American Founder and second U.S. president, John Adams, once extolled his era. Some called it The Age of Reason. It was a time in which, clearly, people were beginning to know more about their world than they ever had before. Knowledge was increasing at an exponential rate, and this filled the air with excitement. The Old World–Christendom, led by the Catholic Church–was on its way out. The Enlightenment was well underway to shape the West forever. Adams, a Unitarian, was greatly pleased that men would be able to lead their lives and their own society on the basis of their own conscience. He then less than halfway joked that, just maybe, something bad might arise from the movement of his day:
“The world grows more enlightened. Knowledge is more equally diffused. Newspapers, magazines, and circulating libraries have made mankind wiser. Titles and distinctions, ranks and orders, parade and ceremony, are all going out of fashion. This is roundly and frequently asserted in the streets, and sometimes on theatres of higher rank. Some truth there is in it; and if the opportunity were temperately improved, to the reformation of abuses, the rectification of errors, and the dissipation of pernicious prejudices, a great advantage it might be. But, on the other hand, false inferences may be drawn from it, which may make mankind wish for the age of dragons, giants, and fairies.”
-John Adams, Discourses on Davila
Indeed, a great many false inferences were drawn from the Enlightenment. This period in history, which shaped America herself, started a downward spiral for the West that appears to have no end. Adams was right. In spite of himself and everything he’s achieved for the United States, times have definitely grown darker, and the cause for our empire’s downfall can be traced to its own blueprints.
As a result, the people in our day have a great need for escape. Over two centuries later, men find themselves at odds in a hateful world ruled by principalities and powers that are insurmountable. The people have been force-fed “the progress of civilization.” So, now there are vast entertainment industries that produce escapist literature, film, music, and games to help people flee from the madness of their overlords. Over the centuries, they’ve carried the label of Romantics, Decadents, Symbolists, Counter-Culturists–they all run from the oppressive boot that shoves them onward to a destiny they didn’t ask for. They seek to escape from forced Rationalism into something mystical.
Our Imaginations Must Be Free, Not Trapped
The mind can only tolerate a wasteland for so long. Men require a pilgrimage and retreat. Otherwise, one settles for vice and debasement. Experiencing wonder is necessary for a mature mind. It is not enough to be raised in a plain fashion, learning good moral habits to live by as if it’s all a simple matter of hygiene. Becoming a lawyer for “what’s good and what’s bad” does not securely instill the Faith in children, who above all, are in the business of make-believe. No, we must leave the districts and subdivisions that are gerrymandered in our brains. We must fly above the rooftops from our suburban bobo communities. We’ve got to run for our lives into something fresh, new, and perhaps even dangerous:
“At first they had passed through hobbit-lands, a wide respectable country inhabited by decent folk, with good roads, an inn or two, and now and then a dwarf or a farmer ambling by on business. Then they came to lands where people spoke strangely, and sang songs Bilbo had never heard before. Now they had gone on far into the Lone-lands, where there were no people left, no inns, and the roads grew steadily worse. Not far ahead were dreary hills, rising higher and higher, dark with trees. On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people. Everything seemed gloomy, for the weather that day had taken a nasty turn. Mostly it had been as good as May can be, can be, even in merry tales, but now it was cold and wet. In the Lone-lands they had been obliged to camp when they could, but at least it had been dry.”
-From The Hobbit
Perhaps it is true that people are considered respectable when they “never have adventures or do anything unexpected.” Maybe it is true that the majority of people value someone who never breaks a taboo and can be counted on to be consistent and predictable. And, after all, even Puritan-loving John Adams will tell you that obscure men are hardly ever honored. Conformity and monotony is what the world tells you it wants. But this mode of dry, unspiring, dudley-do-right, unimaginative thinking is like planting seeds in a depleted soil:
“[T]he seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, romances, adventures–the thousand good books of Grimm, Andersen, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest. Western tradition, taking all that was the best of the Greco-Roman world into itself, has given us a culture in which the Faith properly grows; and since the conversion of Constantine that culture has become Christian. It is the seedbed of intelligence and will, the ground for all studies in the arts and sciences, including theology, without which they are inhumane and destructive. The brutal athlete and the aesthetic fop suffer vices opposed to the virtues of what Newman called the “gentleman.” Anyone working in any art or science, whether “pure” or “practical,” will discover he has made a quantum leap when he gets even a small amount of cultural ground under him; he will grow like an undernourished plant suddenly fertilized and watered.”
– Ryan Topping, Renewing the Mind
There has been a war against fantasy. A war against wonder. And yet, those who wonder and philosophize are superior to those who despair cluelessly. And only someone who does not know everything has the capability to wonder. Therefore, what better place is there to explore than Fantasy? The realm of Fantasy is a place accessible to all, and as it is ever-changing, we can never hope to know everything about it. The Land of Faerie, as Tolkien called it, transports and uplifts us. It renews us. It waters the soil of our minds, and it serves as a much needed respite from the godless demands of the world.