Not only does the mistaken name of the land that sank beneath the Great Wave refer to the numinous, but the actual name implies a descent, the very term used for the psychological process Jung was undergoing during his Red Book period.
The power of Fantasy comes directly into the visions of The Red Book when Jung encounters the God Izdubar, a giant somewhat resembling the Norse God Thor. In the course of their conversation Jung brings up an aspect of Western science, the disenchanted world view from which he comes. The encounter of a mythic being with the disenchanted perspective of the modern world mortally wounds the God, laming him so he cannot walk and sapping his life strength away. In an attempt to save him Jung realizes that if he can convince Izdubar he is a fantasy he may have some hope in saving him. Jung’s dialogue captures both the humor and profundity of the exchange, thus I will quote at length directly from The Red Book:
I: “My prince, Powerful One, listen: a thought came to me that might save us. I think that you are not at all real, but only a fantasy.”
Izdubar: “I am terrified by this thought. It is murderous. Do you even mean to declare me unreal—now that you have lamed me so pitifully?”
I: “Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough, and have spoken too much in the language of the Western lands. I do not mean to say that you are not real at all, of course, but only as real as a fantasy. If you could accept this, much would be gained.”
Iz: “What would be gained by this? You are a tormenting devil.”
I: “Pitiful one, I will not torment you. The hand of the doctor does not seek to torment even if it causes grief. Can you really not accept that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “Woe betide me! In what magic do you want to entangle me? Should it help me if I take myself for a fantasy?”
I: “I know that the name one bears means a lot. You also know that one often gives the sick new names to heal them, for with a new name, they come by a new essence. Your name is your essence.”
Iz: “You are right, our priests also say this.”
I: “So you are prepared to admit that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “If it helps—yes.”
. . .
“A way has been found. You have become light, lighter than a feather. Now I can carry you.” I put my arms round him and lift him up from the ground; he is lighter than air, and I struggle to keep my feet on the ground since my load lifts me up into the air.
Through this exchange Jung demonstrates the tremendous power that Fantasy has, if allowed to work its enchantment. He writes, “Thus my God found salvation. He was saved precisely by what one would actually consider fatal, namely by declaring him a figment of the imagination.”
Significant in itself, this scene of carrying one who ought to be heavy yet is somehow light also has a resemblance to one of the most moving moments in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam and Frodo are struggling up the treacherous slopes of Mount Doom.
“Now for it! Now for the last gasp!” said Sam as he struggled to his feet. He bent over Frodo, rousing him gently. Frodo groaned; but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell upon his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.
Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. “I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,” he muttered, “and I will!”
“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”
As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off.
Perhaps one of the most profound areas in which the fantasy visions, and respective world views, of Jung and Tolkien overlap is around the nature of evil. They both had a deep understanding of the nature of evil, and were able to articulate its presence in the world in a way that demonstrates the importance of confronting that evil and going into its depths on behalf of personal and collective transformation. Yet not only do Tolkien and Jung share a similar understanding of the workings of evil, they also share uncannily similar depictions of evil nature in both their art and writing. Within The Lord of the Rings, the clearest view we are given of the Dark Lord is his great Eye, “an image of malice and hatred made visible . . . the Eye of Sauron the Terrible [that] few could endure.” Frodo has two separate visions of the Eye, each more terrifying than the last. The first is while gazing into the Mirror of Galadriel in the woods of Lothlórien.
But suddenly the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness. In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.
Then the Eye began to rove, searching this way and that; and Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one.
The second exposure to the Eye of Sauron that Frodo endures is upon Amon Hen, the Hill of Seeing:
All hope left him. And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was.
These powerful depictions of the piercing gaze of evil also entered into Jung’s Red Book visions, in both image and word. Tolkien did many illustrations of the Eye of Sauron, showing a red iris with a hard black pupil. Within the illuminated letter on the first page of the Liber Secundus, the second section of Jung’s Red Book, is a nearly identical illustration: a red eye with a hollow black pupil in its center (see Figures 12 and 13). Yet Jung also writes further into The Red Book,
Nothing is more valuable to the evil one than his eye, since only through his eye can emptiness seize gleaming fullness. Because the emptiness lacks fullness, it craves fullness and its shining power. And it drinks it in by means of its eye, which is able to grasp the beauty and unsullied radiance of fullness. The emptiness is poor, and if it lacked its eye it would be hopeless. It sees the most beautiful and wants to devour it in order to spoil it.
The eye that symbolizes evil is an eye that looks only outward; it does not look inward, it does not self-reflect. The eye as symbol of evil cautions against the refusal to look deep into one’s innermost self, to face the Shadow within. If one only looks outward one becomes subsumed by that Shadow; it is all the world can see although the eye may be blind to it from within. Indeed, both Jung and Tolkien even used the term Shadow to refer to this darkness that must be faced and reflected upon.
“He who journeys to Hell also becomes Hell: therefore do not forget from whence you come . . . do not be heroes . . .” Jung writes in The Red Book. Indeed, the two Hobbits who journey into Hell, into Mordor, are not Heroes. They are but simple folk who do the task that is at hand, that has been set before them by the greater powers of the world. But Frodo succumbs to the Hell into which he enters; at the final moment when he is meant to throw the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom, within the heart of the volcano Orodruin, Mount Doom, he cannot do it. He takes the Ring for himself.
Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.
“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.
Frodo has, in that pivotal moment, become the evil he had set out to destroy. But it is only through that act, and through his ultimate sacrifice, that the quest can in the end be achieved. In the same section of The Red Book in which Jung writes of the eye of evil, he also writes, “the scene of the mystery play is the heart of the volcano.” The moment of transformation, the unexpected turn that Tolkien calls the eucatastrophe, takes place in the fiery heart of the volcanic underworld.
A form of art that Jung found to have particular significance in the psychological journey was the mandala, a circular and quadratic emblem that he came to recognize as a symbol of the Self. Without knowing what at first he was doing, Jung drew his first mandala on January 16, 1916 (see Figure 14). He came to understand that the mandala form represented “Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.” In Tolkien’s artwork I did not expect to also find drawings of mandalas, and yet it seems that towards the end of his life he would wile away the time drawing ornate patterns on the backs of envelopes and on newspapers as he solved the crossword. Many of these emblems, which he later designated as Elvish heraldic devices symbolizing individual characters within his mythology, were mandalic in form (see Figure 15), as were some others of his more complete drawings (see Figure 16). Yet another interesting quality of Tolkien’s art was that he often designed his pictures around a central axis. If one were to imagine moving from the sideways perspective portrayed in the drawing to a bird’s eye view from above, these illustrations of Tolkien’s quite likely would resemble a mandala (see Figures 17 and 18).
“If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the ‘master-piece.’” Jung wrote these words in reference to his own visionary experiences, as well as the experiences of the patients with whom he worked. We have already explored parallels in Jung’s and Tolkien’s encounters with the Shadow. But what of the encounter with Anima? The Anima for Jung is the female personification of the soul of a man, and the Animus is the male personification of the soul of a woman. Anima figures can take many forms, of course based upon the psychology of each individual. For Jung, one of the personifications of his Anima whom he encountered in the physical world at a young age was a girl he met briefly while walking in the Swiss mountains. As they began to descend the mountain side by side, he said “. . . a strange feeling of fatefulness crept over me. ‘She appeared at just this moment,’ I thought to myself, ‘and she walks along with me as naturally as if we belonged together.’” Reflecting later on the encounter, he wrote, “. . . seen from within, it was so weighty that it not only occupied my thoughts for days but has remained forever in my memory, like a shrine by the wayside.” This girl was one of several women who represented an Anima image for Jung, the female symbol of his soul.
The last story that Tolkien ever wrote in his life was called Smith of Wootton Major. It is a short story of a man who, as a child, is given a fay star, an emblem from the realm of Faërie, that grants him passageway into that enchanted world. On one of his journeys through Faërie this man encounters, in a high mountain meadow, a beautiful dancing maiden.
On the inner side the mountains went down in long slopes filled with the sound of bubbling waterfalls, and in great delight he hastened on. As he set foot upon the grass of the Vale he heard elven voices singing, and on a lawn beside a river bright with lilies he came upon many maidens dancing. The speed and the grace and the ever-changing modes of their movements enchanted him, and he stepped forward towards their ring. Then suddenly they stood still, and a young maiden with flowing hair and kilted skirt came out to meet him.
She laughed as she spoke to him, saying: “You are becoming bold, Starbrow, are you not? Have you no fear what the Queen might say, if she knew of this? Unless you have her leave.” He was abashed, for he became aware of his own thought and knew that she read it: that the star on his forehead was a passport to go wherever he wished; and now he knew that it was not. But she smiled as she spoke again: “Come! Now that you are here you shall dance with me”; and she took his hand and led him into the ring.
There they danced together, and for a while he knew what it was to have the swiftness and the power and the joy to accompany her. For a while. But soon as it seemed they halted again, and she stooped and took up a white flower from before her feet, and she set it in his hair. “Farewell now!” she said. “Maybe we shall meet again, by the Queen’s leave.”
Although clearly of a fictional nature, Smith’s encounter with the Elven-maiden has certain resemblances to the young girl with whom Jung walked in the Swiss mountains, and perhaps she had a similar significance to each of them too. Indeed, Jung even wrote in The Red Book that he sees “the anima as elf-like; i.e. only partially human.”During Smith’s final visit to Faërie his most profound meeting occurs:
On that visit he had received a summons and had made a far journey. Longer it seemed to him than any he had yet made. He was guided and guarded, but he had little memory of the ways that he had taken; for often he had been blindfolded by mist or by shadow, until at last he came to a high place under a night-sky of innumerable stars. There he was brought before the Queen herself. She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head burned a white flame. She made a sign for him to approach, and trembling he stepped forward. A high clear trumpet sounded, and behold! they were alone.
He stood before her, and he did not kneel in courtesy, for he was dismayed and felt that for one so lowly all gestures were in vain. At length he looked up and beheld her face and her eyes bent gravely upon him; and he was troubled and amazed, for in that moment he knew her again: the fair maid of the Green Vale, the dancer at whose feet the flowers sprang. She smiled seeing his memory, and drew towards him; and they spoke long together, for the most part without words, and he learned many things in her thought, some of which gave him joy, and others filled him with grief. . . .
Then he knelt, and she stooped and laid her hand on his head, and a great stillness came upon him; and he seemed to be both in the World and in Faery, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace. When after a while the stillness passed he raised his head and stood up. The dawn was in the sky and the stars were pale, and the Queen was gone. Far off he heard the echo of a trumpet in the mountains. The high field where he stood was silent and empty: he knew that his way now led back to bereavement.
The encounter with the Queen of Faery may be as significant as the encounter with the Anima, and perhaps that is who the Queen of Faery is. Smith of Wootton Major is considered to be something of an autobiographical tale, or as close as Tolkien would ever come to writing one. Perhaps he is writing of his own encounter with his Anima, or rather an encounter with the archetype of Anima as present in all myths, within the individual human soul and in the mythic dimensions of the cosmos.
Jung identified what he called the “transcendent function” as that which bridges the conscious and the unconscious. The transcendent function takes the form of a symbol that transcends time and conflict, that is common to both the conscious and the unconscious, and that offers the possibility of a new synthesis between them. In The Red Book Jung writes of the power of such a symbol:
The symbol is the word that goes out of the mouth, that one does not simply speak, but that rises out of the depths of the self as a word of power and great need and places itself unexpectedly on the tongue. . . . If one accepts the symbol, it is as if a door opens leading into a new room whose existence one previously did not know.
Symbols are present in myths and stories, and in the living visions of the creative imagination. Symbolic, archetypal story can open doorways between the conscious and the unconscious, between this world and the enchanted realm of Faërie. “Such stories,” Tolkien writes, “open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself maybe.” Perhaps Fantasy, or Imagination itself, are the transcendent function of which Jung speaks.
In reading Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books side by side and seeing the profound similarities in their experiences, and in the writing and artwork produced from those experiences, I came to feel that they may have been entering into the same realm. Whether we call it Faërie, or the collective unconscious, or the Imagination, both men seemed to be crossing a threshold and walking down parallel and even overlapping paths in the same kingdom. Jung writes, “The collective unconscious is common to all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called the ‘sympathy of all things’.” It is the fertile ground from which grows the Tree of Tales, it is the wellspring of the Imagination born anew in each creative person. Tolkien too had a sense that this place in which he witnessed his stories was the unconscious. In a letter to W.H. Auden, Tolkien writes,
I daresay something had been going on in the “unconscious” for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till “what really happened” came through.
I have come to believe that Imagination is a place, a realm, that is both inner and outer. The Imagination is not merely a human capacity, a function of the mind or the workings of the brain. It is a place that can be accessed through human capacity, through creativity, but Imagination extends far beyond human capacity as well. It is a world as infinite as the physical one in which we daily dwell.
Now that the particular leg of this journey is drawing to a close, we can ask how Jung and Tolkien can inform each other’s works. Jung advised that each person could make their own Red Book from the Fantasies that arise through the practice of active imagination. He said to return to your Red Book like you would to a sanctuary or cathedral, for your soul is within its pages. The Red Book that Tolkien created for himself he gave to the world in the form of The Lord of the Rings. It is a text that is treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. Why is that? Because The Lord of the Rings, like Jung’s Red Book, is an invitation to enter the realm of Imagination. It is an invitation to find our own stories and learn to tell them. Indeed, when Tolkien was first conceiving of his Middle-Earth legendarium, at the same time that Jung was writing down the visions of his Red Book, he saw it as a great mythological arc in which space would be left for others to take it further with their own art and stories. He once wrote, in his usual self-deprecating tone, “I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.”
Sonu Shamdasani, the historian of psychology who took on the great task of editing Liber Novus, captures succinctly and elegantly what Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books are inviting each one of us to do. He writes, “What was most essential was not interpreting or understanding the fantasies, but experiencing them.”
Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Flieger, Verlyn. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1997.
Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jung, C.G. “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.” In Collected Works. Vol. 9, i. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.
–––––. 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.
The road toward truth is circuitous and winding, and passes through many realms. It may be that this path will lead you not outward to the world of objective facts and figures but deep inward, to a realm residing in the soul. This realm has been given innumerable names: the mundus imaginalis, the world of the imagination, Faërie, or by one seer of this Secondary World: Middle-Earth. It is a place we all have been at some point in our lives, and it takes a myriad of forms. Yet some wanderers may choose to linger on the misty, sylvan paths under Faërie’s diamond stars longer than others, revealing enchanted truths and realities hidden to those who choose to remain almost exclusively in the world of common day.
A mythology wields great power and has a desire to be told: thus it became the task of one English philologist, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, to imagine the mythic world of Middle-Earth into being. During the decades when he crafted Middle-Earth Tolkien often felt as though the mythology was not being made by him, but rather coming through him. In part to explain this experience, Tolkien described his building of Middle-Earth as a Sub-creation, an intertwined outpouring of both invention and inspiration. These ideas, and the power of the imagination to create reality, relate closely to the philosophical explorations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his delineations of the Primary and Secondary Imaginations, their relationship to each other, and their ultimate source.
Tolkien composed a world with roots deeply grown into the rich soils of our own world; to achieve this, he employed the powers of language, cartography, history, and legend. Yet, as the willing reader steps through the page into Middle-Earth, the landscape and peoples one encounters seem to have a life of their own, as if a spark of vitality had been breathed by a Primary Creator into the realm Tolkien wove from the resources of his own genius. Whether humanity was indeed given life and form by an ultimate Creator or not, we have been endowed with the ability to create in our own right; sometimes these creations may be gifted their own life and become as real as we are, while still residing within a Secondary World accessible through the imagination that bridges to our Primary World. Why some of our creations are granted such life and others not is a mystery beyond my ability to fathom, but it could perhaps be that some are meant to have their own life and truth, an idea which Tolkien expresses in The Lord of the Rings through Gandalf, when he speaks to Frodo about Bilbo’s finding of the Ring of Power:
Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.
It too may be that Tolkien was meant to bring the mythology of Middle-Earth into being through his writing, and as such it was given the authenticity and truth that so many feel when they traverse its woods and mountains, and converse with its inhabitants as they walk along their roads.
As Henry Corbin points out, the current predominant usage of “the term ‘imaginary’ is equated with the unreal, with something that is outside the framework of being and existing.” Yet one may find quite the opposite: the imaginary, or the imaginal, exists in the innermost place of our souls, and thus is internal and intrinsic to the outer world we call reality. Tolkien is an avid explorer of this realm, which he sometimes calls Faërie, and seems to attest to its reality in an almost off-hand way in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” Tom Shippey sees this as a sign of Tolkien talking down to his readers: “Repeatedly he plays the trick of pretending that fairies are real––they tell ‘human stories’ instead of ‘fairy stories,’ they put on plays for men ‘according to abundant records,’ and so on.” While this could certainly be interpreted that way, it seems rather that Tolkien may actually be describing what he knows of Faërie, as a genuine traveler in the perilous realm. Tolkien valued viewing the world symbolically and mythically, perceiving reality as a whole through the organ of the imagination. As Peter Beagle writes, “I believe that Tolkien has wandered in Middle-Earth” and that he “believes in his world, and in all those who inhabit it.” For Tolkien, Beagle, and many others, Middle-Earth was not “created, for it was always there.”
Tolkien’s own experience of writing was that he was “recording what was already ‘there,’ somewhere: not of ‘inventing’.” He also expressed that “the thing seems to write itself once I get going, as if the truth comes out then, only imperfectly glimpsed in the preliminary sketch.” This has, of course, been the experience of countless artists over the centuries in moments of high inspiration. Norris Clarke writes of these creative experiences, saying, “It felt, they say, as though they were tuned in or connected to some higher power which somehow took over and flowed through them.” What this higher power may be, and how it relates to the imagination, can better be understood by contemplating Coleridge’s philosophical delineations of Primary Imagination, Secondary Imagination, and Fancy.
Other authors, such as Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, and R.J. Reilly, have observed the connection between the imagined world of Faërie, and Coleridge’s “esemplastic imagination.” Reilly describes such imagined realms as “Romantic” because they exist for their own sake, and as such have an inherent relationship or agreement with Coleridge’s Secondary Imagination. Faërie is a creation of the Secondary Imagination, which in turn is an echo of the Primary Imagination, what Coleridge holds “to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.” The Primary and Secondary Imaginations differ from each other only in degree and mode but not in kind, yet the Secondary is “co-existing with the conscious will” of the human being. While the Primary Imagination can be understood as operating in the mind of the divine Creator, and thus bringing the world as we know it into being, the Secondary Imagination is that same imaginative power operating through the human mind. Owen Barfield, a friend of Tolkien’s and a fellow member of their literary circle “the Inklings,” explored Coleridge’s thought deeply in this area. Barfield explains that the Primary Imagination is an act that we, as human beings, are not conscious of, and when we are conscious of it as our own creative agency it becomes the Secondary Imagination.
The Secondary Imagination “dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate” and “struggles to idealize and to unify.” As an extension of the Primary Imagination responsible for creating reality, the Secondary Imagination also has the ability to create reality, but of a different degree: imaginal reality. This is, for example, why Corbin chose the term mundus imaginalis to differentiate what is just “made up” from “the object of imaginative or imagining perception.” This concept indicates that the product of the Secondary Imagination has a reality of its own, because its ultimate source, like reality, is the Primary Imagination, only it is created through the agency of the human being. Tolkien uses the term “Sub-creation” to refer to the product of the Secondary Imagination, because the result is created under an ultimate Creator.
In addition to the Primary and Secondary Imaginations, Coleridge also writes of Fancy, which is “no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space.” Barfield notes that Coleridge seems to not have explicitly segregated Fancy from Imagination, for at times he appears to write of them differing entirely in kind, and at others in degree, comparable to the distinction between Primary and Secondary Imagination. The difference between the product of Fancy, compared to Imagination, could be seen as the difference between something that is just “made up” and a living imaginal world, a true mundus imaginalis.
Tolkien himself addresses the differences between Imagination and Fancy in his essay “On Fairy Stories” and although he does not refer directly to Coleridge, it is clear, as Shippey points out, that Coleridge is whom he is addressing. While Tolkien has comparable, if not identical, definitions of these terms, as a philologist he disagrees with Coleridge’s choice of names. Tolkien asserts that the image-making faculty is the Imagination, and any difference in kind marked by Coleridge between Fancy and Imagination, Tolkien feels solely belongs to a difference in degree. What gives the “inner consistency of reality” to Imagination, the same reality the product of Coleridge’s Imagination has, Tolkien calls Art. Art conjoins with Imagination to create the final result, Sub-creation. The word Tolkien chooses to fully encompass Imagination and the resulting Sub-creative Art, perhaps out of philological jest with Coleridge, is Fantasy, an older form of the diminished word Fancy. Tolkien acknowledged that “fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds,” is difficult to achieve: in order to be true Fantasy it must have an inner consistency of reality flowing through the sub-creator’s imagination and into the Secondary World.
A successful sub-creator brings into being a world which both the spectator and designer may enter, a world that has its own laws by which it operates. As long as every facet of the imaginal realm follows these laws, the inner reality of the world remains intact and the world is true. Because of this, for Tolkien, it is essential that all stories about such Secondary Worlds are presented as truth––not as a dream, or some other unreal whimsical creation. For Coleridge, the richness of art is dependent on the unity provided by the Secondary Imagination: it will be “rich in proportion to the variety of parts which it holds in unity.” The unity of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is held together because each landscape, creature, and name has a consistency that he has forged into the very structure of his world. Furthermore, when the imaginal world is consistent with itself it creates for the reader what Tolkien calls Secondary Belief, or Enchantment. Thus it is as enchanted humans that we walk the glades and forests of Middle-Earth.
What ultimately gives reality to Secondary Art is that it is consistent not only with itself, but also with what Tolkien and Shippey refer to as Primary Art. If the source of Secondary Art is the human imagination, the source of Primary Art is the divine Imagination, or what Coleridge calls the Primary Imagination. For Tolkien, Primary Art is synonymous with Creation, or Truth. For a sub-created Secondary World, or Fantasy, to be true it then must echo the Primary World, as Colin Duriez writes, capturing in its “imaginative accuracy […] some of the depths and splendor of the Primary World.” Fantasy is crafted out of the Primary World, just as the painter or sculptor’s materials are drawn from nature. But in the Fantasy realm we are able to see these primary ingredients in a new way, once again marveling at the wonders of our own world. Tolkien shows the overlap between our own world and Faërie when he writes,
Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted. (Emphasis added.)
Faërie could then be seen as the real cosmos but without the human, or rather, without the disenchanted human. After all, as Beagle remarks, the same forces that shape our own lives shape the lives of those in Middle-Earth: “history, chance and desire,” and so forth. When we lead our lives in response to these forces, whether or not we find ourselves in Faërie depends on our level of enchantment, or our Secondary Belief.
Tolkien’s initial desire behind his decades of imaginative effort was to create a mythology for England, which he felt lacked a myth comparable to the great Norse and Greek traditions. England did have the Arthurian legends, but these he felt did not suffice, in part because they contained Christianity, and in part because they were not rooted in the ancient languages of England. Tolkien’s objection to religion in myth is based on his sense that the contours of religious doctrine should only exist implicitly within Fantasy, sunk deep into the morality and actions of the characters. He writes of the Arthurian myth that
it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion. For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.
Like the religious element, language also plays a foundational role in the development of Middle-Earth, rooted deeply into the world’s symbolism and structures. To forge a world like Middle-Earth, and bring it to the level of a mythology, Tolkien drew simultaneously on invention and inspiration, which seem to be the two major ingredients of Sub-creation. Through invention he built up the world of Middle-Earth from the myths, legends, and languages of Europe. As Patrick Curry writes, Middle-Earth “was a co-creation, in partnership with some very old and durable cultural materials.” Yet it was inspiration that breathed life into the world Tolkien had constructed, giving it its unique characteristics and a vitality of its own.
In some ways invention can be seen as related to Coleridge’s notion of Fancy, and inspiration to the Imagination. Fancy is memory disconnected from time and space, and can only draw on what has been experienced. “Fancy is the aggregating power,” as Barfield writes, “it combines and aggregates given units of already conscious experience; whereas the secondary imagination ‘modifies’ the units themselves.” On the other hand, inspiration, like Imagination, almost seems to have a divine source that pours through the sub-creator and imbues the creation with life and individuality. An example of the difference between Fancy and Imagination, invention and inspiration, can be seen in the race of Ents in Middle-Earth. As invented by Fancy, an Ent is just a talking tree, a rearrangement of the idea “tree” by giving it the human property of “speech.” The word “Ent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word enta uncovered by Tolkien in his philological research. At this stage Ents are perhaps an interesting etymological find, something to peak one’s curiosity, but as of yet certainly not a living being. But through the power of imaginative inspiration, the invented concept of Ent suddenly comes alive as the bark-skinned Treebeard, also named Fangorn, the oldest living being to walk under the sun. It is truly an enchanted transformation. Ents are bestowed life and step forth as a race of creatures, tree-herders, shepherds of the forests, with a long tragic history of their own, speaking in a slow, rhythmic language of names compiled over the Ages of the World.
Fancy, without the influence of Imagination, also has ties to another form of artistic creation, one which Tolkien said he “cordially dislike[d] […] in all its manifestations”: allegory. By having a prescribed intention––whether a moral, lesson, or message––or by telling an old story in the same configuration but with new names, allegory undermines the freedom of the reader to experience a story as an entity in itself, a self-contained reality. Allegory, by its very nature, undermines truth. Corbin draws out the difference between allegory and genuine Image when he writes, “Allegory […] is a cover, or rather a travesty of something that is already known or at least knowable in some other way; whereas, the appearance of an Image that can be qualified as a symbol is a primordial phenomenon.” Great imaginative works cannot be reduced simply to a moral message or lesson, they have a life of their own, an inherent autonomy beyond the will of the author.
Despite his dislike of allegory, Tolkien did write at least one in his career, but it served the purpose of encouraging him to continue his work on The Lord of the Rings, and offered an image of his hope for the world of Middle-Earth. This was the little tale Leaf by Niggle. Niggle is a painter, who can be equated with Tolkien the writer, who spends his life working on a detailed painting of a tree.
It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the Tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow.
Shippey sees in the allegory that the Leaf is Tolkien’s first book The Hobbit, his Tree The Lord of the Rings, and the landscape behind as all the other stories that make up The Silmarillion and fill in the vastness of Middle-Earth. However, the most remarkable part of the story is when it seems to leave the realm of allegory altogether. Niggle goes on a great journey, which is synonymous with death, and after some time in a hospitalized form of purgatory, he is sent to an oddly familiar country which he suddenly recognizes:
Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. […] All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were many others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time.
By stepping into an enchanted realm, Niggle’s work becomes real, the invented becomes the imagined, and he can stand in the shade of his own Tree. The Tree, whether an allegory for The Lord of the Rings, or for fairy story in general, is aptly chosen: the philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes of the tree as a symbol of the imagination, an imagination with the gift to create worlds.
The imagination is a tree. It has the integrative virtues of a tree. It is root and boughs. It lives between earth and sky. It lives in the earth and in the wind. The imagined tree becomes imperceptibly the cosmological tree, the tree which epitomizes the universe, which makes a universe…
Trees not only have high branches but also long roots, and the roots of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth run deep, drawing nourishment from the soil of our own Primary World.
Like most cultural myths, Middle-Earth is rooted in language, but unlike the ancient cultures in which stories and languages evolved simultaneously, Middle-Earth is a philological re-creation, a laying of stonework far older than the hands that built it. Tolkien was as well-equipped as any builder to undertake the task: as a philologist who taught at Oxford and Leeds, he knew twenty languages to varying degrees, and during his lifetime invented another fourteen as well as a variety of scripts. He reconstructed words and names from almost forgotten linguistic origins, drawing on fragments of words from poems and texts that had once formed legends. Tolkien writes in one letter of his Middle-Earth myths:
These tales are “new,” they are not directly derived from other myths and legends, but they must inevitably contain a large measure of ancient wide-spread motives or elements. After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of “truth.”
For Tolkien reconstruction was the work of invention, but as he would have known, the root of the word “invention” comes from the Latin invenire, meaning “to find.” So for him invention certainly was not “making up,” but rather “discovering,” an experience he mentioned many times when reflecting on writing the mythology of Middle-Earth. He was not only discovering the different names and languages in the Primary World and reconfiguring them: he seemed also to be discovering Middle-Earth itself, a complete world existing already in the Primary Imagination, coming into form through Tolkien’s own Secondary Imagination.
In approaching The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien began with the map, which gave a solid foundation for the world before he and his characters embarked on their adventures. As in the Primary World, the names of places on the map were crafted out of descriptions of the places; these, in turn, were then worn down into names used in other languages, but no longer holding a meaning beyond the given places. Whether called Tookland, Nobottle, Wetwang, Dunharrow, Gladden, Silverlode, or Limlight each place has its history within and outside of Middle-Earth.
The name Middle-Earth itself, related to the Norse Midgard, actually came to Tolkien through an Old English poem called Crist by the Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf. Two lines particularly caught Tolkien’s eye:
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
Above Middle-earth sent unto men.
Not only was the name Middle-Earth present as middangeard, but the name Earendel stood out to Tolkien as well, a name which became Eärendil in The Silmarillion; Eärendil was the father of Elrond, bearer of the last Silmaril, the evening star most beloved by the Elves.
Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves are drawn from the legends and myths of immemorable age that pervade cultures across Europe. Tolkien drew on many aspects of the lore of Elves and Dwarves, presenting both the peril and beauty of the Elves, the longevity and gold-mongering of the Dwarves. His emphasis on spelling “Elves” and “Dwarves” in the ancient manner, as opposed to “elfs” and “dwarfs,” further deepened their roots in history. His invented languages were also based on the languages of Europe; the two Elvish tongues were his most developed vocabulary, with the more common Sindarin Elvish rooted in Welsh, and the High Elvish Quenya drawing on Finnish structures.
Because Middle-Earth was to be a mythology for England, Tolkien drew deeply from the waters of the Anglo-Saxon well: the Rohirrim were based in part on Anglo-Saxons, and the name Eorl is from a line of Old English poetry; other names such as Eomer and Eowyn, as well as the term eored for a troop of horses, all stem from the word eoh meaning “horse.” Tolkien even embedded linguistic changes in the history of Middle-Earth itself. For example, before Eorl the Young brought the Rohirrim from the North to inhabit the Gondorian plains of Rohan, the names of Rohirric leaders had Gothic origins: Vidugavia, Vidumavi, Marhwini. Only after they enter into allegiance with Gondor do the Rohirrim take on Anglo-Saxon names. Both the words “Ent” and “Woses” appeared in Old English poetry, and in Middle-Earth the Rohirrim are appropriately situated between the Entish woods of Fangorn, and the Druadan Forest in which the Woses dwell to the South.
Tolkien’s perfectionism touched every word he wrote in The Lord of the Rings, and he even attended to such details as the direction of the blowing wind and the cycling phases of the moon. He wanted his readers to feel as though they had stepped into history. All of his attention to the distinctions of locality, as Curry describes,
contributes greatly to the uncanny feeling, shared by many of his readers, of actually having been there, and knowing it from the inside, rather than simply having read about it––the sensation, as one put it, of “actually walking, running, fighting and breathing in Middle-Earth.”
Beagle captures beautifully the interwoven intricacy of Middle-Earth, the miniscule details discovered to invent it, and the natural reality they express when fused together as a unified whole: “The structure of Tolkien’s world is as dizzyingly complex and as natural as a snowflake or a spiderweb.” Inspiration unifies the invented parts into an organic whole, thereby animating them. Tolkien writes in one letter, “I have long ceased to invent. […] I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself.” In another letter, this one to W.H. Auden, Tolkien writes,
I daresay something had been going on in the “unconscious” for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till “what really happened” came through.
As Shippey observed, Tolkien seemed to labor at invention until he reached a moment when he could go no further. Somehow, in that moment inspiration would take over and life would fill the creation he had built; he would then be led into the adventure with just as much bewilderment as his literary companions. It was, as Tolkien calls it, the “fusion-point of imagination,” where invention and inspiration meet and something new is born.
The race of people that set Middle-Earth apart most from all other manifestations of Faërie were not invented from European legends. They seemed to have arrived fully formed, already inhabiting their little Northwestern corner of Tolkien’s world. These were the Hobbits. As Tolkien writes on several occasions, the origin of Hobbits is unknown, even to themselves. In the now well-known pivotal moment, Tolkien was grading exams one summer’s day when he unexpectedly wrote on a blank sheet: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” As Shippey notes, Hobbits are “pure inspiration”  without a trace of invention to them. Tolkien of course quickly gave them philological roots, connecting “Hobbit” to the Old English word hol-bytla, meaning “hole-dweller.” He went further, setting the Hobbits in an English style of life, seemingly far more modern than the rest of Middle-Earth extending beyond the Shire. Even the names of the Hobbits have echoes of English culture; for example, the name Baggins echoes the English word “baggins” meaning afternoon tea, or any food eaten in between meals, of which Hobbits are rather fond. “The implication,” writes Shippey, “is that the inspiration was a memory of something that could in reality have existed.”
Hobbits, in many ways, are more human than the Men in Middle-Earth, and offer us modern readers a window into their world. They provided the link for Tolkien to connect the Elvish mythologies recorded in The Silmarillion to the world presented in The Hobbit; the result was, of course, The Lord of the Rings. Hobbits put “earth under the feet of ‘romance,’” and as readers we are invited to walk with them.
While Fantasy, as Sub-created Art, can be expressed through many art forms, Tolkien felt Fantasy was “best left to words, to true literature.” Literature allows the imagination to flourish at every level, from the author writing it, to each individual reader imagining what the author presents in her or his own unique way. Tolkien writes, “every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but especially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.” It is as though author and reader alike are drawing on an archetypal realm of the imagination, and each of the images they produce of this world adds another layer of dimensionality, bringing it further into reality. As Reilly writes, “Literature works from mind to mind and is thus more progenitive.”
When the imagination of the reader participates in the Secondary World, the reader then becomes part of that world as well. Beagle writes on his experience of reading The Lord of the Rings, “Something of ourselves has gone into reading it, and so it belongs to us.” He goes on to say the book “will bear the mind’s handling, and it is a book that acquires an individual patina in each mind that takes it up, like a much-caressed pocket stone or piece of wood. The meaning of the work, as Reilly says, resides between the “art work and the perceiving subject” and ultimately lies in the “freedom of the reader.”As readers we also become sub-creators of the Secondary World, as our own imaginations pour forth into our experience of it.
As Duriez expresses, and as a Roman Catholic Tolkien surely believed, our human ability to be sub-creators derives from our being made in God’s image. Tolkien confirms his belief in this when he writes in “On Fairy Stories,” “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.” Sub-creation is the imagining of God’s world after God but, as Clarke writes, expanding the “limited boundaries of the real world in which we presently live by creating something really new, never experienced by humans before,” and thus enhancing human life. Indeed, Tolkien writes that “liberation ‘from the channels the creator is known to have used already’ is the fundamental function of ‘sub-creation,’ a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety.” For Tolkien, God was, in a way, creating Middle-Earth through him, which may be why he felt like he was discovering a world already in existence.
In one of the last years of Tolkien’s life he received a letter from a man, which he describes as follows: This man
[…] classified himself as ‘an unbeliever, or at best a man of belatedly and dimly dawning religious feeling […] but you [Tolkien],’ he said, ‘create a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp.’ I [Tolkien] can only answer: ‘Of his own sanity no man can securely judge. If sanctity inhabits his work or as a pervading light illumines it then it does not come from him but through him. And […] you would [not] perceive it in these terms unless it was with you also.
Beagle too was perceiving something of this quality of Tolkien’s work when he wrote about the music that “springs from the center of this world.” Tolkien’s living imagination, flowing from what Coleridge called the Primary Imagination, sprang up alive in the heart of Middle-Earth. It was almost as though the story were asking to be written. For example, Tolkien had a recurrent dream of “the Great Wave, towering up, and coming in ineluctably over the trees and green fields.” He eventually wrote this dream into Middle-Earth, giving it as a dream to Faramir, but also capturing it more fully in the “Downfall of Númenor” in The Silmarillion. Interestingly, once he did write it, the dream ceased recurring. It was as though the dream, possibly coming from the Primary Imagination, needed to become a reality, and once revealed through Tolkien it could rest.
In the lecture Tolkien gave which eventually became the essay “On Fairy Stories,” he expressed his wish that one day the mythology of Middle-Earth would be discovered to be “true,” as he felt the possibility that all myths might be in some realm other than our own. Indeed, it was because of the link Tolkien saw between human creativity and divine making, that he felt “all tales may come true.” Many critics have accused Tolkien’s stories of being escapist, and not having a clear message for the modern world, but as Curry points out, “It offers not an ‘escape’ from our world, this world, but hope for its future.” So indeed maybe all myths may come true, and Middle-Earth will be a reality, in another realm not of space, but of time, possibly a time in our distant future.
At last perhaps we can return to Tolkien’s little allegory, “Leaf by Niggle,” to better understand what he meant. Niggle is joined in the country he painted by his neighbor Parish, who never much appreciated his painting when they had been alive together. Yet when he realizes that it was Niggle who dreamt up the country they are now in he remarks:
“But it did not look like this then, not real,” said Parish.
“No, it was only a glimpse then,” said the man; “but you might have caught the glimpse, if you had ever thought it worth while to try.”
Whenever Tolkien uses the word “glimpse” he frequently seems to be referring to the gleam of truth that shines through Fantasy, whether it is in Niggle’s story, in the preliminary sketches of his plots, or in his definition of Fantasy as “the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds.” Tolkien believed that “there is no higher function for man than the ‘sub-creation’ of a Secondary World” because, as Shippey writes, “it might be mankind’s one chance to create a vision of Paradise which would be true in the future if never in the past.” For Tolkien, the human imagination had the power to create a new Paradise, because he saw the Secondary Imagination as an echo of God’s Imagination, and as it worked through him he felt he was ultimately doing the creative work of God.
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 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 54-55.
 Henry Corbin, “Mundus Imaginalis, or The Imaginary and the Imaginal,” trans. Ruth Horine, En Islam Iranien: Aspects Spirituels et Philosophiques, tome IV, livre 7 (Paris, France: Gallimard, 1971), 1.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966), 33.
 Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), 49.
 Colin Duriez, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2003), 178.
 Peter Beagle, “Tolkien’s Magic Ring,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966), xvi.
 Tolkien, Letters, 188. This particular letter by Tolkien was in response to a fellow Catholic, Peter Hastings, who felt that a sub-creator should not diverge “from the channels the creator is known to have used already,” as Tolkien did when he wrote about the reincarnation of Elves. He continued in his response to Hastings to say “But I do not see how even in the Primary World any theologian or philosopher, unless very much better informed about the relation of spirit and body than I believe anyone to be, could deny the possibility of reincarnation as a mode of existence, prescribed for certain kinds of rational incarnate creatures.”