Book Review – Myth, Allegory and Gospel

Myth, Allegory and Gospel

Bethany Fellowship, Inc. 1974

Yet another on the reading list for this.  I was looking forward to this because of my appreciation of both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.  But as a whole, I’m disappointed.

This book follows a series of lectures in 1969-1970 sponsored by DePaul University.  Each lecture dealt with a different author (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams) and how that author presented through good literature a retelling or echoing of Christian and Biblical themes.  I haven’t had the opportunity to read Chesterton or Williams yet, so their essays were rather superfluous and I pretty much skimmed them.

There were two chapters devoted to C.S. Lewis.  The first had to do with the broad theme of whether Lewis and his imagining of other planets in his Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) was rendered obsolete by the recent moon landing.  In other words, would people still find value in reading books that posited (loosely!) certain things about other planets in our solar system as our scientific knowledge extended to render those ideas null and void.  It was a fine essay for this rather specific point, the upshot being that no, these books retained value because their value and beauty was not bound to scientific details but rather to what was conveyed through those details.

The second essay was a summary overview of the Narnia series and how each of the books in the series is part of Christian allegory.  This was somewhat helpful, though mostly summary.  The latter part of the essay dealt with the appropriate age for reading these books, so that both the adventurous nature of them as well as the allegorical elements could both be appreciated.

I was most looking forward to the essay on mythic and Christian elements in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Long a fan of these books, I am aware of Tolkien’s own position that these books were not to be understood as Christian allegory, despite the reality that there are many individual elements within the books (and the extended lore found in The Silmarillion) that do reflect or could be interpreted along Christian or Biblical lines.  I found this essay rather disappointing.

Half of the essay is dedicated to a definition of myth and what makes something mythic.  The other half of the essay asserted that, despite Tolkien’s protests, the books really could be seen as Christian allegory.  However rather than presenting a cohesive defense of this position, the author basically pointed out bits and pieces here and there that match Christian and Biblical themes.  While a Christian would be inclined to recognize these already, somebody not familiar with the Christian faith or the Bible might be equally compelled to say that they merely represent traditional mythic elements and themes in many if not all good vs. evil myths.  I had hoped for some more enlightening, comprehensive assertions about the allegorical nature of the books and the author did not provide this.

If you like these authors, then you may find these essays interesting insights into the men and their works.  If you’ve done thinking and reflecting and re-reading of these works enough, however, I’m not sure there is enough new insight in these essays to warrant the time.  Frankly, it would have been exciting and fascinating to have attended the lectures themselves!

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