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Flames upon Their Head

Ross Gale


When J.R.R. Tolkien writes, "Sub-creator, the refracted light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues" and refers to a future time when "poets shall have flames upon their head," I wonder why this time can't be now. I've always believed this time to be now.

The connotation of splintered light (men, women, and artists) can be interpreted as hierarchical: the art of humanity subservient to God’s holy creation. Because we are made in God's image we can create, but our creations are "lesser." Our art and stories and poems are "lesser." Compared to God, we are just children playing out and about.

This interpretation can be dangerous. Maybe I’m a stickler for words, but this can infect how you think about yourself as an artist. Tolkien was arguing against materialists, evolution, and modernity, even more than he was contending against the myth-hater C.S. Lewis, who once called myths lies.

I want something more than just play. I need something more than just lesser light. Stories and poetry and music and art are all something more. Rather than lesser lights they are illuminating truths. They are "the elves that wrought on cunning forges in the mind, and light and dark on secret looms entwined."

As a writer, I believe in what Madeleine L'Engle says, "God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.” A Creator is only a Co-Creator when he or she asks. The request must be made.

Struggling with the question of purpose allows us to examine our own role as artists and writers. I feel an immense sense of gratitude to those who commit themselves to this craft of love, who search, and grapple, and struggle. The time is now for the poets with flames upon their heads. It is you. Beginning with the first word, note, brush stroke. Even just starting with a prayer.