Author’s Note: ‘Epic Pooh’ was originally published as an essay by the BSFA, revised for its inclusion in the 1989 book Wizardry and Wild Romance, A Study of Epic Fantasy, and slightly revised again for this publication. It was written long before the publication and much-deserved success of Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy which, in my view, merits all the optimism I have expressed here. The essay did not attempt to deal with all fantasy, such as Alice in Wonderland or other children’s fantasy, but only epic fantasy from its origins in romance poetry to the present day.
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Why is the Rings being widely read today? At a time when perhaps the world was never more in need of authentic experience, this story seems to provide a pattern of it. A businessman in Oxford told me that when tired or out of sorts he went to the Rings for restoration. Lewis and various other critics believe that no book is more relevant to the human situation. W. H. Auden says that it “holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own.” As for myself I was rereading the Rings at the time of Winston Churchill’s funeral and I felt a distinct parallel between the two. For a few short hours the trivia which normally absorbs us was suspended and people experienced in common the meaning of leadership, greatness, valor, time redolent of timelessness, and common traits. Men became temporarily human and felt the life within them and about. Their corporate life lived for a little and made possible the sign of renewal alter a realisation such as occurs only once or twice in a lifetime.
For a century at least the world has been increasingly demythologized. But such a condition is apparently alien to the real nature of men. Now comes a writer such as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and, as remythologizer, strangely warms our souls.
Clyde S. Kilby: “Meaning in the Lord of the Rings”,
Shadows of Imagination, 1969
I have sometimes wondered how much the advent of steam influenced Victorian ballad poetry and romantic prose. Reading Dunsany, for instance, it often occurs to me that his early stories were all written during train journeys:
Up from the platform and onto the train
Got Welleran, Rollory and young Iraine.
Forgetful of sex and income tax
Were Sooranard, Mammolek, Akanax:
And in their dreams Dunsany’s lord
Mislaid the communication cord.
The sort of prose most often identified with “high” fantasy is the prose of the nursery-room. It is a lullaby; it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth-music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles; it makes friends with you; it tells you comforting lies. It is soft: Read more:…