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  • Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings
  • Corey Olsen
Myth and Magic: Art according to the Inklings, ed. Eduardo Segura and Thomas Honegger. Zollikofen, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2007. [6], iv, 342 pp. $21.25 / £10.35 (trade paperback) ISBN 9783905703085. Cormarë Series no. 14.

This collection of essays undertakes a discussion of a subject of great importance. Segura and Honegger explain in their Preface that their goal is to work towards "a profounder understanding of what the Inklings considered the key of literary creation, and of Art" (ii). The editors cite their hope that the volume will "become a first stepping-stone in the process of reconstructing those conversations in which the Inklings discussed, argued, and thoughtfully debated on Myth and Language" (iii). The essays in the volume engage these central concerns from various perspectives, examining the notions of myth-making and subcreation, of magic and art, as Lewis and Tolkien theorized about them in their critical writing and embodied them in their fiction.

In drawing its readers into this complex and invigorating discussion, the book very appropriately directs our attention to the questions and debates that lie near the center of Inkling studies. Lewis and Tolkien's inquiries into the nature of myth and art and into the relationship between language, imagination, and subcreation inform almost all of their personal and intellectual interests, such as linguistics, medieval literature, fairy-stories, poetry, and Christian apologetics. This is the fascination that drew the Inklings to each other and that unites their very different fictional worlds. Segura and Honegger have done a great service to Inklings scholarship in raising these questions so evocatively.

The first chapter of the book is "Recovering the 'Utterly Alien Land': Tolkien and Transcendentalism" by Martin Simonson. In this essay, Simonson establishes a fascinating and fruitful new context for Tolkien's concept of Recovery, articulated in his essay "On Fairy-stories," linking it [End Page 277] not only to the thinking of the English Romantics, but also to the theories of the American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Simonson aptly indicates that Emerson and Thoreau's emphasis on language makes their thought particularly germane to Tolkien's artistic undertaking: Thoreau, for instance, was attempting to develop a "mythic language of the wild to express a modern perception of the eternal and to recover a fresh perception of the world" (9). Through the linguistic roots of his fiction and his dedication to unfolding the reality of his secondary world, Tolkien "updates Thoreau's comparatively lame attempts at expressing a vision of timeless nature with a mythic grammar for the contemporary reader" (17).

In "New Learning and New Ignorance: Magic, Goeteia, and the Inklings," Tom Shippey points out that the fiction of both Tolkien and Lewis manifests their reflections on the different senses in which the word "magic" can be used, and the very different moral and spiritual implications of those senses. In this essay, Shippey engages primarily with the criticism and fiction of Lewis, beginning with his long discussion at the beginning of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama of the differences between the medieval conception of magic, associated with Faerie, and the Renaissance magia of books and spells, which is closely linked both to scientia, scientific inquiry, and to goeteia, witchcraft or the summoning of spirits. Shippey begins by challenging the strict dichotomy that Lewis asserts between medieval and Renaissance concepts of magic (27), and then turns to an exploration of Lewis's various depictions of magic and its relation to both religion and science, focusing especially on Lewis's Space Trilogy. In an attempt to illustrate the complex inter-relations among the four primary concepts involved, Shippey schematically summarizes Lewis's "attitude to magic" as a square which shows religion and magia on the one side opposed to scientism and goeteia on the other (43).

Dieter Bachmann's essay, "Words for Magic: goetia, gûl, and lúth," examines Tolkien's terms for magic and serves as an excellent complement to Shippey's consideration of C.S. Lewis's approach to the same question. Bachmann argues that, like Lewis, Tolkien appealed to the distinction between natural magic (magia...


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