The Tolkien Option, Part 2: Recovery
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus begins and ends His earthly ministry with the promise of recovery. In the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus read the prophet Isaiah, sat down, and declared Scripture fulfilled. The long-expected Messiah had come to rescue, redeem, and recover paradise lost; to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus brought recovery of sight to the blind once again. The Emmaus disciples were downtrodden and bewildered. “We had hoped it was he who was going to redeem Israel”, they said. And then Jesus opened their eyes to see Him who was crucified and yet risen. Scripture fulfilled once more. Recovery of sight to the blind.
Recovery. It’s as much a part of our earthly stories as it is the Greatest Story of all time. There is a similar pattern repeated throughout many of our favorite stories: fall, despair, death, an unlikely hero, a sacrificial death, a renewal or recovery of what was lost. We see it in characters like Flynn and Rapunzel in Disney’s Tangled, Sleeping Beauty, many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and countless other stories.
And there’s a good reason for this as J.R.R. Tolkien writes in his essay, On Fairy Stories. Recovery is one of the essential parts of a good story. Recovery is like the parable of the prodigal son or the lost sheep or the lost coin, searching out what we have lost. Recovery helps us see beauty in the ordinary; the miracle and wonder of creation in the oak leaf or the evergreen needle. Recovery fills our imagination, and captivates us with hope of a world, not as it is, but as it should be.
Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a regaining – regaining of a clear view. I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’ – as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity – from possessiveness.
This is what good stories do for those who read the right books. Good stories renew our imagination, perhaps even “baptizing” our imagination, as George MacDonald’s Phantastes did for C.S. Lewis on a crisp Saturday afternoon at Leatherhead train station.
Good stories work to restore in us a clear view of reality; they help us recover what we have been, and lost—courage, honor, and sacrifice we see in stories like Robin Hood or King Arthur; and like the mirror of Galadriel, good stories help us see what may become of humanity, such as we see in Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Circle, or even The Walking Dead.
Good stories also serve to recover what is lost, to train our eyes to see clearly the depth of man’s depravity, as we do in The Lord of the Flies, and yet the far deeper reach of God’s mercy and grace in Christ, as we see in Aslan’s sacrifice in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe; to see the reality of evil without any shades of gray—the white witch and her curse of endless winter or the sleepless evil of Mordor and Sauron’s all-seeing eye; to see there is such a thing as good, and that good triumphs over evil, sometimes in the most unlikely ways: a hobbit, a wizard from Slytherin, a crucifixion.
Lewis had a similar way of putting it: “Since it is so likely that they [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
And yet, Recovery, as Tolkien teaches us, is more than antidote. It makes our world bigger, not smaller; brighter, not duller. Good stories, in other words, not only tear down our old way of seeing the world, but build up our imagination with a view of a new creation, and just in this one word: Recovery.
“It was in fairy stories that I first divined the potency of words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”
In the Tolkien Option, the imagination is redeemed and set free. The Recovery we find in good stories can assist us in sneaking past watchful dragons as we tell others the true story of the Great Recovery in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.
 J.R.R. Tolkien. On Fairy Stories. Tree and Leaf. London: Harper Collins, 2001, p. 57-58.  C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. Harcourt, Inc.: New York, 1994, p. 31.  J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, p. 60.