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Therapy Through Faёrie

Therapeutic Properties of Fantasy Literature by the Inklings and by U. K. Le Guin

Anna Cholewa-Purgal

This book argues that the fantasy fiction rooted in J. R. R. Tolkien’s concept of Faёrie, as represented by the fantasy works of the Inklings and of U. K. Le Guin, has certain psychotherapeutic properties. Faёrie’s generic ‘ethos’ seems to draw on ‘moral imagination’ and on logos (meaning and word), which informs its secondary worlds and encourages a search for an unconditional sense of life, against the postmodern neo-nihilistic aporia. The book postulates an applicability of logotherapy (‘therapy through meaning’, developed after WW2 by Victor Frankl,) to the workings of Faёrie, whose bibliotherapeutic potential rests on its generic marks, identified by Tolkien as Fantasy, Recovery, Escape (breaking free from incarcerating meaninglessness), Consolation, and (cathartic) Eucatastrophe.

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I have attempted to view modern high fantasy fiction, as established by the Inklings and by Le Guin, in terms of their assumed psychotherapeutic properties. The essential contribution of the writers to the rise of the fantastic mode in contemporary literature cannot be ignored on the strength of its purely literary merits, which I have briefly signalled in the first two chapters of this work. The bulk of this book addresses, however, the psychotherapeutic properties of fantasy literature, which I attempt to view from various angles, starting with the most general statement regarding psychotherapeutic power of narrative itself, and then proceeding to the role of art in psychotherapy, and of imaginative literature approached as its specific type, finally reaching the problem of psychotherapeutic properties residing in the genre of Faërie, as stipulated by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The axis of my thesis is a correspondence between literature and psychotherapy, which I seek by transposing the tenets of a particular school of psychotherapy and philosophy, that is Victor Frankl’s logotherapy, onto the grounds of literary theory and literary studies. I seek to argue that high fantasy, in its peculiar vicarious way, conducts logotherapy, drawing on its immersion in what I call mythopathy and sensopaedia, and centred upon logos, understood as both word and meaning, and upon moral imagination. Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation, the qualities enumerated by Tolkien as the key characteristics of Faërie, are the marks of the genre’s therapeutic potential, most effectively accomplished...

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