My Elves are Different; Or, Erlkoenig and Appendix N

My Elves are Different.

When calculating how to portray the elves in my current writing project (tentatively titled Moths and Cobwebs) I was thinking about Erlkoenig and Appendix N, and (of course!) about GK Chesterton. There is a connected train of thought here, but it meanders through some ox-bows and digressions, so I hope the patient reader enjoys the scenic route of thought.

First, Erlkoenig. I had noticed for some time that there was many a younger reader whose mental picture of the elves (those inhabitants of the Perilous Realm, the Otherworld, whose ways are not our ways) was formed entirely by JRR Tolkien and his imitators. Tolkien elves are basically prelapsarian men: like us in stature and passions, but nobler, older, and not suffering our post-Edenic divorce from the natural world. This is not alien to the older themes and material on which Tolkien drew, but there is alongside this an older and darker version.

This darker version is one which Tolkien did not draw upon, except, perhaps, in the scene in THE HOBBIT when the starving dwarves come upon the elves of Mirkwood feasting. When they step forward, the campfirelight vanishes, the elves disappear, and the dwarves are thrown into an enchanted sleep. That is the kind of trick Puck might play on mortal fools.

But there is mischief worse than these, kidnapping and killings and cradle-robbing, which the older tales retell. Again, Boromir and Eomer mention tales of the Lady of the Golden Wood which captures that sense of elves as something fair and perilous, but their misgivings, in Tolkein’s world, are merely wrong.

Here, for example, is a song about Erlkoenig, the elfinking, who is attracted to a boy child much as Oberon in Shakespeare wishes the Indian child to be his. There are several recordings of this on YouTube, but in this one the master singer captures an expression that I hope not to see in my nightmares.

In English—————————————–
Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

“My son, why do you hide your face in fear?”
“Father, do you not see the Elfking?
The Elfking with crown and cape?”
“My son, it’s a streak of fog.”

“You dear child, come, go with me!
Fair beautiful games I play with you;
many a colourful flower is on the beach,
My mother has many a golden robe.”

“My father, my father, and heareth you not,
What the Elfking quietly promises me?”
“Be calm, stay calm, my child;
Through scrawny leaves the wind is sighing.”

“Do you, fine boy, want to go with me?
My daughters shall wait on you finely;
My daughters lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing to bring you in.”

“My father, my father, and don’t you see there
The Elfking’s daughters in the gloomy place?”
“My son, my son, I see it clearly:
There shimmer the old willows so grey.”

“I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you’re not willing, then I will use force.”
“My father, my father, he’s touching me now!
The Elfking has done me harm!”

It horrifies the father; he swiftly rides on,
He holds the moaning child in his arms,
Reaches the farm with great difficulty;
In his arms, the child was dead.

Now, does this Erlkoenig sound at all like Ingwe, Finwe, or Feanor to you? Is it something Galadriel or Elrond would do? Not in the least. But neither, in my opinion, does it sound at all like the work of the Nazgul. A black rider would not call out to Frodo and invite the hobbit to watch his daughters dance and play and wait on him.

Erlkoenig is something different from Tolkien’s fair and noble elfin princes and different also from his black and unseen servants of the Dark Land.

Erlkoenig is elfin, elusive, half-unseen, seductive, terrifying, inhuman, deadly.

This is not an isolated example invented by Goethe. In Disney’s DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, the most charming and childish of Leprechauns can be seen skipping and playing pranks with an old Irish widower. But the dark hints from the original source material are there: Darby threatens the elf with Father Murphy, who can use the blessing of the church to shrivel the power of darkness, of which King Brian, cute as he is, is clearly a member, and who rules things darker yet, banshee and pooka and other powers he keeps in check.

If you read the original book by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh, or see the episode of DISNEYLAND promoting the film (“I Captured the King of the Leprechauns“) you discover the King Brian and all his crew where celestial beings flung out of heaven for not siding with Archangel Michael in his war against Lucifer.

Again, in C.S. Lewis’ useful handbook of Medieval thought, THE DISCARDED IMAGE, he mentions that one of the several treatments by medieval authors of the matter of the Longaevi, the elves and sprites and other long-lived supernatural beings living on the world was just this: That the elves were those third part of the angels who disobeyed God but did not bow to Lucifer. The mathematical nicety is that one third of angels remained loyal; one third was driven into the inferno and are demons; and the remaining third, loyal to neither party, roam the earth in various forms, but will not outlast Judgment Day.

With all this in mind, it is with great interest indeed I read the articles of Jeffro Johnson on the matter of Appendix N

(https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/appendix-n-survey-complete/).

He also posted his articles on the Castalia House (blog.http://www.castaliahouse.com/category/appendix-n/)

Appendix N is one of the appendices to Gary Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons rulebook listing  his inspirations. He basically told his players where he had gotten his ideas. He lists the stories and authors that form the basic canon of fantastic literature for my generation.

It is a good list. I dare say any fantasy fan my age would have read these books. I have read all the authors listed here, except for Margaret St. Clair, whose name, I confess, I have never heard before. I have not read nor heard of anything by Jack Williamson or Stanley Weinbaum I can consider fantasy, and I do not see what influence they may have had on Gary Gygax.

Here is the list:

  • Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
  • Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
  • Brackett, Leigh
  • Brown, Frederic
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice: “Pellucidar” series; Mars series; Venus series
  • Carter, Lin: “World’s End” series
  • de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al
  • de Camp & Pratt: “Harold Shea” series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
  • Derleth, August
  • Dunsany, Lord
  • Farmer, P. J.: “The World of the Tiers” series; et al
  • Fox, Gardner: “Kothar” series; “Kyrik” series; et al
  • Howard, R. E.: “Conan” series
  • Lanier, Sterling: HIERO’S JOURNEY
  • Leiber, Fritz: “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” series; et al
  • Lovecraft, H. P.
  • Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al
  • Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon” series (esp. the first three books)
  • Norton, Andre
  • Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
  • Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
  • Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
  • St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
  • Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; “Ring trilogy”
  • Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al
  • Weinbaum, Stanley
  • Wellman, Manley Wade
  • Williamson, Jack
  • Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” series; et al

Mr. Jeffro Johnson set himself the heroic task of reading all the works listed, or at least one work from an author listed. The results were surprising.

The interest for me of the Jeffro articles was not in the books and authors. I had read and reread them from my youth up, as did most all the science fiction fans I knew.

My interest was the same as some literate Somoan reading the anthropology of Margaret Mead: for Jeffro is a man too young to have known my generation of fantasy readers, our habits and expectations, our likes and dislikes. He is of this generation, and there is a barrier between us. He is studying me and mine and our literature as an outsider.

One of the most interesting anthropological discoveries he makes, and one unknown to me as well as to him, was that there was such a barrier.

I had not known, indeed, it never occurred to me, that a sizable group of fantasy readers in the modern day would be unaware, for example, of seminal writers and grandmasters like Jack Vance. This includes readers who, in their Dungeons and Dragons days, cast the spell of the excellent prismatic spray. The memorized spell vanishes from their minds the instant of their recitation of it… and is gone until they memorize it the next day … as forgotten as Jack Vance is forgotten, who first cast the spell on readers of the idea of spells limited by daily memory in this way.

It is disorienting and disheartening how many science fiction readers have not read any older science fiction.

This invisible barrier may be the reason why so many trite, stale and poorly written works are winning awards and applause these days. For example, ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie won a sickening degree of applause for two ideas, one of which (the unit of a mass mind rebelling against itself) I used in a book a decade prior to her and Michael Swanwick in a decade prior to me, and the other of which (sexlessness in thought and speech) was a rehash of an idea used much more adroitly by older authors ranging from Ursula K LeGuin and David Lindsay. The startling conclusion is that the audience simply did not know who these old authors were, nor from whom the green authors were stealing ideas.

Why do the new readers not read old authors?

Several theories suggest themselves:

First, thanks to a miscarriage of the tax laws in 1979, publishers no longer maintain large backlists of books. They are out of print and hard to get.

Second, thanks to STAR WARS and a demographic that does not consider SF to be a boy’s-only literature, the field is immensely larger than it was in the 1960s and 70s, and so there is such an abundance of material to read, readers need not haunt used bookstores and mine older veins to get their fill of the fantastic.

But, sadly, the third reason that suggests itself is the closing of the American mind, and the general decline in civility, openmindedness, and courage.

We are in the Dark Ages, and the darkness influences all things in society, including speculative literature. I mean the term not as an exaggeration or a metaphor: the technological products of our enlightened forefathers spring from the worldview which says science is a proper way to discover the mind of God by studying His works. Eliminating that God from one’s worldview eventually eliminates the respect for human life, free thought, and reason in law and custom which are necessary precursors to scientific endeavors, and eliminating science eliminates technology. Once the lamps go out, the darkness is everywhere, even in the little corners of society where children read books about spacerockets or elves.

The moderns have been taught to hate and loath their own country, their ancestors, their parents, and been told everything written before the current day is racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, transcismophobic, and pure evil. These nutbags think that their own standard bearers of the Progressive movement, the founders of their genre, were not Progressives like themselves.

One need only hear sexual libertarian and radical sexual egalitarian nut Bob Heinlein being excoriated as a member of the misogynist phallocratic patriarchy to realize how far off the edge of the world the lunatics have sailed the ship of fools.

This is not some lunatic fringe belief. It is lunacy, of course, but not fringe. It is mainstream. The core institutions and standard bearers of Science Fiction, the largest publishers, the most prestigious awards, our once-respected guild the SFWA, the oldest and most famous magazine: they all buy into the narrative and all support the narrative with a singleminded fury that is Bolshevik in its vehemence, patience, and pettiness.

Progressives hate the past and seek forever to blacken, demean, and obliterate it. Anyone reading the older books would see immediately that the modern works are only merely equal, not as innovative, and that the modern award-winning works are notably inferior.

The notion of progress is the notion that the past is bad and the present is better and the future will be better yet. If you read old books and find that they are either slightly better or remarkably better than modern offerings, you see a decline, not a progress,  whereupon the foundation of progressivism is overthrown.

A corollary of this third reason is more sinister: the moral and social landscape of writers from the 1930s to the 1960s was notably more honest, and the adventures notably more manly. Those stories were romantic in the old sense of romance, a tale of wonder.

A single example will serve: I read a story in the 1990s which was an attempt to tackle an Ursula K LeGuin theme. The setting was a genetically engineered matriarchal society. One of the minor characters is Aarons, a Visitor, that is, a space traveler from the unengineered colonies of mankind. During a sea-fight when the sailing ship Aarons is on is invaded by all-female pirates, the Visitor is told that on this planet men do not fight. Rather than tearing through the evildoers like a giant ape would through men, Aarons meekly accepts the matriarchy customs as binding on him, and meekly returns to the cabin to await the outcome, and hides behind the courage of women to defend him.

The scene stuck in my mind for how casually outrageous it was, how unrealistic, how contemptuous at the difference between male and female fighting ability.  (I cannot recall the name or author, but the Internet suggests I may be thinking of GLORY SEASON by David Brin. This is hard for me to believe I am thinking of this same book: Mr Brin is an accomplished writer, and the book of which I am thinking was meandering, pointless, colorless, and generally terrible, with a long boring digression on cellular automata. As an attempt to rework the material from LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, it was a failure. Aarons is no Glenly Ai).

My point is that John Carter, Warlord of Mars, cannot be imagined as eunucherrifically passive as this Visitor, nor would the Gray Lensman, nor Boromir, nor (more to the point) Northwest Smith, nor Erik John Stark.

Black Amazon of Mars

This a gormless Visitor is an acceptable character in a modern story and would not have been acceptable to any audience, except as comedy relief, to an earlier generation. This is not a sign of progress, but, rather a sign that a conspiracy of Illuminati have put some testosterone suppressing chemical in the groundwater, so that readers neither recognize nor enjoy reading about what men are really like.

Far too many modern stories attempt to sap the capacity for wonder. They are lemon-sour tales of cynicism and mistrust starring pusillanimous and dwarf-hearted characters, the kind of men who wait meekly in the cabin to find what his fate will be, and will not lift a hand to protect women from harm.

A corollary to my third reason for the invisible barrier is that the moderns, or those gullible enough to have their opinions formed by modern opinion makers, instinctively shy away from any novel, no matter how fantastical, which treats male and female characters in a realistic way. Realism is opposed to the Narrative.

Heroism is antithetical to Goodthink.

This third reason perhaps is smaller than the other two, perhaps larger. I am in no position to guess. But it does introduce the second discovery I learned from Jeffro’s columns.

This second discovery, and one more to the point for this meandering essay, is the change in the elves from the explicitly Christian background they inhabit in, say THE BROKEN SWORD, and the Beowulf-style background where religion is not mentioned in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS and the generic de-Catholicized background of Gary Gygaxian D&D, also known as Playanythingland.

Here, in his own words, is Jeffro Johson’s conclusions:

People were different then. They thought differently. They took different things for granted. What we tend to think of as even being normal or inevitable for fantasy didn’t even exist when original D&D was being published. And the fact remains that the best way to get inside of the heads of both the game designers and their intended audience is to read the books that they cited as their inspirations. We do have later works where D&D was adapted to fit the expectations of people that were bred on watered down mass market epic fantasy trilogies. But the earliest efforts in tabletop role-playing bore the marks of the older, wilder pulp fantasies that lapsed into obscurity starting in the mid-eighties.

And elsewhere, he summarizes the findings of his many columns

So what did I discover?

  1. Tolkien’s ascendancy was not inevitable. It’s really a fluke that he even became the template for the modern fantasy epic.
  2. A half dozen authors would have easily been considered on par with Tolkien in the seventies.
  3. Our concept of “Tolkienesque” fantasy has little to do with Tolkien’s actual work. Likewise, the “Lovecraftian” stories and games of today have little to do with what Lovecraft actually wrote. Our concepts of swords and sorcery have had the “weird” elements removed from them for the most part. Next to the giants of the thirties, just about everything looks tamed and watered down.
  4. Entire genres have been all but eliminated. The majority of the Appendix N list falls under either planetary romance, science fantasy, or weird fiction. Most people’s readings of AD&D and OD&D are done without a familiarity of these genres.
  5. Science fiction and fantasy were much more related up through the seventies. Several Appendix N authors did top notch work in both genres. Some did work that could be classified as neither.
  6. It used to be normal for science fiction and fantasy fans to read books that were published between 1910 and 1977. There was a sense of canon in the seventies that has since been obliterated.
  7. Modern fandom is now divorced from its past in a way that would be completely alien to game designers in the seventies. They had no problem synthesizing elements from classics, grandmasters of the thirties, and new wave authors.
  8. Ideological diversity in science fiction and fantasy was a given in the seventies. We are hopelessly homogenistic in comparison to them.
  9. The program of political correctness of the past several decades has made even writers like Ray Bradbury and C. L. Moore all but unreadable to an entire generation. The conditioning is so strong, some people have almost physical reactions to the older stories now.
  10. Nerdy protagonists like Harry Potter or Barry Allen from the new Flash TV series are an extremely recent phenomenon. Even a new wave proto-goth like Elric was a ladies’ man.
  11. “Nice guys” like Harry Dresden were pretty well absent from the science fiction and fantasy scene from 1910 to 1977.
  12. The culture wars of the past forty years have largely consisted an effort to reprogram peoples’ tastes for traditional notions of romance and heroism.
  13. Tolkien and Lewis were not outliers. Writers ranging from Poul Anderson to Lord Dunsany and C. L. Moore wrote fantasy from a more or less Christian viewpoint. The shift to a largely post-Christian culture has marked an end of their approach to science fiction and fantasy.

A minor disagreement: No one was on par with Tolkien in the 1970s and those of us who were in our formative reading years at that time knew it.

It was like the difference between Wagner and the Beatles. ‘Red Nails’ by Robert E. Howard is like a Beatles song that has a good beat and you can dance to it, it is catchy, and likable, even lovable; but Lord of the Rings is like a opera that changes the way opera thereafter are conceived and performed, and even the STAR WARS soundtrack written a century later shows the influence of the master.

More to the point, Tolkien is like the difference between Milton and T.S. Eliot. The other fantasy masters of his day, where trying for one of three effects: wry humor, as in the L. Sprague de Camp stories; or a sense of oddness, strangeness, lavish oriental cruelty in exotic settings, as in the creepy and cynical tales of Jack Vance or the cosmic despair of H.P. Lovecraft; or a condemnation of civilized life as corrupt or unnatural, as in nearly everything written by Robert E Howard and his many epigones. All three are trying for something new and strange.

But in the same way Milton adopted the tropes and mannerisms of Homer and Virgil, Tolkien was reworking older material and bringing new life to it: his Middle Earth is not new and strange but old and oddly familiar. We are supposed to recognize it, as weary travelers recognize a childhood home long thought lost.

Tolkein’s ascendancy, to the contrary, was inevitable, because he was drawing from much older and deeper roots than the other fantasy writers of the period.

His was a vision of the world before the Great War, a Catholic vision, and the arid and dry-souled spiritual sickness of the 1950s and 1960s, poisoned by progressivism at home and wars abroad with Nazi Progressives and Soviet Progressives, was a far more startling challenge to the dominant worldview than anything conjured by Poul Anderson or Manly Wade Wellman, and certainly more human than the sick disorienting fear of the godless cosmic vastness found in HP Lovecraft, or the pompous teen-nihilism of Michael Morcock.

Who of the other fantascists of the 70s struck the deep root in the human psyche as Tolkien? Moorcock and Zelazny were writing fantasy with the same moral background and vision as Jack Vance or, for that matter, the now-forgotten  James Branch Cabell: cynical world-weariness, tinged with practicality, aspiring to nothing transcendent. In what way, really, is Cugel the Clever any better or worse than Corwin of Amber or Elric of Melnibone?

Tolkien lead us to drink from a deeper well, and it is precisely this that his many imitators did not imitate.

This is why (as Jeffro notes) so much Tolkienesque fantasy has nothing of Tolkein in it, even as much of Lovecraftian horror has nothing of Lovecraft in it.

Aside from this, I applaud and confirm Jeffro’s findings. As you can see from my comments above, points 7-10 agree with my conclusion that there is an anti-masculine, anti-heoric, anti-romantic bias at work here, and 4-6 are related to the growth of the genre, and the erection of the invisible barrier between the generations.

Point 13 point bears some explaining, and is the one of greatest interest to me. Poul Anderson, Lord Dunsany and C.L. Moore are not Christian apologists as C.S. Lewis was. Far from it.

But they wrote of elves using the assumptions of the Matter of Britain, which are, of course, part and parcel of the Christian worldview. In older tales, there is a spooky, haunting quality of elves, that slight breath of hell that hangs over them, which can be seen even in such innocent offerings as Disney’s DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE.

The elves of Tolkien have nothing of this quality. They have the dignity and stature of Medieval depictions of the Perilous Realm, and nothing of the cuteness and delicacy the Victorians with their butterfly winged fairies sought.

They might as well be two different species, so different are they from each other. But even these butterfly winged fairies, Mustardseed and Moth, Puck and Cobweb of Shakespeare, have that air of nocturnal power that quakes at churchbells, that hint of something infernal and forbidden and above all elfin which Poul Anderson, Lord Dunsany and C.L. Moore also capture.

So their elves are different from Tolkien elves, and therefore from Gygax elves, who, after all, are as psychologically and physically as similar to homo sapiens is Neanderthal.

No D&D game in which I, at least, have played, ever mentioned my elf magic-user character, Jaffar the Whiny, needing to tithe a changeling, a human baby kidnapped from the Sons of Adam and raised among my kind and being groomed for the Tithe to Hell once every ten years, nor could clerics repel the elf kindred with a crucifix or holy water.

Of course, the de-elfification of the elves in Gygax is inevitable and not to be condemned: the whole point of D&D back in the old days was that you could play anything.

It was for this reason that the generic decatholicized medieval background of D&D was brought into being, complete with clerics and ‘holy symbols’ who were somehow polytheists, with paladins with no Charlemagne fighting no Paynim.

Players wanted the liberty to play something like a medieval ninja named Flying Mongoose of the court of King Arthur, teaming up with Silver John and Prince Valiant, Inconnu the Laughing Magician, Conan of Cimmeria, the Gray Mouser, Robin Hood, Dorian Hawkmoon, Friar Tuck and Peregrin Took on a quest to loot the mummy-haunted great pyramid of Cheops.

And so the monk, bard, fighting man, magic user, barbarian, rogue, ranger, paladin, cleric and halfling cannot really gang up in anything like the real background of Reconquista Spain, nor follow Richard the Lionheart to the Holy Land.

Their kind of kitchen-sink adventure can only happen in Playanythingland, and the atmosphere of Playanythingland is as alien to Tolkien’s Middle Earth as it is to Mallory’s Camelot, or even T.H. White’s. But such a party of adventurers would be right at home in a Lin Carter pastiche.

The notion of a wizard as an adventurer comes from this era. In all prior stories the wizard appears with the eerie infrequency of Merlin in the Arthur cycle or the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella: something meant as a plot point, or to establish how to break the enchantment on the missing princess, but nothing more. They did not solve problems nor fight battles, not until the writers on the Appendix N list came along.

Naturally the same consequence comes out of making a wizard a hero as making an elf a hero. The magic becomes tame. The thing that imperils the soul of Christian men becomes merely an alternate technology, and the wands of warlocks become something more like the trick arrows of Hawkeye or Green Arrow, different weapons with different special effects, and when your spells are used up, you are out of ammo.

The portrayal of elves, those lords of the Perilous Realm, by Poul Anderson, Lord Dunsany and C.L. Moore are from a time before Tolkien and long before Gary Gygax created the modern view. The child-stealing Erlkoenig, whose dancing daughters look to adult eyes like night mists and willow branches waving in the wind could walk without misstep into the Third Hemisphere of Dunsany or the northern lands of Poul Andersen. This is because these authors portray the danger of meddling with the Otherworld or its unchancy, ancient, and inhuman inhabitants.

Now, you may ask, why do I insist on calling this vision of dangerous elves a Christian vision? Surely the old pagans knew the danger of meddling with beings greater than themselves: Actaeon is transformed into a deer and torn to bits by his own hounds for the unintentional effrontery of stumbling across a goddess bathing in a forest pool. Is this pagan tale any different from Ichabod Crane running afoul of the Headless Horsemen, or Darby O’Gill provoking the ire of the Banshee by taking her golden comb?

I would say that the difference is that for a Christian, the danger of magic or of elves or elfin things is a spiritual danger. Trifling with a dragon may get you burnt, true enough, or torn to pieces with claws of iron: but trifling with the Queen of Elves will get you carried off to fairyland, to dwell in splendor for what seems to you an afternoon, but, upon returning, find your parents and kin dead for a hundred years.

Such stories are not depictions (no matter how cleverly Ursula K LeGuin handles the matter in ROCANNON’S WORLD) of the theory of relativity. When you eat elfin food, human food no longer nourishes you; when you step into elfin time, human time no longer passes as it should. These are symbols of addiction, of how false pleasures drive out true pleasures, of how wild, perverse or unwholesome love, for all its glamour and allure, ruins the capacity for wholesome love.

Again, why do I call it Christian? Surely Oisin suffered this departure in fairyland as strange as anything that happened to Tam Lin?

I suggest it is different, and different precisely in the fact of its fatalism. When Oison steps from his enchanted horse, his missing years return in a rush and he falls to the ground a corpse; but a mere slip of a girl, by the power of her steadfast love, braves all dangers and pulls the enchanted rider from his horse, Tam Lin is saved by the touch of earthly soil. There is a choice involved in the Christian world. Christianity is always about free will, and the romance and dreadful danger that implies.

The romance and the appeal of the ancient and more dangerous elves of the Otherworld is perhaps best explained by G.K. Chesterton in this quote, if the reader can see the connection between theology and pulp adventure stories and medieval romance:

Again, the same is true of that difficult matter of the danger of the soul, which has unsettled so many just minds. To hope for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable. It is tenable, but it is not specially favourable to activity or progress. Our fighting and creative society ought rather to insist on the danger of everybody, on the fact that every man is hanging by a thread or clinging to a precipice. To say that all will be well anyhow is a comprehensible remark: but it cannot be called the blast of a trumpet. Europe ought rather to emphasize possible perdition; and Europe always has emphasized it. Here its highest religion is at one with all its cheapest romances. To the Buddhist or the eastern fatalist existence is a science or a plan, which must end up in a certain way. But to a Christian existence is a story, which may end up in any way. In a thrilling novel (that purely Christian product) the hero is not eaten by cannibals; but it is essential to the existence of the thrill that he mightbe eaten by cannibals. The hero must (so to speak) be an eatable hero. So Christian morals have always said to the man, not that he would lose his soul, but that he must take care that he didn’t. In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man “damned”: but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call him damnable.

My point here is not that the poor father could have done anything to save his boy from the Erlkoenig, the elfinking. My point is that the danger was spiritual: first the elf attempts to lure him with promises, then to threaten, and the matter is one of life and death. So it is with all true adventure, all good romances, and with the spiritual life of man in general.

So it is with the One Ring in Tolkien, and with almost nothing else in any of the books on the list in Appendix N. What Tolkien did not do, for it was not part of his purpose, was show what dangers look like when dangers are beautiful.

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