I have been reading of villains: villains of pettiness. These villains are men whose soul is small. Russell Kirk admirably deals with the one in his story—a man more concerned with precision than with truth—by having the truth appear before him. I do not yet know what George Eliot will do with Casaubon, but clearly she makes him the small mind writ large. Both of these men are products of the modern age and they remind me of the antithesis which is found in fantasy.
I mentioned Neverwhere a year ago or so. In that one a man with a small soul had it enlarged so that he relinquished the modern world with all the bland comforts and securities it offered. Instead he entered a greater world, a place with greater possibilities of both wonder and terror.
Such, it seems to me, is the world of Narnia for which I longed with unutterable longing when I was in the early grades of elementary school. I think what most attracts about it is the possibility it holds, the wonder and the terror; the weight of alternatives working themselves out in consequences.
Such was the world Bilbo entered when he stepped out of the door, the world that was thrust on Frodo and his company when he received the ring and undertook a quest to win or to lose everything. They learned to live in a world of great consequences both of wonder and of terror, worlds of awe inducing sublimity, and unimaginable splendor.
And through wondering eyes I have learned an alternative to the modern age, with its relentless attempt at comfort, security, tame lions and an endless bland existence of unmitigated entertainment. It is a world to cause in a decent human being the desire for dragons and for portents. Such a world was the world St. John saw in his transports.
The problem with the Chronicles of Narnia, for all that I desired them, was that while they were true they were not real. The Lord of the Rings ends and we read the appendices with eagerness no other book draws forth. We read all we can about that world and are not satisfied; we cannot have it since it is not real, for all that it is true. Even the meager wonders and the somewhat contrived terrors of Neverwhere would be, one feels with Richard Mayhew, better than the drab existence of corporate success and petty happiness on which he turns his back. But it is not real either.
But the transports of St. John, the visions that he saw are true and real. He looked upon the real world, a world of dragons and fallen stars; he saw the Lamb with his company shining on a hill; he saw great angels announcing great things, hurling censers to earth, crying with loud voices; eagles in heaven, cataclysms on earth, the sun darkened and the moon turned all to blood. He saw all the dead and the great white throne of God.
I do not know how George Eliot will destroy her small souled man. I do know that the way Russell Kirk destroyed his was by putting him in a ghostly tale: a fantastic denial of the modern age.