Many are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Long before he began work on any of these stories, he wrote something he called The Book of Lost Tales, which was published posthumously as The Silmarillion. It serves as a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as a reference book for the history of Middle Earth for the few thousands of years of the beginning of Tolkien’s legendarium.
The story of Sauron and the Ring of Power is the final section of The Silmarillion. A good deal of the book discusses the origin of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s creation myth for his fantasy world. The One true God creates his angels, and through these, He creates the rest. This is not some Gnostic demiurge creation story because God still is the sole creator, but his creation is simply mediated by these angels.
These angels are sub-creators, according to Tolkien. The notion of sub-creation is a big element in Tolkien’s entire mythology, and it relates to all of us who are Creative Writers. Tolkien writes of angels as created beings who help create the world as a means of indicating his idea that mankind is intended to be God’s sub-creators in the Primary World.
Before we read about the love or the holiness of God, we see His creative powers. He creates the world in six days. Man in the highest order of God’s creation, made in His image, and into whom is given a soul. Since God is a creator first, then that made in his image is creative, as well. All artists are specifically sub-creators, but so is the doctor and the nurse, the lawyer and the judge, the smith and the mason. In this, man has not only the ability to create, or the right to create, but the obligation to create.
Leaf on the Tree
We will limit our consideration to writers. Tolkien did not think that writers originated anything. That would be creation. We are still sub-creators in that we only deal in representation of what God made, even in worlds of fantasy (here’s a little secret: all fiction is fantasy). Fiction is not invented, but rather discovered. He compared it to a leaf on a tree. Each story is a single leaf that indicates there is a whole tree full of others leaves from which it sprang.
The job of the author is take the leaf given to him by the tree and talk all about that leaf, not forgetting the tree, but not mentioning it, either. How artistic the author is seen in how he relates the leaf to others and allows them into the tale of that leaf. Each leaf is on its own glorious, but still a single leaf from an even grander tree. God made the tree and lets us have whatever leaves He will in His own time and in His own manner.
Another image Tolkien used to describe the concept of sub-creation is that of light and a crystal. God is the light, and is described as a single shaft of light that comes down from above and strikes a piece of crystal, which represents the individual person as sub-creator. The light is fractured and comes out of different sides and at different angles, and often in different colors. These different individual branches of light is the story sub-created by the writer. The splinter of light is impossible without the one true shaft of light coming down from above. Likewise, our individual tales of fiction are only possible because they come from the Great Creator down into us and through us as His sub-creators.
The fact that all human sub-creativity comes God as Creator feeds into the reason and purpose of our fiction. Tolkien wrote of his books as means of escapism, but not in the way it is often used today. People say they want to read a good book and escape this world and all of its problems. Tolkien calls that foolish. As a Christian man, Tolkien believed in Heaven, and that this world is not all there is. Escapism is considering the world to come, that there may be something better than this one. For Tolkien, this is the stories ability to remind the reader of the greater tree.
We all have the ability to be a sub-creator of God. The author who writes as well as the reader who recreates what the author wrote all use their creative capacities given by God. This is more than a talent, but a task – but what a wonderful obligation it is!