I haven’t been writing much on world building lately, and I think I know why. You see, sometimes, meaning most times, I tend to forget that it’s not just about making a fantasy world for a story that I’m writing. It’s not just a game. Tolkien used the word “subcreation” to describe it. In his essay “On Fairy Stories”, which was originally a speech, he talked about the nature of fantasy and the creation of fictional realms as a religious experience. As a Catholic, he believed that the world was created by a divine spark, namely, the Judeo-Christian God of the Old and New Testaments. The greater Creation was the work of God, and creation was part of the very nature of God. That said, because, as the Bible claims, man is made in the image of God, Man (I’m using it as a gender neutral term meaning “humanity”) is a natural creator.
Some would say that it just means that we create life by having children, but Tolkien believed, and I agree, that it means that we create. Not just life, but art, dreams, fantasies, and even entire worlds. Subcreation is a way of expressing the world in a new way, showing it through the lens perspective of Man’s image. If Man is made in God’s image, then elves, dwarves, and…yes, even orcs…are made in Man’s image. It’s not enough for us to simply create a fantasy world and leave it alone as if it has no meaning. It has loads of meaning.
Tolkien’s work has been loved by both Christians and Pagans alike. It has the Messianic overtones in Lord of the Rings that resonate with Christians, but also shows the Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell as being in many world religions. Tolkien’s deep love of the past and the balance of nature is very Druidic in nature. I’ve even heard of people who take the Valar (as seen in The Silmarillion) for their personal gods. It may not be how he intended it, but remember that this is a man who, by his own admission, hated all forms of allegory. It wasn’t his purpose to make Middle Earth his allegorical manifesto, but to create a mythology for England, and mythology has the natural tendency to resonate differently with different people.
I suppose that’s why I started with the topic of religion when I started up the blog. You see, I don’t really want to turn this into a philosophizing collection of religiosity, but world building really is a religious experience for me. I’m not going to get into what that religion is, because, for one, it’s not really what this is about. This is about your creation of your mythology. World building, when done effectively, is more than just writing for entertainment; it’s the mythological expression of the soul of the world builder. The second reason I’m not going to say my religion is because, by seeing my soul through my world, you’ll probably be able to figure out what it is I believe and what I used to believe eventually, if you care enough to look, that is.
For me, at least, world building is so much more than just creating a story. It’s creating a mythology, forging a Subcreation as a work of art and, even if you don’t believe in a supernatural deity, an act of worship. Whether you worship the Christian Trinity, the Wiccan Horned God and Triple Goddess, or the rational influences of empirical sciences, creating a world of your own is a great way to not just reveal, but experience what is truly important to you.