Enchantment: The Spell of Secondary Worlds
In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien discusses “a special skill, a kind of elvish craft” that is necessary to make a Fantasy world believable. He later calls this craft “Enchantment.” If you look up enchantment in the dictionary, it is defined as “a spell,” or “that state of being under a spell.” I think that the second one is nearer to the mark, but neither of those definitions are exactly what Tolkien means when he says Enchantment. Then what, exactly, does he mean? Tolkien does not come right out and say, but carefully reading his essay and deep meditation provide an answer.
Even though he does not give a plain definition, Tolkien does say certain facts about Enchantment that can lead us to its meaning. For instance, he states that it is difficult to produce, that few attempt it, and that if it is “in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art.” But the biggest clue that Tolkien gives to Enchantment’s true meaning is this sentence: “Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” This is important because it tells us what makes Enchantment what it is. In order for something to be Enchantment, it must make everything in a Fantasy world believable to everyone, even the person who created the world. If something is Enchantment, it makes the creator of a Fantasy (Secondary) world believe that the world he himself made up is completely real, even though he made it up.
If we think about that, we can see why Tolkien says Enchantment is “elvish.” Elves are supernatural beings, and a craft that makes an author believe that the world he himself made up truly exists is nothing short of supernatural – it is a Miracle, in fact. This is why the term “Magic” does not apply to Enchantment; Miracles are contrary to the laws of nature, while Magic “produces, or pretends to produce, in alteration in the Primary World,” in Tolkien’s words.
But elves are, of course, not real. If Enchantment does come from the elves, then, it must come from the most real supernatural Being there ever was: God. Enchantment comes from God Almighty. It has been passed on by God to Men, who are made in God’s image and likeness. This fact is very important to understanding the true meaning of Enchantment. Remember that earlier I mentioned that Tolkien says in his essay, “Enchantment produces a Secondary World…” With the realization that we inherited Enchantment from God, produces suddenly becomes the most valuable word in that sentence. If Enchantment produces, or makes, something and comes from God, and God made us, then He must have used Enchantment to make us. Enchantment is a craft that is used in making a Fantasy world, so that means that this world, so often called “real life,” is Fantasy – God’s Fantasy.
Think about that for a moment. We, humans, make Fantasy worlds because they are so enjoyable to make; they delight us. If we get our Fantasy-making qualities from God, then He must have made us because He delights in us. Delight is, therefore, a part of Enchantment. In order for something to be made with Enchantment, it must be made for delight, not for the creator to feel like he is an all-powerful master, and his Fantasy creatures his slaves.
Now, a definition of Man’s Enchantment may be formulated – why do I call it Man’s Enchantment, you ask? I call it so because there is a single, but huge, difference between Man’s Enchantment and the other kind – God’s. If a Man “creates” a Fantasy world, does it really exist? No, it does not. Therefore, we can define Man’s Enchantment as “the supernatural craft handed down to Man by God by which we sub-create Fantasy worlds that are absolutely believable in every way possible, even to the author, because we delight in them.” If you are reading a book that takes place in a Fantasy world, and there is not a doubt in your mind that the world exists, then you are experiencing Man’s Enchantment. But Man’s Enchantment need not only apply to worlds – it can apply to Fantasy creatures, objects, and events as well.
But what of God’s Enchantment? God’s Enchantment is so much more Miraculous than Man’s – for God’s Enchantment is just like ours, excepting this one amazing truth: God can make His Fantasy world actually exist. This is something that Man has never been, nor ever will be, able to do, and rightly so. God is the Supreme Being; it is only natural that He alone should have the power to truly create things. God’s Enchantment can be defined as “The supernatural process by which God creates a precise, orderly Fantasy world and then causes it to exist, because He delights in it.” Every single day, every single person ever created experiences God’s Enchantment. It is absolutely the most beautiful Miracle ever wrought.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” like all his other works, leads you to God, His love for us, and the Catholic Faith. His wonderful essay describes for us the beautiful Miracle by which God Himself created us, and by which we in turn sub-create our delightful Secondary Worlds. This supernatural process, which Tolkien calls “Enchantment,” can be split into two categories: Man’s Enchantment and God’s Enchantment. Man’s Enchantment can be defined as “the supernatural craft handed down to Man by God by which we sub-create Fantasy worlds that are absolutely believable in every way possible, even to the author, because we delight in them.”
God’s Enchantment is even more wonderful than Man’s, and can be defined as “the supernatural process by which God creates a precise, orderly Fantasy world and then causes it to exist, because He delights in it.” We are God’s Fantasy world, and no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to sub-create a world as unique, as orderly, as well-done-to-the-last-detail as His. Even though J.R.R. Tolkien does not come right out and say it, his definition of Enchantment is, in fact, a wonderful, ongoing Miracle that was, is, and always will be happening – all because God delights in us.
– by Frodo Baggins