A Faerie Apocalypse

Somewhere in the late 60’s (my teen years), I found myself home recuperating from an appendectomy. In those days they actually recommended a period of convalescence before returning to normal activities (today’s medical advice, written in insurance offices, deems recuperation to be a needless bit of a money-drain). But I suddenly had extra time on my hands with little to do. I searched the bookshelves for something unread, or even worth re-reading. And there sat a small set of 4 books that had been a Christmas present from my aunt (at some previous Christmas). And since they were given to me by an aunt, I had assumed they were more for improvement than pleasure, so I had ignored them. But this was just the sort of convalescence that could make you at least skim such things.

The small set of books turned out to be Tolkein’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I had never heard of them and neither had anyone I knew (except my aunt). I started with the Hobbit. My convalescence stretched into a full week. I read the whole set without interruption. It was an introduction to something for which I had no words.

In hindsight, I am convinced that making the Hobbit movies has been a terrible mistake. It is almost impossible now to approach some of the greatest literature of the 20th century without expectation or with proper wonder and surprise. The movies have, I think, actually managed to disenchant Middle Earth.

What I had no word for, though, has a word: faerie. Tolkien knew the word and discussed it with great care and understanding. It is a generic term for a certain kind of story. The Hobbit books were Tolkien’s own attempt at writing faerie.

I had a similar experience when, several year’s later, I stumbled across C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. He was famous for the Screwtape Letters at the time, while his children’s books were not so well known (the movies had not been made). And though very different from Tolkien, they carried the sense of some unspeakable, similar, experience.

The words that eventually came to me were not in the category of faerie. Instead, at about the same time as my reading, I encountered the Kingdom of God. It’s not that I had never heard the phrase (I’m from the South – I had heard readings from the Bible throughout my life), but unlike a mere phrase from the Bible, or a synonym for heaven, I began to hear the Kingdom of God spoken of as a reality. One place I heard the phrase was in Tolstoy’s essays (which I read at this period in my life). But I also began to hear it from some Christians.

If you read through the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, you will see the “parables of the Kingdom.” Jesus tells stories and compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed, to a pearl of great price, to a lost coin, etc. It’s as if Jesus Himself were searching for a word whose meaning could only be suggested by stories. “It is like…”

But a very clear heart connection was made for me at the time. “The Kingdom of God is like Middle Earth”…”the Kingdom of God is like the Land of Narnia.” It began as an intuition but has become a clear conviction. And, strangely, it is not unconnected to my conversion to Orthodox Christianity.

First, there is this: the Kingdom of God is not a reference to “going to heaven.” Christ speaks of it as a present tense reality. He also speaks of it as a present place reality. It is here. But it is also not “here” in the same manner as those things people consider most obvious. Christ has to point to it. The Kingdom of God is revealed.

In Orthodoxy, there is a clear fascination with hiding things and then revealing them. It is a common theme in the liturgies of the Church. In this sense, Orthodoxy is inherently apocalyptic (apocalypsis=to reveal what is hidden). Of course, when the priest closes the doors of the altar and draws the curtain, everyone knows what is going on. But the action is still taken. What is important must be hidden. But what is hidden must also be made known. The curtain is opened, the doors are opened, and what is hidden is revealed. I believe it is a very deep form of liturgical teaching. For what is most important about life and essential for our salvation is, at first, a hidden thing. We must learn to look for it, and we must learn to actually see it when it is revealed. It is a theme that runs through Christ’s parables.

The Kingdom of God is like Middle Earth. It is in a very great and dangerous struggle between a dark lord and the powers of Light. The most common and simple things may very well be the most important. Hobbits are like pleasant human beings who go about their business, never realizing the great and terrible things happening around them – until, one day, you are caught up in the adventure of salvation itself.

The Kingdom of God is like the Land of Narnia. It often appears in the oddest places when you least expect it. But there are doors from here to there, or maybe everywhere is a door if you know how to open it.

In all of this, and in my experience beginning at that young period, I have known that the Kingdom of God should be thought of as a place, a reality, the in-breaking of another world, or the revealing of this world in its true form.

Faerie is an attempt to say this but does it in very imaginative forms. You read such stories and something about them rings true, like something you remember but can’t quite put your finger on. The Kingdom of God is exactly what you’ve been looking for all your life, but might not have had the words to say it or think it.

Have you had a glimpse of beauty that overwhelmed you? Or read a story that made your heart wish it were true? Well, it’s all true…the Kingdom, that is. It’s the faerie tale you were afraid might only be a bedtime story.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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51 responses to “A Faerie Apocalypse”

  1. Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennickw Avatar
    Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennickw

    Wonderful; so true. The older I get, the more is relish the “mystery” of the Kingdom. Having spent a great deal of time in North Wales, UK exploring the ancient ( and little known) Christian sites, my thought prosseses very easily go to the Faerie Apocalypse. It is too easy for adults to lose the child like mind that frees us to be a part of that beautiful mystery. God’s blessing upon you and your’s.

  2. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    I had never quite thought of the Kingdom of God in this manner although I never have my mind far from meditating on it. I loved reading the Hobbit and the Trilogy to my children when they were too young to read. As soon as I was done they made me start over. I saw the wonder in their eyes and it is the same wonder I have when I contemplate the Kingdom. Its a story that is almost too good to be true but that I know is.

  3. Byron Avatar

    The insights into the Liturgy that you spot your blog with keep me on my toes as I worship. Many thanks, Father!

  4. Tullius Avatar

    Yes and yes.

  5. Matushka Elizabeth Avatar

    Some of my favorite books, and for all of the reasons you have shared here. One of the most profound in the Narnia series is the last one…”The Last Battle”. So many parables. When our three daughters were young, I do not know how many times we read aloud or heard via “books on tape” all of the Tolkien and C.S. Lewis series’, but it was upon multiple occasions, always an adventure, always a new insight, always a faerie tale which offered a wee glimpse into the True Kingdom. Thanks, Father.

  6. Ben Chat (Benjamin) Avatar
    Ben Chat (Benjamin)

    There’s something truly miraculous with those stories, Fr. Stephen. Both Lewis and Toilken pointed me towards the Way of the Orthodox Church. I never put it quite together that they showed me the Kingdom of God, in their own way. Madline L’Engle was another with “Many Waters.” Glory to God that He brought me home after the long journey to the Orthodox Church. Someday I will have to go with Frodo to the land of the elves beyond the sea.

    On a side note, I remember every time I went to an elderly relative’s house, especially my grandparents, I would always check the closets to see if there was a way into Narnia. No luck there. Now only at the Liturgy when the Doors open, if only I brought the simplicity of being a child instead of a man worn down by sins.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for all of your reflections

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My dear aunt had apparently sent me a Wardrobe that was sitting on my bookshelf.

  8. Grant Hudson Avatar
    Grant Hudson

    Father, this post so closely resembles my own experience that I feel a little astonished. May I quote from this (or your other blog posts) on my own website (currently under construction) in the future? Please let me know what guidelines you require for this.

    As always, I am grateful for your posts. Each one is like a ‘mini-wardrobe’ or a window for me onto the Kingdom of God, and you should know that you are achieving your aim of having others authentically say ‘Glory to God For All Things’.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Feel free to quote. If, possible, and it seems appropriate, imbed a link back for readers who may want more.

  10. Grant Hudson Avatar
    Grant Hudson

    Thank you, Father. I will post a link -and so open a further window to you and your blessed work.

  11. JE Rivertree Avatar
    JE Rivertree

    Simply put, Story is the language of the heart & too many believers today have lost the ability to speak or understand this language. But you captured this well in the post. Thank you!

  12. Ed Avatar

    Of course, not everything that is hidden is good. Tolkien’s elves are one aspect of the tradition surrounding elves in western culture. Another aspect is that elves are those angels who rebelled against God, but who did not side with Satan. They do evil, but can also do good, it is whatever amuses them that counts. You see this strain quite a bit in George MacDonald. It is also Der Erlkönig by Schubert.


    Forgive me if this is too far off-topic or may be distracting. Feel free to not publish it/delete it if it is.

  13. Joe Avatar

    I’m glad and grateful that you’re writing more on stories lately Fr. Stephen. There’s this quote from a poet named Ben Okri that I’ve taken to heart. It goes like this:

    “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation… Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger.”

    It would seem immediately obvious that many of our modern storytellers offer up the sorts of stories which make our nations sick. They indulge vice, self centeredness and dark fantasies yet offer little or nothing which nourishes the soul.

    This is a great aspiration of mine to unite together with other artists and storytellers for the purposes of creating stories which really do speak to the human soul.

  14. EPG Avatar

    “The movies have, I think, actually managed to disenchant Middle Earth.”

    Very nearly. But not quite.

    I have seen each of the movies. Once was enough (too much in a couple of instances).

    But I still keep coming back to the books.

  15. kay Avatar

    I refused to watch the films, knowing that today at least, Hollywood can’t relate to the characters or match the imaginative grandeur of the beauty, poetry and horror of the setting. They don’t ‘do’ beauty…. just wanted to avoid having them sully that magnificence.

  16. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    EPG, First, I have to admit I very rarely watch movies or TV. I did, however, watch the movies of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring Trilogy. I watched them with an eye to see how well they did in constructing the scenes my imagination created during the many times I read the whole series to my children (no sooner did I finish when they wanted to start over). I particularly wanted to see the Balrog. I must agree with you, the movies were not as stimulating as my imagination. The Balrog was a minor disappointment as he was not nearly as awesomely frightening as my imagination conjured up while reading. Thankfully the Lord gave me a very pictorial mind and I much prefer reading and imagining to watching a movie. It simply takes so much more of a mental and emotion investment to read a well written story than to sit and passively watch. One tends to value what one invests in and the things that it costs a lot to have. Perhaps that is why true salvation costs the death of ourselves to be given by grace.

  17. Christopher Avatar

    ““The movies have, I think, actually managed to disenchant Middle Earth.”

    Very nearly. But not quite.”

    The Lord of the Rings movies managed, almost despite themselves, to relate a small whiff of Tolkien’s real story/message.

    However, the more recent Hobbit movies are a complete disaster. Actually, I did not see the third and last one, but word is there was no redemption in it…

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The reason I assert that the movies have disenchanted the books is that no one sees the movie and imagines it as a world they could enter. The books work differently. Oddly, the movies do not make Middle Earth more real – but less.

  19. Wendylady@GoodBooks Avatar

    So true! I remember as a child being deeply affected by my encounter with Narnia. I love that about great stories – they speak to the child in all of us, and as they transport us, they teach us about being truly human! Love this quote from C.S. Lewis: “But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

  20. Joe Avatar

    I’m afraid I must disagree with many of you adamantly regarding the movies. I will grant you that The Hobbit movies were average at best, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy was phenomenal. I sense a lot of Christopher Tolkien-esque fear of “impurity” here when his father clearly hoped and intended that others would take his mythology and expand on it an a variety of mediums. You may not agree with the choices and compromises that Jackson and company had to make (and I’m speaking only of LotR here), but nonetheless we got a wonderfully heroic story filled with self sacrifice and made all the more wonderful by Howard Shore’s fantastic score.

    I fear at times that people lose sight of the living nature of mythology. The stories are retold, sometimes losing something in the process and sometimes gaining something. The medium inevitably influences the manner in which the story is told, as does the financial investment required to make certain movies.

    The fact that books are so wonderful and require a certain kind of imagination shouldn’t mean that we have no need for actors or filmmakers or composers. Rather all of these should be seen as varied means of entering into a story and varied expressions of that story itself.

  21. Christopher Avatar

    “nonetheless we got a wonderfully heroic story filled with self sacrifice and made all the more wonderful by Howard Shore’s fantastic score.”

    Joe, I agree. Thing is, there are many movies that have “a wonderfully heroic story” and great music. As far as Tolkien’s specific story however, and the multitude of real Christian meanings, the movies simply do not convey this. This is because Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh (they were the principle screen writers) do not “get” this aspect of Tolkien’s world, and it is not acceptable in Hollywood anyways. This is obvious from interviews, or simply watching the movies with an understanding of Tolkien’s Christianity…

  22. Joe Avatar

    But it’s like St. Basil suggested to his own students that we ought to seek out the light even in pagan literature or as the case may be, Hollywood movies.

    This doesn’t mean we’re obliged to partake of any particular form of storytelling, but if we are able to recognize and in some sense celebrate the goodness present however fractured it maybe, the possibility exists that a person may make a beginning of walking down particular paths that lead from one truth to the next. I did.

    Its all well and good to think that people ought to read the books, and I certainly don’t disagree (they are among my favorites after all), but if God can reach a man through a fox crossing the road, then He can certainly do so through the fractured light of a movie such as Lord of the Rings. Inevitably some light gets through even when the misunderstandings and misapprehensions of particular ideas serve to obscure it. Much more so I would say than a story with decidedly lower origins.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s not an important point worth arguing. However, this is something (faerie) that film simply does not do well. It tells a story, but, somehow the medium simply does not work for faerie, in my opinion. The books, on the other hand, have a peculiar way of working. They are not just fiction, but the book itself is a bit of a faerie. The historical notes, references, so much that simply cannot be part of a movie, are integral to Tolkien’s creation. Also, Tolkien was completely about language – something, that, though present, is only present in a very cursory manner, and not in the philological fiction of Tolkien’s genius. In short, though it tells a version of the story, it does nothing that the book does. It simply becomes another adventure block-buster – that I personally enjoyed – but it is not faerie.

    Not all stories are faerie. Elves and dwarves, wizards and rings do not make faerie. The genius of Tolkien was that he was actually able to write a faerie tale – which is something completely different than fantasy fiction. It is a rare work of genius. The books will outlive the movie.

  24. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    Books don’t “require a certain kind of imagination”, they stimulate the formation of imagination; they stimulate each readers imagination to come to life. Movies feed you the movie maker’s imagination.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have no beef with Hollywood movies. It’s simply that the medium (not the content), does not seem to work when it comes to faerie. Why that is so is something I would have to ponder, but I think it is true.

    Related to that would be an observation that although film uses visual imagery, it is generally not “iconic,” i.e. it does not function in the way that an icon does. I think it is perhaps possible, but I don’t think anyone has thought how yet. The closest thing I’ve seen is Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible at certain points (a film one set of critics listed as the worst of all times – revealing their own stupidity).

    How a film does a story is not at all the same as how a book does a story, or how an icon does a story. Not all media are equal – that is – it’s not a matter of this story versus that story.

    A primary example, for me, is the impossibility of making a film of any of the gospels. A film is exceedingly reductionistic. It turns something that is, in fact, multivalent and true on many number of levels, and makes it into a purely literal, space-time story event. And none of the gospels are such a thing.

    “In the Beginning was the Word…” John begins. Perhaps you could make the film begin in such a way, but it would not be able to simultaneously make the opening words of Genesis present. And on and on.

    I might even suggest that film has changed our consciousness. We tend to think of life being like a movie these days, and it decidedly is not. Film is extremely confining.

    A book could take 100 events that are all happening simultaneously and actually make them present at the same time. You can’t do that with film. And if that were an essential part of the story, then film could not tell it.

    The Hobbit films are interesting. But they are not Tolkien. He was not a film-maker. He did not think or imagine in film terms. This is not a knock on film – it’s simply the truth of the matter.

    I would even suggest that the film is “anti-faerie,” in that it fulfills a certain experience we have in reading the books – we want to go to and experience Middle Earth. The film seeks to fulfill that, but merely creates a film. And that is not the thing we actually want. But for many – that is exactly enough. This would be the antithesis of Tolkien’s point and intention.

  26. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    Could it be Father, that the story presented to us in the medium of film is external to our being, where as reading a story can (but not always) trigger much more in the way of a noetic vision experience because it is internally experienced?

  27. Bob (James) Avatar
    Bob (James)

    In my experience, Jackson’s LOTR gave me a chance to do some compare and contrast with the books, taking a fresh look at something I had read so many times I wasn’t really paying to it anymore. It also motivated at least some to read the books. I am a little sad though, that the images they form will be influenced to some degree by someone else’s imagination.

    On a side note, there is definitely a place for rest after surgery, but early return to function leads to better healing, in many cases.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That’s a possible part of it. There are so many components. One example: I find Elijah Wood to be a completely unsatisfactory Frodo (he always looks worried or something). But in a film, you can’t get around the face and voice of an actor. Books are not confining in such a way. Probably the single most successful character was Gollum (many people agree).

    But even the “Eye.” Each of us can imagine for ourselves (from the depths of our own psyche) the Eye of Sauron. But, the screen has to choose one image. If it doesn’t work for you, or is unsatisfactory, then you’re stuck with it.

    Films are many things – but they are pretty much a lousy medium for faerie – and that is precisely because films are inherently literal, and cannot be otherwise.

    It would be a singular achievement in my mind, if someone were able to make a film that were somehow more than literal. Haven’t seen one yet. Horror films might come the closest, somehow.

  29. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    Father in my experience I have always found photography and motion film far less than reality. I took countless pictures over the canopy rail of the fighters I flew trying to record what my eyeballs saw and the brain registered, whether it was high in the air or tearing along at low level (great way to see a lot of country in a hurry) and yet nothing I either filmed or took pictures of ever recorded the actuality of what I saw. They always seemed flat, restricted not the totality of experience. Perhaps, part of reading is experiencing inside a fuller vision that a camera could ever bring us. And yes, we are prisoners of the film maker, the encounter with the Balrog was far more intense in my head than in the film. I felt the ground shake as he rose wreathed in flames from the depths as the drums pounded. Being near real drums can make one’s heart run arrhythmically which, having experienced this, I can imagine again. I felt no fear and awe in the film to compare to what I conjured up.

  30. Joe Avatar


    I think the thing is that film does through angles and lighting and pacing (via editing) what books do through words. That is to say that film has its own language and its own depths which defy the literal.

    Take Kurosawa for instance. He often used the wind and the trees as symbolic elements. Incidentally he began as a painter and saw films as living paintings.

    Or take animation. It allows for an expressiveness of form which needn’t be literal.

    These are perhaps inadequate examples, but I would say that if the act of imaginative participation is the metric by which we judge the worthiness of a medium, then we would have to acknowledge that merely consuming any medium (books included) would be insufficient and that if we truly wished to be imaginative then we would have to become storytellers ourselves.

    But once again we run into problems, because immediately as we attempt to set word to page we find that our imaginations are not wholly our own, but the product of many fragments embedded in our subconscious. For Tolkien this was as much faerie as it was Icelandic myths. For myself you might find Star Wars embedded in there from the earliest of times.

    The thing with language is that even though it has tremendous breadth and versatility, there are things for which words fall short. If it were not the case, then why have painters or sculptors or any other kind of visual artists? Or musicians and composers for that matter?

    I would without a doubt agree that Tolkien did something with words which is virtually unparalleled, but how can I rank that achievement as being above Rachmaninov’s Liturgy of John Chrisostom as an example, merely by virtue of its medium?

    Understand of course that neither am I saying that the LotR movies are an achievement of this magnitude. Put simply, they’re not. Film however is a relatively new language, still finding its best means of expressing what it uniquely can express.

    Whether it’s suitable for faerie or not, I don’t know, but that depends greatly on how you define what faerie is.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I well agree with what you’re saying. I’m not saying one medium is better or worse, only different, and therefore one medium is better suited for some things than another. The Fathers said that “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” This is also a suggestion of how we should read Scripture. It is something beyond the literal. Not not-literal, but more than literal (like an icon).

    Kurosawa would be an excellent example of a use of film that reaches toward iconicity.

    The Liturgy is very iconic, even though it literally does a particular action. Film has not been used in an iconic manner very often. Tarkovsky attempted it to a degree.

    I am far from anti-film.

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. And, interestingly, icons (really good icons), are always more than you can see.

  33. Joe Avatar

    I think we understand each other Fr. Stephen. With regards to film reaching towards an iconic nature, I think perhaps that the limitation seems to stem from the fact that there are so relatively few Orthodox filmmakers and so any success in this regard must by its nature be only sporadically and to some extent accidentally achieved. Or to put it another way, that these elements just so happen to run parralell with an Orthodox understanding.

    As far as faerie itself is concerned, are there any great Orthodox faerie writers?

  34. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Not certain that this is relevant but I think in some respect it is:

    ‘When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”‘ Matthew 15

  35. Tom Woolley Avatar
    Tom Woolley

    “The Kingdom of God is like Middle Earth [and Narnia]. It is in a very great and dangerous struggle between a dark lord and the powers of Light.”

    The division between what is hidden and what is revealed – what is fairytale and what is reality – is a slim apparition of hope in our present chaotic world.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have absolutely loved that story – and grieved greatly over its ending. I frequently tell people that a “one-storey universe” will most likely look something like superstition to any of us in the modern world. But, God help us in the hands of those who want to fix us! Thanks for the link. I have used it in today’s follow-up article.

  37. Amanda Avatar

    I once tried to explain to a friend why Santa Claus as myth was essential to a great childhood…I failed miserably. Because for those who try to “fix us”…myth is synonymous with a lie. Rarely do we discuss the moral imagination it takes to truly believe, or how a child comes to belief. My mom introduced me to George MacDonald when I was a teen…almost too late!

  38. Christopher Avatar

    “….A book could take 100 events that are all happening simultaneously and actually make them present at the same time. You can’t do that with film. And if that were an essential part of the story, then film could not tell it…”

    One film that attempts to do this with a bit of success is Pulp Fiction. Another film that is more subtle yet more powerful and successful (within the context of amnesia) is Memento.

    Memento by the way can be thought of as a “negative Faerie”. Something very important has happened (such as the expulsion from Eden) to the protagonist – something of life and death, but he can’t remember it, so he finds clues and leaves himself clues. There are characters around him (principalities and powers) who know what happened, or at least most of it, but they won’t tell him and use him for their own purposes. Just when the protagonist thinks he has a handle on it – the truth slips away. I wonder if Christopher Nolan has read Flannery O’Connor? This “negative” Faerie might be thought of as a modernist Faerie, one that looks for truth and beauty breaking into the world but the uncaring universe has none to give.

    I admit, the universe looks all to often like just such a place…

  39. Victoria Heim Avatar

    Thank You so much. I am a poet and try
    to put into words many experiences. I am glad
    there are movies about what you have spoken of.
    We must find others who we can share the love
    of all things mystical. Bless You, Victoria

  40. Dante Aligheri Avatar
    Dante Aligheri


    I can’t think of any great faerie writers who are Orthodox except maybe David Bentley Hart himself in “The Devil and Pierre Gernet,” which I have not read in full. Of what I have read, it’s great.

    There is, of course, the great Catholic Charles Williams. It was a slow read, but I really enjoyed his “War in Heaven” and “Many Dimensions.” Of more modern writers, few can rival Tim Powers, also Catholic, who reminds me of a more accessible but equally poignant Charles Williams.

    He has a beautiful grasp of the mythological mind in all its terrifying and wondrous consequences. I loved “Declare” the best, a Cold War thriller of Lovecraftian proportions. H.P. Lovecraft himself probably was the great anti-faerie writer par excellence (and hence edging diabolical), who understood the implications of faerie but, in the absence of God, only had a sad, pathetic, and pale vastness to write about coupled with a few monstrous would-be devils with no good God to oppose them. He understood the numinous without the goodness.

    Anyhow, “Declare” is the (implicitly, as he as subtle as Tolkein when it comes to Christianity in fiction, which I appreciate) Christian answer to that – pitting Cold War players as proxies to the war of angels, demons, and djinn in the midst of a mad search for Noah’s Ark.

    After that, I would say equal to “Declare” is the very good “Last Call,” about a poker player who gets wrapped in a game of Tarot which revolves around the resurrection of the Fisher King set in the middle of Nevada. It’s breath-taking, and its characters are beautifully wrought – fundamentally good but flawed people caught literally in a game they don’t understand. Essentially, the great card game involves thin spaces and Jungian-Platonic archetypes intersecting with our reality, and ghosts, and other metaphysical whimsy. For “Last Call,” I used the audio book, which took about a week, but it was worth it.

    Finally, there is L. Jagi Lamplighter, who is the wife of Catholic science fiction author John C. Wright. She wrote a series about Prospero (that Prospero) journeying through Hell and back, a universe populated by a plethora of world mythologies with a classically Christian angelology lurking in the background, but it’s never obtrusive. It just flows naturally, like the Dresden Files (most of which are also very good urban faerie, albeit more gritty with some of the Christian metaphysical universe in it: it acknowledges the power of sacramentals as well as the classical angels along with other mythological figures).

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In general, the writing of faerie is an unusual thing. Faerie simply exists, or is quite old. New faerie is rare. Tolkien knew he was attempting something quite rare.

  42. Dafney Avatar

    Dear Father Freeman,

    How do you present things such as wizards and magicians commonly found in many stories, to children, from an orthodox perspective. I am having a difficult time with this, knowing that in truth, wizards and magic are linked to the occult. While I definately agree that literature can be used to create a sense of awe and wonder and perhaps the best tool to instill virtue in children and awaken the moral imagination, the mystical, I also struggle to reconcile wizards and magicians commonly found in stories, knowing we live in a world that practices the occult, with real self proclaimed witches, wizards who use magic,and not just a figure of imagination.. What kind of discrection should a parent have?

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Someone once said that children already believe in dragons. Good stories tell them how to slay dragons. Evil uses everything in the world for its purpose – but we cannot abandon everything. Is it a good wizard? Is the story itself consistent with the gospel? Tolkien and Lewis certainly are. I generally stay away from most of the other wizard stuff. Saints stories are good.

  44. Lynne Avatar

    As I was journeying from an unbelieving family to faith in Jesus Christ, I read The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, when I was a preteen.
    There is one chapter, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” that spoke to my heart of mystery, hiddenness, and luminosity. (Many people remember the book and only remember Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I have read than many versions do not even include “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.”)
    Others can judge if Grahame succeeded in writing a faerie. For me, the piercing sweetness remains, and its call helped me to keep searching for God.

  45. Kathy Avatar

    I,too, thought the LotR movies to be a very mixed bag. However, the singing of the dwarves was awesome–in the full sense of the word. When I read LotR to my family (many times) I had to speak the songs.

    Someone who could set all the song/poems to music(sung) would be a gift to the world. At least the world which loves Tolkein.

  46. Fr. David Avatar
    Fr. David

    Actually, someone has set some of Tolkien’s words to music (though it might not seem too “awesome” to some): “The Road Goes Ever On – A Song Cycle”; music by Donald Swann. The composer actually had tea with Professor Tolkien, and got his input and approval for the project.

  47. David Jennings Avatar
    David Jennings

    Fr. Steven, I love your blog, your podcasts, and your book, Everywhere Present. I have given it to a number of people as gifts. In the context of this conversation, I believe that properly done fantasy and/or science fiction can provide worlds where we can encounter issues that we cannot see in our own lives. The best of fairie, and I believe Lewis, and probably Tolkien would agree, is myth; that is, the deep truth wrapped in a story. It is the truth that we all recognize, but can’t quite grasp, that resonates within us in fairie.
    For what it’s worth, I have found two current authors that I think are worth considering for those looking for writers of fairie. One is Jeffrey Overstreet who wrote a series called The Auralia Thread. The first book is Auralia’s Colors, the second is Cyndere’s Midnight, the third is Raven’s Ladder, and the fourth is The Ale Boy’s Feast. Another author is Nicholas Kotar. He is a young Orthodox Christian writer, and I found his first book, Raven Son, to be quite fascinating.
    In a shameless plug, those interested in these discussions might want to check out Doxacon. Doxacon is a place for people to examine the intersection between this genre and Christian faith. There are two locations so far. The first, Doxacon Prime is in Washington DC. They are holding their conference soon. I believe tickets are no longer available, but check it out for yourselves. The other location is Seattle in the other Washington. The next conference is scheduled for June 2016. Find out more at http://www.Doxacon.org. Talks from past Doxacon conferences are available on Ancient Faith Radio in Specials (This is a plug because I I’m involved in putting on the Seattle Doxacon).

  48. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar


    An excellent and highly recommended book is How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger, an Orthodox author. It deals specifically with the Harry Potter series, written by the “new Inkling” JK Rowling, but much of what you’ll learn can be applied to other Christian fantasy. For instance, one of the most striking points for me was that the magic and sorcery in these works was largely *invented* by Christians: the “spells” are a metaphor for prayer (and sometimes are actual prayers, as you’ll see). Sorcery as practiced by real-life witches and wizards has even less in common with “magic” in Christian fantasy than Santa Claus does with an icon of St. Nicholas. If you’re planning on doing any serious reading and/or interpretation of any fictional work from a Christian perspective (whether writing, film, music, games, etc.), John Granger’s book is almost a prerequisite. He is able to bring our minds back to our traditional *Western* Orthodox roots and the symbolism and ways of seeing that were well known to the saints of old.

    @Christopher, @Joe,

    In many ways, I find books more difficult to use than film and music. Being utilitarian and almost hyper-rational in most things (I read papers, encyclopedia articles, etc. for fun), fiction is often highly stressful for me. As is often the case, I come to the same conclusions from seemingly opposite paths: I find the mystical, the hidden, the one storey in math, physics, astronomy, computer science, grammar, etc.. Not all fiction is repulsive to me (Harry Potter is my favorite Christian fiction series, for example, and is very readable, engaging, and deep) and maybe I am just reacting more intensely to the”non-faerie” fiction that others find problematic: such stories seem far more materialistic, strangling, and nihilistic than any peer-reviewed study I’ve ever read. Why do modern songs and movies not make me feel so repelled? I don’t know, but in any case I though I’d contribute a few more films. The two that I always start with when teaching people how to interpret film in a Christian way are The Matrix (1999) and Forbidden Warrior (2004). Both of these movies are similar in their story: in each, the protagonist is prophesied by earlier Christians and saints and is forcibly removed from the world of passions to be trained in asceticism and spirituality (which is never a purely “spiritualized” thing, like modern “Christian” culture and its largely Gnostic worldview would preach). Each is then confronted with larger and larger temptations, challenges which cannot be overcome except by passionlessness and self-sacrifice. Both overcome, render great assistance to the people (Christian or otherwise) of their time who are stuck on various passions of the age, and become flaming torches as they fully re-enter the world (but in a way that is not of the world) in order to spread the message of the Gospel and carry on the faith until the next generation.

    I look at music similarly. I have written papers on a number of songs and their Orthodox meaning: Kelly Clarkson’s My Life Would Suck Without You as a revelation of the ontological necessity of the other, Sixpence None The Richer’s There She Goes as a hymn to the Theotokos, and Cascada’s Everytime We Touch as an ecstatic prayer of a Christian experiencing theoria are probably the most notable. Send me an e-mail if you’d like copies.

    @Fr. Stephen Freeman,

    This was from another thread, but I just watched The Secret Of Roan Inish. It may just be me, but while the portrayal of time and place was fairly striking, I was turned off by some of the other elements. I wonder, have you seen the movie Nim’s Island (2008)? It takes a more psychological approach to the unseen, but does so in a way that is not (as far as I could tell) condescending or dismissive; I found the integration of everything fairly one-storey and hopeful while not tripping as many of my theological alarms.

  49. […] to A Faerie Apocalypse, November […]

  50. Sally Iloff Avatar
    Sally Iloff

    Wonderfully said! I have no better words to say it. The Mystery is Salvation cannot be framed by “round heads” chiliasm or so. It is God’s will through the crossifiction of Jesus to save all of us, that who ever believe in God’s Son may be saved! Hallelujah!

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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