‘The Dying God Myth’ & the Inklings


Promotional Video for Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel.

In Chapter 7 of Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel (Ignatius Press. 2010), David C. Downing (R.W. Schlosser Professor of English at Elizabethtown College, PA, & C.S. Lewis Scholar who has written several books for InterVarsity Press) provides a captivating, lively and creative envisioning of Inklings conversation.  Last night as I was reading and discussing Chapter 7 with one of daughters, I thought it would be an apt piece to share with the Emerging Scholars Network on Good Friday.

“The dying god myth”, explained Lewis. “That’s how these two apostles helped drag me into the Kingdom, kicking and screaming, almost ten years ago.” Lewis grinned at Tolkien and Dyson, and they smiled back. Tom sensed a shared memory that they all treasured, and he waited for some further explanation.

“I had a stern old tutor growing up,” said Lewis, “a strict logician who doted on The Golden Bough. He thought that Frazer’s research had proven, once and for all, that every culture has its myth of the god who must die for the people. Osiris in Egyptian myth. Balder in the Norse epics. So he dismissed the story of Christ’s death and Resurrection as just one more version of a universal myth—just an expression of our culture, not a bedrock reality.”

Tolkien took up the story: “Hugo and I had supper one night with this poor old sinner and got to talking about myths and fairy tales. Lewis took the Frazer line, that Christianity was just one dying god myth among many. We tried to reframe the issue”, he said, looking over at Lewis and placing his hand on his shoulder. “We argued that myths are not just well-wrought lies; they are actually real, though dappled, shafts of the divine light falling on human imagination. We believe that the great and universal myth, the dying god who sacrifices himself for the people, shows everyone’s inborn awareness of the need for redemption. As we understand it, the Incarnation was the pivotal point at which myth became history.”

“What a night that was,” said Lewis, looking at Tolkien and Dyson, “and what a new dawn the next day!” Turning to Tom, Lewis added, “You can’t imagine the liberation! In this view, Christianity becomes the True Myth to which all the others are pointing. It is a faith grounded in fact, the myth that unfolds itself in history.”

Tom was impressed, but still skeptical. He couldn’t help but enjoy the zest with which these three men recalled a night that changed one of their lives—perhaps all of their lives—forever. But Tom still had plenty of questions. He felt himself outnumbered, a whole tableful of believers, and every one of them a formidable intellect. Yet, in all honesty, he couldn’t pretend to be won over to a whole new way of looking at things from ten or fifteen minutes of conversation. “That’s a wonderful story”, said Tom, “and such a beautiful, hopeful way of looking at things.” He wished someone else would take up the conversation, but apparently he still had the floor, whether he wanted it or not.

“Of course, there are still some tough questions”, he said, trying to sound as offhand as possible. “You all were talking a few minutes ago about the horrors of the last war. And now, here we are twenty years later, and it looks like we may have to go through the whole thing all over again. Don’t you think an all-good, all-powerful God could fashion a world where humans don’t inflict so much pain and suffering on each other?”

Looking For The King: An Inklings Novel by David C. Downing. Ignatius Press, 2010.

Now that your appetite has been whetted, I encourage you to swing by Ignatius Press’ webpage to read or listen to all of Chapter 7. In addition, I commend the author (as a speaker), the book, and the audio as resources for your campus.  As you may remember, Downing  spoke for the Emerging Scholars Network ministry in South Central PA* and did an excellent job.  For a post on my personal blog click here.

*In local partnership with the Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church and the Elizabethtown Public Library.

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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2 Comments

  • downindc@etown.edu'
    David C. Downing commented on April 27, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the excerpt and discussion, Tom. There’s an interesting new book out by Louis Markos in which he proves Lewis’s and Tolkien’s point by examining the Dying God motif in various world mythologies. Apparently they know whereof they spoke!

    • Thomas B. Grosh IV commented on April 27, 2011 Reply

      You’re welcome David. I love reading “Looking for the King” w/a budding writer, she’s finding it inspirational :-) Any interest in an on-line summer discussion group of “Looking for the King”?

      In response to this post, a faculty friend in Western PA shared with me that he ordered/received and is looking forward to reading “Looking for the King.” He wanted me to pass along his appreciation for your writing of the book.

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