On The Shoulders of Hobbits

ON THE SHOULDERS2I just finished Louis Markos’ excellent book On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkein and Lewis. He walks through a number of themes and virtues looking at them through the lens of the works of these two great authors. For Christian fans of Tolkein and Lewis, this book will be a real delight.

What I particularly found fascinating was his discussion in the intro of the role of story. Modern cinema has made story into merely a source of entertainment, whereas in all history previous, story was the great teacher of morality, virtue and worldview. I quote extensively from pages 11-12:

Throughout most of the history of mankind, children have been taught good and evil, virtue and vice, honor and shame through the medium of stories: proverbs, parables, myths, legends, allegories, fables, etc. The great leaders who built fifth-century BC Athens (the cradle of humanism) were nurtured on tales from The Iliad and The Odyssey in the same way that the makers of Rome drank deeply from their vast reservoir of heroic tales about those who sacrificed all for their beloved republic. The true Christian is not just someone who believes certain things; he is someone who participates in a human-divine narrative: what many today refer to as a metanarrative or overarching story into which all of our individual stories can be grafted and from which they derive their ultimate meaning. To those who participate in them, these stories provide not only models of virtuous and vicious behaviour but a sense of purpose—a sense that our lives and our choices are not arbitrary but that they are “going somewhere.” They have, as Aristotle might say, a beginning, a middle, and an end. We live vicariously through the hero as he goes on his quest or fulfills his appointed mission, but we seek to have the story played out in our own lives.

…Of course, in the past, stories were not only told for the entertainment and instruction of children; they performed that dual function for the adults as well. From the epics of Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton to the verse romances, tales, and dramas of Spenser, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, premodern literature walked hand in hand with the art of storytelling. No hard and fast distinction was made between children’s literature and adult literature, fairy tales and “serious” fiction; all drank from the same narrative well. The creating and telling of stories could be as much a vehicle of truth as science or math or philosophy.