Refracted Light: Moral Imagination, Ordered Desire, and Apprehending the Beautiful, Good, and True within Literary Myths




Mullinax, Cameron

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In a conversation with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien once said that “just as speech is an invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth” (On Stories, xiv). Both believed that because humanity has been created by God, the myths we weave––while certainly containing flaws––can and often do “reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God,” who is the source of all creation (On Stories, xiv). Authors George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis perceived the intrinsic value of myths and their ability to reveal divine realities about the world we inhabit as human beings. Each writer believed there is a sense in which great myths serve a crucial teleological function in enabling fallen individuals to rightly perceive God as the creator and sustainer of all things and to participate with the glory of his creation through ordinate desire. This project seeks to look at the dynamic relationship between ordered interior love and the apprehension of that which is Beautiful, Good, and True in creation and the role both play in shaping an individual’s moral imagination. In light of this aim, this project explores how three specific literary myths––Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, MacDonald’s Phantastes, and Lewis’s Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold––offer varying reflections, from a cosmological all the way to an individual level, upon the vital role of well-ordered interior love (along with the dangers of its opposite) and the proper apprehension of that which is Beautiful, Good, and True in the process of individual moral formation. I argue that each of these texts intentionally employs the sub-creative and teleologically significant genre of myth to reveal differing aspects of human desire and true participation in the divine life with the ultimate goal of drawing readers into a deeper encounter and even union with what all three authors believed was the Divine Source of all that is Beautiful, Good, and True.



Myth, The Theological Transcendentals, Ordered Love, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald