Our Own Dear John Ronald: Myth and Truth

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme / of things not found within recorded time.

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But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.
No, said Tolkien, they are not.

And indicating the great trees of Magdalen Grove as their branches bent in the wind, he struck out a different line of argument.

You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word.  But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name.  You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course.  But that is merely ho YOU see it.  By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them.  And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect God.  Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.  Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

In expounding this belief in the inherent TRUTH of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the center of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of ‘The Silmarillion’.

 

The account of this conversation is based on Tolkiens poem Mythopoeia, to which he also gave the titles ‘Misomythos’ and ‘Philomythos and Misomythos’.  One manuscript is marked ‘for C.S.L.’.

~ Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien.  A Biography.

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