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J. R. R. Tolkiens On FairyStories 193839 A Mystical Approach


... wrote his famous essay 'On Fairy-Stories' as a defence of ... Fairies, he writes, are 'akin to elves' rather than the popular notion of diminutive peoples. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: J. R. R. Tolkiens On FairyStories 193839 A Mystical Approach

J. R. R. Tolkiens On Fairy-Stories
(1938-39)A Mystical Approach
  • Ingrid Hutchinson and Steven Armstrong

  • Apology or Defence?
  • What is Faerie?
  • Primordial Desires
  • Truth and the Fairy-Story
  • Origins
  • Something Higher
  • The Story as Soup, Writer as Cook (31)
  • Locked Doors of Temptation (33)
  • Children
  • Fantasy
  • Recovery, Escape, Consolation
  • The Happy Ending
  • Conclusion

Apology or Defence?
  • Tolkien wrote his famous essay On Fairy-Stories
    as a defence of fantasy and the adult creative
    use of the imagination which he named
  • His sense of the mysterious and the truth of
    fantasy were the impetus behind his own
    creativity, and the essay is an argument in
    response to a man who described myth-making and
    fairy-story as lies though breathed through
  • Christopher Tolkien tells us this man was C.S.

Old Man Willow by Dutch artist Leen Zuydgeest.
What is Faerie?
  • Although he used both terms, Tolkien preferred
    the more arcane form faërie.
  • Fairies, he writes, are akin to elves rather
    than the popular notion of diminutive peoples.
  • In Beowulf, a long poem in Old English, the
    author writes of the ylfe, a race derived
    through Cain from Adam.
  • More important than origins is the notion of what
    comprises such a story its borders are
    inevibably dubious. The magic in Faërie is not an
    end in itself, its virtue is in its

Primordial Desires
  • The magic of enchanted tales or fantasy
    literature is in its satisfaction of certain
    primordial human desires
  • To survey the depths of space and time.
  • To hold communion with living things.
  • To feel within our hearts and minds the
    realization of imagined wonder.
  • The truth of this world is in its own
    completeness and our willingness to accept its
    truth because these truths resonate with
    primordial archetypes that are already part of
    human history, emotion, and the Light inherent in
    all things of this world, inherent because their
    diversity flows out of one Source.

Truth and Fairy-Stories
  • Tolkien describes the tales of Beatrix Potter as
    lying close to the borders of Faërie, but
    outside it though their nearness is due
    largely to their strong moral element.
  • Here and in other writings, he resists the notion
    of allegory, a one-to-one correspondence to
    religious or other signifiers.
  • Fantasy is about truth, especially higher truths,
    and our ability to imagine Secondary Worlds that
    draw on the materials of our Primary World or
    this Reality.
  • Only a clear reason who can control the
    imagination can create the best fantasies.

  • Folktales and myths are considered nowadays as
    two separate forms, the first debased and the
    second at least more elevated, although myth
    means something not true.
  • Mythology is about social relations and tells the
    stories of gods, nature, time, space, and
    cosmology or origins.
  • Some of the original myths (of the Greeks) are
    mere nature allegories.
  • Tolkien tells us that something really higher
    is occasionally glimpsed in mythology the
    Divinity, the right to power (as distinct from
    its possession), the due of worship in fact
    religionmeaning the veneration of the
  • Fairy-stories may (but not so easily) be made a
    vehicle of Mystery.

Something Higher
  • What are the Mysteries?
  • In a spiritual sense, they are the most profound
    questions that we can ask about time, the origin
    of the universe, the meaning of Life, the meaning
    of our own lives (our personal mission in this
    life), birth, death, consciousness, our
    relationship to nature and the universe.
  • Gandalfs Order or Brotherhood is a mystery
    schooland teaches men higher truths about
    themselves and the universe.
  • Saruman, Head of the Order, is fallentempted
    by the lure of power and the failure to know

Myth and Faërie
  • Both can be elevated forms due to our capacity to
    create Seconday Worlds of wonder.
  • Faërie has three faces the Mystical (which
    faces toward the Mysteries) the Magical towards
    Nature and the mirror of scorn and pity towards
    Man. The essential face of Faërie is the middle
    one, but can be any and all depending on the
    individual story-teller.

The Story as Soup, Writer as Cook
  • Tolkien uses the metaphor of soup to describe the
    cauldron from which the cook (the artist)
    chooses material out of the Primary World
    Arthur, once historical was also put into the
    Pot. There he boiled for a long time, together
    with many other older figures and devices, of
    mythology and Faerie, and even some other stray
    bones of history.
  • Ancient archetypes float in the soup along with
    history, legends, myth and fantasy.
  • The writer selectively ladels out what he or
    she desires.
  • So too, we are to use selectivity in our own
    creative endeavours.

The Locked Doors of Temptation
  • Another metaphor that describes the human impulse
    to go beyond oneself, to find out more, to cross
    the threshold the Locked Door stands as an
    eternal temptation.
  • The terror of the threshold holds many back.
  • Tolkien also explains that the horror in
    fantasy tales does not harm the reader. Northrup
    Frye would say that we must also recognize evil
    when we find it.
  • The door also symbolizes the ability of the
    human mind to pass through so that we stand
    outside our own time, outside Time itself.

  • True Faerie stories are not for children, though
    some children do enjoy them.
  • Tolkien argues that story is an adult art.
  • Myth and religion have been sundered and now
    seek a re-fusion.
  • The mind can enter a Secondary World, but the
    moment disbelief arises the spell is broken and
    the art has failed.
  • A fine example occurs in the performance of
    ritualit can be an empty repetition or a means
    to enter another World.

Creative Use of Fantasy
  • Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily
    concerned with possibility, but with
  • If they awakened desire they succeeded.
  • Fantasy must have the inner consistency of
    reality to be successful as should all
    visualizations or creative use of the
  • The creator must have a sense of responsibility
    or consequences and control over his or her
    creative focus.

The Green Sun
  • Fantasy is difficult to achieve.
  • Tolkien suggests the example of the green
    sunsomething anyone can imagine, but can one
    make it credible?
  • The purpose of fantasy, he tells us, is that
    uncorrupted it does not seek delusion, nor
    bewitchment and domination it seeks shared
    enrichment, partners in making and delight, not
  • Fantasy is a natural activitywe make in the
    image and likeness of a Maker.

Recovery, Escape and Consolation
  • There is a danger of boredom.
  • But the true road of escape from boredomis
    not in making all things dark or unremittingly
  • Before we reach such states we need recovery.

  • Recovery (which includes return and renewal of
    health) is a re-gainingregaining of a clear
  • Tolkien means not just facing facts as fact, but
    to clean our windows and look upon the world
    around us with true freshness.
  • Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word seen written up
    in every town in this land.
  • A good craftsman loves his material, and has
    feeling for clay, stone and wood which only the
    art of making can give.

Escape and Consolation
  • Many accused Tolkiens writings as being merely
  • He explains that the use of Fantasy may include a
    desire to escape from modern technology and the
    noise of factories, but certainly harder things
    like hunger, thirst, poverty, pain, sorrow,
    injustice and death these can also be faced in
    safe ways through the vehicle of story.
  • Story offers the reader and writer a kind of
    consolation and satisfaction that speaks to an
    ancient longing for reunion with those things we
    feel separated from.

The Frog Prince
  • The satisfaction of this tale is not in the fact
    that we believe a frog cannot be a prince, let
    alone marry a princess.
  • The point of the story lies not in thinking
    frogs possible mates, but in the necessity of
    keeping promises (even those with intolerable
    consequences) that, together with observing
    prohibitions, run through all Fairyland.
  • Literature, however, should show not tell
  • Reveal, but do not preach.

Consolation of the Happy Ending
  • The greatest and most important consolation of
    fairy-stories is The Consolation of the Happy
  • Tolkien names it Eucatastrophethe good
    catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn.
  • No matter how wild or terrible the adventures
    when the turn comes it lifts the heart, near
    to tears.

From The Two Towers to be released by
New Line Cinema on August 26, 2003.
The Happy Ending of Lord of the Rings
  • Justice is done.
  • Those who have been separated are reunited.
  • The natural world is restored to beauty.
  • Leave-taking is painful, but there are
  • The adventure is not finished.
  • The West is the symbol of reintegration and
    reunion, of recovery and transition.
  • The refracted Light through whom is splintered
    from a single White will be joined together once

Impulse of Sub-creation
  • Iluvatar by Lode Claes, a Flemish artist. His
    technique consists of putting extremely small
    stripes of paint on the paper with a rotringpen.
    He became an artist late in life -he was 47 when
    he had his first exhibition- but has now a fine
    reputation for his delicate work.

  • Tolkien felt strongly that every artist or
    sub-creator wishes that each Secondary World
    draws from Reality (not just the world of fact
    and science, but from the True Source of our
  • The story of Incarnation, of Divinity in Man, has
    the convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of
  • We, as sub-creators, take part in weaving the
    pattern of diversity that ever tends toward
    Reintegration and Union with the One.
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