It may seem odd for a post to be written about English fantasy literature in the context of Christian life in Georgia. Many of us may be considering buying books as gifts for children in our family, or considering whether to take children to the film rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit“, “An Unexpected Journey”.
The two lions of 20th century English fantasy literature, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were both devout Christians, and a steadfast Christian sensibility permeates their works. There is no moral ambiguity about the worlds they created; conflict between good and evil is a central theme, and their books do not shy away from the trials and sacrifices that good people must make for a cause. Lewis in particular is considered the Anglican author whose personal views and values are closest to the Orthodox sensibility.
As a child, I was lucky enough to own a copy of Tolkien’s “Father Christmas Letters“, which were beautifully illustrated letters he wrote to his young children from “Father Christmas” recounting his adventures in the North Pole over the past year. It was fascinating tracking the transition from very simple, whimsical tales of workshop elves, clumsy North Polar Bears and reindeer told to his children as infants, to the sophisticated dark tales of bitter and bloody warfare between Father Christmas’ elven warrior compatriots and the dark goblin forces of the underworld that he recounted to his children as they neared their teens. He obviously had no desire to shield his children from the harsh realities of conflict in this life when he thought they were mature enough to handle it. Hopefully Saint Nicholas did not object to his Anglicised persona being appropriated as a legendary hero in this manner.
Georgia has its own venerable fantasy literary tradition; “The Man in the Panther’s Skin” (ვეფხისტყაოსანი Vepkhist’q’aosani) is the best known. Written by Queen Tamar’s court poet Shota Rustaveli in the 12th Century, it lauds the traditional chivalric values of honour, loyalty, courage, fortitude and chaste love, and involves a lengthy quest by its protagonists; much the same as the heroes of Tolkien’s and Lewis’ fantasies. While the poem is aimed at adults, most young Georgians are very familiar with its verses. Indeed many Georgian men are named Tariel, after its Indian protagonist, and many women are named Tinatin after the Arab princess who features prominently in the poem. I wonder if in the 29th Century we can expect boys to be baptised as Bilbo or Frodo in the English speaking world?
The following scholarly but concise article by Gene Edward Veith examines the issue of fantasy fiction, video games, movies and other media, and to what extent different genres of media may be helpful or harmful to the moral instruction of youth. Thanks to John Sanidopoulos for the reference. I hope you find it interesting, and I hope those of you who indulge in the 3-D Hobbit extravaganza in the next few weeks enjoy it. Christmas is a season of multiple layers of youthful anticipation and recounting of time-honoured stories, both sacred and secular. For those not familiar with the works of Tolkien and Lewis, it may excite your curiosity.
and for those unsure of what to expect from director Peter Jackson, a short furry hobbity character himself, here is the trailer.