The Basis of SubCreation

It only occurred to me this week [early October, 2017], some few days after I opened the Stories shelf with The Bestiary and The Legend of Gnat Bunker what those two pieces have in common.  They are not merely “creative” but meta-creative:  The Bestiary is about drawing myths as though they’re real, and Gnat Bunker is about fantastically-real (or really-fantastic) storytelling.  They’re about how we create what we create, and in a deeper sense, why.

As a Christian, I believe the Bible, as God’s word, to be both true and the Truth.  And in the very first chapters I understand two things:  that God created all that is, and that God created man– mankind, male and female– in His own image.  Now, there are many who dispute the means by which God did it, or how long he took to go about it, but those arguments are not the point here.


There are, some have pointed out, two fundamental Acts of God described in the Bible:  the creation in Genesis and the redemption in the Gospels, each opening a Testament– both a covenant and a testimony– of God’s word to us.  And with each one comes a command:  to the First Adam, God said “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” (Genesis 1:28), and from Jesus, the “Second Adam” as Paul calls him, is the command to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation,” as Mark 16:15 puts it.  A creative mandate, then, and a redemptive mandate.

The term “subcreation” and its related terms “subcreative,” “subcreator,” and all other derivatives of the verb “subcreate,” come from J. R. R. Tolkien, who describes the race as “man, sub-creator, the refracted light / through whom is splintered from a single White / … many hues,” in his poem “The Hope Against The Lies of Men.”  It was his philosophy, described by his son Christopher in the notes to his father’s work and in his biography by Humphrey Carpenter, that the image of God was expressed fundamentally by the creative act itself.  As Tolkien wrote in On Fairy Stories (found in The Tolkien Reader for a reasonable price):

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

This applies not only to “fairy stories” and “fantasy” but to all human creation.  Apes and birds may use tools, angels and demons are understood to have the power of speech, but only mankind is creative.  And that creativity is most distilled in what we call “the arts”.  But not all human creation is art, nor is it all truly subcreative.  The torture instruments of Saddam Hussein and the banalities of most American popular “music” and television are alike disqualified.  Most of the kitsch and pablum of “Christian” bookstore shelves and music stations is as well.  There is always something missing:

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. ~ Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

So it is on these two principles, of Creation and Redemption, that my own art (if “art” it is) and my “subcreative” philosophy are built.  They are the keystone and the cornerstone of what I do here.  As Dr. Henry M. Morris (Ph.D., U. Minn) said,

All true education therefore should be carried out in the context of both creation and redemption, Christ being the Author of both mandates. ~ Henry M. Morris, Ph.D (2010 – ‘Reflections on a Legacy:  Four Decades of Creation Ministry‘ Acts & Facts. 39 (1): 10-13.)

But education is for the mind, and infamously exclusive to the mind in contemporary culture.  All true art, as I’ve indicated above, should also be carried out in these two contexts.

All things are from God; and above all, reason and imagination and the great gifts of the mind. They are good in themselves; and we must not altogether forget their origin even in their perversion. ~ G. K. Chesterton: ‘The Dagger with Wings,’ (Father Brown)

For more and likeminded writers, may I recommend the Superversive SF blog, or that of John C. Wright, author of the Golden Age trilogy.

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