Rhone, Zachary A.: The Great Tower of Elfland: The Mythopoeic Worldview of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald

By Hamby, James | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

Rhone, Zachary A.: The Great Tower of Elfland: The Mythopoeic Worldview of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald


Hamby, James, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Rhone, Zachary A. The Great Tower of Elfland: The Mythopoeic Worldview of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2017. 186 pp. Hardcover. ISBN 978-1-60635-329-5. $45.00.

Zachary A. Rhone's The Great Tower of Elfland: The Mythopoeic Worldview of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald explores the artistic, linguistic, social, and religious views of the four writers who arguably did the most to establish mythopoeic literature. Rhone argues that, to these writers, "Language and art can reveal truth if the critical viewer searches beneath the surface; humanity can be restored in its journey if it sees the higher goal of unity with God; and civilization can find hope if it strives obediently, on the level of the individual, to be like God--good, loving, merciful, just, and the like" (151). Rhone's study examines how these authors influenced one another and shared similar opinions. Tolkien's and Lewis's works were significantly impacted by Chesterton and MacDonald, and of course Tolkien and Lewis impacted one another. Rhone points out that the collective lifespan of these authors, from MacDonald's birth in 1824 to Tolkien's death in 1973, ranges across a century and a half of significant philosophic and cultural change in the western world (96). These authors reacted against forces such as materialism, industrialism, and socialism, which they saw as threatening not only their worldviews, but as dehumanizing menaces to civilization.

Rhone employs a bit of an unorthodox structure for academic monographs, saving the assertion of his thesis for the end of the book after building his argument in the preceding chapters. The book contains five chapters, each of which builds upon the previous one to deepen the reader's understanding of these authors' worldview. Throughout each chapter, Rhone draws connections among the works of these four men and studies how they reacted to the evolving world around them. Chapter 1, "Language and Literature," examines these authors' views on the signified and the signifier in language, and how this relationship affected their ideas about mythopoeic literature and subcreation. Chapter 2, "All That is Human," explains these authors' views of humanism and their fear that humanity was being reduced by contemporary forces to something bestial. Chapter 3, "The Journey," discusses the symbolism of roads and pathways in these authors' works and how they are imbued with spiritual significance. Chapter 4, "Civilization and Origin," looks at how these authors viewed human history and their general argument that science does not possess a more profound understanding of human nature than does myth. The final chapter, "The Overarching Hypothesis," as mentioned above, ties together all the different threads that run through these authors' works and examines their goals in creating mythopoeic literature.

The first common link that unites this group of authors is their view of humanity. To varying extents, they all saw humanity as fallen but still redeemable. These authors differed in many points of their Christian humanism, from the free-thinking MacDonald to the doctrinal Tolkien, but they all saw humanity as a type of creature "amphibiously physical and metaphysical" (47), caught between the spiritual realm and worldly cares. Humans, they felt, were created in God's image but occupied a status between the heavenly and the bestial. Humans can always choose good and aspire to be better than what they are, or they can choose evil and become more beastlike, like the ores in Tolkien's Middle-Earth or the goblins of MacDonald's works. The purpose of each individual human's journey, then, is "to choose to become more Godlike and less bestial" (64). This belief is borne out in their fiction by characters who, like Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, choose suffering and deprivation instead of ease because they remain faithful to their quest despite the staggering odds against them. …

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