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MYTH SALON: The Two Red Books: Jung, Tolkien, and the Imaginal Realm with Dr. Becca Tarnas

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Join us on Thursday, March 18th at 5PM Pacific for an exciting Myth Salon connecting Jung and Tolkien...

Beginning in the years leading up to the Great War, both C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien independently began to undergo profound imaginal experiences. They had each stepped across a threshold and entered into another world, the realm of imagination, the world of fantasy. Jung recorded these initially spontaneous visionary experiences, which he further developed using the practice of active imagination, in a large red manuscript that he named Liber Novus, although usually it is referred to simply as The Red Book. The experiences narrated in The Red Book became the seeds from which nearly all of Jung’s subsequent work flowered. For Tolkien, this imaginal journey revealed to him the world of Middle-earth, whose stories and myths eventually led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings, a book he named within its own imaginal history The Red Book of Westmarch. There are many synchronistic parallels between Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books: the style and content of their works of art, the narrative descriptions and scenes in their texts, the nature of their visions and dreams, and an underlying similarity in world view that emerged from their experiences. The two men seem to have been simultaneously treading parallel paths through the imaginal realm.

The revelations of this research hold deep consequences for modernity’s assumptions of a disenchanted world, and bring to the surface implications concerning the nature of imagination and its participatory relationship to the collective unconscious. In this presentation, I will point to the possibility that Tolkien and Jung are preliminary guides on a journey to the depths of an ensouled cosmos in which imagination saturates the very foundations of reality.

Becca Tarnas, PhD, is a scholar, artist, and editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. She received her doctorate in Philosophy and Religion from CIIS.

1 Comment

Joel Sloane
Joel Sloane
Mar 20, 2021

Dr. Tarnas... well done on the many connections, reflections and synchronicities between Jung and Tolkien.... and on your ability to organize and present them wonderfully side by side.... I was particularly smitten by your observation that both men similarly commented on the human condition ... having once entered the higher realms of imagination only to return with resplendent "withered leaves"...

As Tolkien reports: The Land of Fairy Story is wide and deep and high.... In that land a man may (perhaps) count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very mystery and wealth make dumb the traveler who would report.... The fairy gold (too often) turns to withered leaves when it is brought away.

All that I can ask is…

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