1. Travis Perry says:

    The thing that interests me about this, Rick, is that the overwhelming majority of Tolkein readers have no idea it contains any Christian elements at all. And in fact some find it easy to harmonize his worldview with neo-pagan beliefs.

    Lewis’ work is distinctive in that it is considered a classic and is widely read even by non-Christians. Yet everyone (or almost everyone) knows Narnia has Christian meaning.

    I would say as a model to emulate for me, Lewis was much more on-track than Tolkein. Though of course he and his writing had limitations.

    So I’d say what you called “Integral Allegory” is a worthwhile method–and does not require a writer to be condescending to the reader.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      Good points, Travis. It should be noted that audience does play a part in how allegory is consumed. Children are less likely to initially get the allegorical nature of something, but as they grow up, it can become evident and have an impact. True also of the person who has no knowledge of the Gospel. In either case, it becomes a point of new and richer meanings emerging to the person when they are ready to see it rather than it coming across as an overt attempt to be covert in spreading the Gospel.


  2. Terrific post, thank you.

    Like the commenter above said, many readers have no idea there are any Christian elements in LOTR, though some of my devote Roman Catholic friends say that the entire book ‘breathes’ Catholic.


    Likewise, I’ve encountered many people who were brought up with no religious training whatsoever who said, “I had no idea that THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE had any religious elements when I read it as a kid!”

  3. Lela Markham says:

    I think allegory is a wonderful thing to weave into our writing, but it should never get in the way of writing a compelling story. To a certain extent, comparing Tolkien and Lewis is choosing apples and oranges. LOTR is a book written for adults. Narnia was a series for children. Generally, adults buck at allegory more than children do, so Lewis could be much more open with his Christianity and still be acceptable to most readers.

    We should also recognize that they were writing in a very different era, when religion was much more publicly acceptable. For writers today, allegory must be incredible subtle or we risk being shelved in the Christian ghetto at Barnes & Noble. Which brings us back to that most important of all points — allegory is a wonderful thing, but it should never get in the way of writing a compelling story accessible by a 21st century secular audience, because even Christians seem to avoid speculative fiction that is too overtly Christian and nothing screams Christian ghetto like ham-handed full allegory.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      Thanks, Lela, for your thoughts. Good points, all.


      Of course, I wasn’t so much comparing them directly, except as they use allegory, but more pointing to the problems Tolkien didn’t like about Lewis’ more overt use of allegory. Tolkien also didn’t want to write for children which Lewis did, so it is no surprise, even in his time, that he favored a more “buried” use of it.


      But I would like to hear your thoughts on when allegory can become so obscure as to be of no consequence. For example, in my book, Reality’s Dawn, I introduce the steam house in the first chapter. Allegorically, it is a baptistery. Clues to that link is the eight-sided construction of building. Early Church baptisteries were eight-sided. There is more than just that, but my feeling is very few people will know enough about ancient baptismal fonts to make that connection, though it is possible by other things that result from the steam house that they could arrive at the same conclusion.


      So can an allegory be so obscure that no one gets it, or is it more like hidden easter eggs in the story that eventually, should I ever be fortunate enough to be more widely read, people would study and find?


      Ultimately we trust God to use our efforts, such as they are, to help people make that journey to God. Nothing is wasted in that sense. As a matter of fact, who knows, but that in Heaven we’ll have study groups on stories written in this life. If true, my guess is God’s top 100 will look nothing like our top 100.


      That said, I would think a too obscure allegory could be as ineffective at spreading the Gospel as a more “ham-fisted” effort. Maybe more so.  Food for thought.


  4. Let’s suppose someone has no idea that, for example, Gandalf could be a type of Christ when he stands against the Balrog and goes through quasi-death and resurrection. Nonetheless, this person will be able to see that Gandalf is modeling self-sacrifice. Having become inured to the concept, they may find themselves more drawn to the ultimate self-sacrificial hero, who is Jesus, when they discover that He exemplifies similar qualities. What I’m getting at is that allegories might be worth something even when so obscure that no one finds them out. Not so much allegories of Christian imagery or ritual, perhaps, but any allegory that encapsulates Christian principle.

    I can say that I connected with Jesus a little better after becoming familiar with fictional character Artix Krieger the paladin (from DragonFable and other Artix Entertainment games).  Now, I have NO idea whether the guy who designed this character is even a Christian, much less whether any allegory was intended.  There’s nothing overtly Christian about Artix (aside from the fact that fantasy paladins in general seem to be modeled on the Knights Templar or something similar).  He just touched me by dint of being a passionate, self-sacrificial hero who’s more concerned with the common good than himself.  At some point I figured out that Jesus was that as well, and I thought, “Well if I’m fond of Artix, I should like Jesus even better.”

  5. Rick, I think WriterOfMinds says what I believe about the power of types—I use that word instead of allegory because it’s not trying to be a representation of a Christian specific but an example. Here’s the line:

    Not so much allegories of Christian imagery or ritual, perhaps, but any allegory that encapsulates Christian principle.

    So, using Scripture, King David is a type of Christ, not because he sacrificed himself (he didn’t) or was perfect (he wasn’t). Rather, he embodied the truth that God is sovereign, that Christ comes from lowly birth, through adversity, to one day reign over His people.

    This may be what you referred to as incidental allegory. I see it as a powerful way to communicate Biblical truth to those who would never walk into a church or open a Bible. But through a story they can understand that a great hero will come to undo the wrong, to defeat the dragon, to take the throne.

    It is the same stuff of the myths C. S. Lewis loved so much. When he finally connected the dots, he said of the gospel message that it was the True Myth. That myth making based on Christian principles is what I think our Christian speculative fiction needs more of.


    • R. L. Copple says:

      Yes, types is something I didn’t address specifically. Types are of course different from allegory. I think incidental allegory can contain more than just allegory, so yes, would likely include types.


      My definition of a type is that it is a comparison of two events or people for the purpose of illustrating truth through principles, as opposed to relationships as in an allegory. In one sense, it is another form of an extended simile. So when Paul uses Ismahel and Isaac as a type of grace and law, it is to show that the principles at work in that situation compare with the principles at work in grace and law.


      One could postulate that it is still dealing with relationships, which would be true, so has some elements of allegory in it, but it is never stated in the form of an allegory–Ishmahel is the Law, Isaac is grace.


      Of course in fiction, it would be rare for an author to state it in that way, so a lot of it goes back to what in the author intended. But I’d say that by the nature of fiction and being in story, such things tend to be assumed as allegory. Which as I pointed out in my article, doesn’t mean something is representing something else, but is that something else.


      But I think you make a good point. A lot of what I would call incidental allegory is more pointing toward types than strict allegory as such. So like in my third book, when Kaylee takes the ring into Hades, that whole story is a type of what happened when Christ went to Hades, especially since in that world, that had already happened. There are metaphors scattered through the story, but the whole event isn’t an allegory in the sense of saying Kaylee is Christ, the Dying Tree is the cross, even though those correlations are there. I could even point to Gabrielle as a type of Christ on several levels.


      Within a story, I guess it depends on how connected the events and people are to the real events and people the story is pointing to. So while one could say Gandalf’s death and resurrection is a type of Christ’s, it is clear from the context of it that Tolkien didn’t intend for Gandalf to represent Christ or to be Christ in that world. Whereas Lewis did intend Aslan to be Christ in Narnia, and works to keep that consistent with how he understands Christ would act in that world, so it is an allegory.


      Good thoughts. Thanks for helping me to think through this a bit more. 🙂


What do you think?