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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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It has long been my desire to address the issue of an assumed therapeutic potential of fantasy literature, particularly that embedded in the fantasy works and thought of the Inklings and of the American writer Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, with regard to the notion of high fantasy, which I link here with J. R. R. Tolkien’s concept of Faërie. I use the term ‘high fantasy’, which had been introduced by Alexander Lloyd in 19711 and subsequently elaborated by Kenneth J. Zahorski, Robert H. Boyer and some other critics2, identifying it after John Clute as ‘fantasies set in otherworlds, specifically secondary worlds, and which deal with matters affecting the destiny of those worlds’.3 To this prerequisite of essential otherworldliness of secondary realms I wish to add, however, another crucial mark that helps distinguish high fantasy from its ‘lower’ type(s), and which is to me a ‘high style’, or a typically Inklingesque quality that results from the writers’ medieval and Renaissance fascinations, from their particular preoccupation with myth, language and meaning, as well as from a distinctive ‘moral imagination’ of their otherworlds, an aspect which Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski recognize as ‘moral realism’ in which the fantastic stories are grounded,4 that is an ‘instinct for sacred things’ recovered from the ‘moralistic sentimentality’ which had ‘deadened it’, and with which it must not be confused.5← 9 | 10 →

I developed the idea of attempting to view the fantasy works of the Inklings and of Le Guin,...

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