. John Tallmadge | Exploring Nature, Culture, and the Human Journey
Life is our dictionary.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pilgrim’s Path Workshops on Spiritual Classics

Fantasy and Religion: The Imaginary Worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Recently offered at: Union Institute, Cincinnati OH (5-day seminar)

Convenor:  John Tallmadge, Ph.D.

Since the beginnings of myth and literature, storytellers have created imaginary worlds to illuminate problems faced by their audiences in everyday life.  Underworlds, earthly or heavenly paradises, the realms of gods or immortals, the lands of the dead, and fabulous kingdoms remote in space or time have fascinated people throughout the ages.  The creation of an imaginary world seems to be one particularly durable strategy for both captivating an audience and dealing with issues too complex or disturbing to be resolved easily in the legal, political, and ethical milieu in which we normally live.

The genre of fantasy has blossomed in the past half-century despite the ascendancy of mechanistic materialism, scientific rationality, and the realistic conventions of journalism.  People still hunger for myth, magic, the supernatural, and the exotic, all those components of a world in which the spiritual and the physical are not distinct, where the divine and the human meet, and where the epic struggle between good and evil does not have an ambiguous outcome. Perhaps that is why they are drawn to imaginary worlds.

This seminar will examine the work of two great fantasy writers,  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both were eminent British scholars, university teachers, and students of medieval literature.  Deeply religious, they responded in their fiction to the great issues of the twentieth century: war, totalitarianism, science, the debasement of political life, racism and colonialism, the erosion of local culture, the assault on nature by industry, and the spiritual emptiness of the age. Each writer developed a distinctive religious vision and literary style while creating timeless characters and enduring tales of spiritual adventure.

Our format will include lectures, small-group discussions, "guided tours" of key episodes, participant presentations, focus sessions around themes or problems posed by the texts, and opportunities to view and discuss recent films  There will be writing exercises before and during the seminar. 






  • Lewis, C.S.  Out of the Silent Planet.  New York NY: Macmillan, 1965
  • ________.  Perelandra.  New York NY: Macmillan, 1965
    ________.  That Hideous Strength.  New York NY: Macmillan, 1965
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring.  Boston MA:  Houghton Mifflin, 2001
  • ________.  The Two Towers.  Boston MA:  Houghton Mifflin, 2001
    ________.  The Return of the King.  Boston MA:  Houghton Mifflin, 2001