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Tolkien On Fairy-stories
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Fairy Stories > Fairy Stories by J. R. R. Tolkien

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message 1: by Heidi (last edited Apr 01, 2016 08:51AM) (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments ***UPDATE***

We have created the Tolkien Epic Reads Goodread group! Please join us!



To prepare for our epic read of The Silmarillion, we're going to read the essay on Fairy Stories, starting around December 15th. Everyone is welcome to join!

message 2: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 254 comments As I can't figure out how to get to The Silmarillion discussion right now, I'm going to post this here. I'm afraid I'm going to withdraw from that particular reading and discussion as January is shaping up to be a very busy month for me. If it's OK with you guys, I would like to peek in and see what you have discovered from time to time.

message 3: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Lisa, that is fine. Thanks for letting us know. The Silmarillion read will be lasting a long time if it goes as planned. Drop in whenever and if you want!

message 4: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 254 comments Thanks!

message 5: by Britain (new)

Britain | 6 comments This is a great idea. Can't wait to get started! :D

message 6: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Britain wrote: "This is a great idea. Can't wait to get started! :D"

Awesome you will join us!

I read this once before last year, and have wanted to reread it and revisit the themes it introduces.

That short thread is here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

message 7: by Rachmi (last edited Dec 14, 2015 09:01PM) (new)

Rachmi  | 117 comments Hi guys, it's already the 15th in my country so I read a little bit of the essay on my way to the office.

I think it's an interesting reading, but a bit confusing. I have to read a couple times to understand it. And...I read it in my own language! I cannot imagine how I'll get it if I read it in English, lol

So I've read a few pages and here's what the essay talks about (I don't think we need to hide it into spoiler tag, right? since it's an essay, not a story and please correct me if I'm wrong), Tolkien said modern faerie has different perception, way different than the one Tolkien think, especially if we compare it with elf.

To be honest, before I watched and read LoTR I don't even know that they are different. In my language both elf and faerie are translated into the same word, peri. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I watched LoTR with those beautiful-tall-wise elves, I kinda have (and maybe most Indonesian who read fantasy, particularly nowadays) to adjust my mind that they are different. Now in Silmarillion Indonesian edition the translator didn't translate elf into peri, she just used elf, to differentiate faerie/peri and elf. I think it's a smart way since elf, especially in Tolkien stories aren't teeny tiny things who live in flowers and such.

Mary Catelli | 47 comments Faerie and elf used to be the same sort of thing, one term being Latinate and the other Germanic in origin. There were small versions of both -- but not the teeny tiny things who live in flowers, which are Victorian.

message 9: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Rachmi wrote: "I don't think we need to hide it into spoiler tag, right? since it's an essay, not a story..."

Right! No need to hide spoilers!

I haven't begun reading the essay yet, so I can address that more directly when I do, but your comment made me curious, so I went back to my collection of old books on the enchanted world, Faeries and Elves edition, which I’ve probably not looked at in about seven years!

I’ve put paraphrasing and direct quotes from that book in italics:

Although they lived in a plane that was linked to the physical world that humans knew, their realm was endowed with additional dimensions … it was as if a full, complex and inexplicable life went busily on, unseen among mortals’ precariously maintained civilizations.

Here is some of the complex etymology of the specific terms “fairy” and “elf”:

The Spanish “fada” and Italian “fata" were derived from the Latin “fatum” or fate

The Old French “feer” meaning to enchant was derived from Latin “fatare” and became “fee”, from which the English terms “faerie”, “fairy”, and “fay” came

The other common English term for an individual fairy was “elf” derived not from Latin but from the Nordic and Teutonic “alfar”

Mortals used these words interchangeably to describe a large range of elusive beings …

There was often a division into peasantry and aristocracy, the aristocracy was popularly thought to descend from ancient vanquished gods.

The “alfar" of Scandinavia were divided between Light Elves, air dwellers, and Dark Elves, whose kingdoms were beneath the ground.

Scots made same dark/light distinction with the Seelie (blessed) and Unseelie (vengeful ghosts, dead mortals) Courts

Wales (Tylwyth Teg) and Ireland (Daoine Side) made no divisions between dark and light.

Anyway, personally, I’ve always seen elves and faeries as distinct, and chose to go that direction in Daughter of Light. In DOL, the faeries, especially the Albiana and flower faeries, are more active and dynamic, more similar to LOTR'’s elves. The field faeries are more earthy and simple. The wood elves are short and round, even more placid and indolent than the field faeries. While the tree elves are visually more like Tolkien’s elves, without their aristocratic place in society.

So it seems, the Indonesian word “peri” to mean both “fairies” and “elves” is not necessarily incorrect. But the translators use of "elf" and "faerie/peri" sounds good when you do want to distinguish the terms in Indonesian.

Anyway, great point and interesting to learn the Indonesian usage/perspective on these words.

message 10: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments I’ve read the Introduction in the edition of the book I’m reading, and the most significant point I took away from it is that in writing On Fairy-Stories (which began as an Andrew Lang lecture Tolkien gave in 1939), he finessed his own ideas about the “genre” as an author. As a result, there is a distinct difference in the narrative styles between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, especially in “the inner consistency of reality” which Tolkien described as a necessary element of craft in fantasy/fairy tale literature in the essay.

The Introduction discusses several other aspects of the essay, but those points are included within the essay; the point about how the writing of the essay contributed to Tolkien’s growth as an author is not, so I thought it worth mentioning:)

I'll begin reading the actual essay tonight or tomorrow.

message 11: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Okay, I've read the first section "Fairy-Story" where Tolkien provides his definition of the scope of what a "fairy-story" is or is not.

I forgot how dense the essay is. As a philologist, Tolkien definitely splits hairs here. I had to smile at his disparagement of tiny faeries! As Tatou (pixies) are part of the Realm of Faerie in DOL. Plus, when I was a kid I loved the pictures of flower faeries (I even have a tattoo of one!) I always felt like they were an attempt to represent the symbolism of the feeling one often experiences in Nature, of other invisible beneficent beings be present. Obviously, Tolkien didn't feel that way, lol.

I agree that it's unfair to tell a fairy-story and then say ... oh, it's all just a dream. There must be some feeling of truth/reality to it, for it to generate any real story power.

The essay is a fascinating read for me since I only came upon it and read it for the first time last year; while I created my own Realm of Faerie for Daughter of Light (DOL) seven or so years ago. However, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) was a huge influence, the primary one, on my own work.

I understood Middle Earth to be in the "real earth's" distant past; however the DOL Realm of Faerie/Enchanted World is one that exists parallel in "time and space" to our mortal one drawing more from what we've learned about things like quantum-wave theory and parallel universes/reality.

I did find it interesting that Tolkien finally breaks down his definition into "the nature of the realm of the itself" yet refused to define that!

All in all, he made some decent points, but I just don't agree with all that he said in that section.

message 12: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary Catelli | 47 comments I think Tolkien's problem with flower fairies was that he was deeply read in the older tradition.

message 13: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Mary wrote: "I think Tolkien's problem with flower fairies was that he was deeply read in the older tradition."

that is a great point, Mary!

message 14: by Heidi (last edited Jan 16, 2016 12:11PM) (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Okay, I'm going to try to finish this this weekend so I can move on to The Silmarillion. Although I've read this essay and it's not that long, I forgot how completely dense it was.

I'm on the section of ORIGIN now, which Tolkien opens with his opinion of the "uselessness"—my word for his long-winded griping:)—of the traditional approach of anthropologists and folklorists in COMPARING different fairy tales/folk tales. In the end, Tolkien doesn't seem to think that adds much to the understanding of their endurance, meaning, and/or prevalence in all cultures. The only thing he seems to find really salient is the adoption of "the happy ending." Which I know, from reading the essay prior, is a point he will return to.

Rather than comparing the details of the stories, Tolkien thinks that studying "what [fairy-stories] are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have induced in them" is the kind of analysis that would have merit. This is basically the setup for the opinions he will form/state about Fairy-stores and their intrinsic worth.

He then moves on to the descent from mythology (higher mythology) to fairy-stories (lower mythology) which I think is quite interesting, and something I hadn't considered before reading this essay. He follows the downwindng trail from elements>gods>myth to nature>fairy-stories.

He then moves on to discuss the continuum from History to Myth. If I followed this, he deduces that all myth has it's seed in reality (actual historical events.)

But he circles back to the question of what is the effect that these stories with ancient roots, bubbling up from the Story Cauldron [collective unconscious] and brought to us by the Cooks [tellers and writers of these tales]), have upon us now?

And, this is the question he will answer in the remainder of the essay.

message 15: by Heidi (last edited Jan 16, 2016 12:16PM) (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments The next section is: CHILDREN.

He really attacks the idea that fairy-stories are meant for children. In fact, he believes that by relegating these tales to children and for children, their richness and depth are at risk.

This essay began as a lecture on Andrew Lang's work, so he dives into Lang's purposing of fairy-stories for children, and being a philologist, Tolkien breaks Lang's introduction to his work down to the nth degree, especially regarding "beliefs".

I really appreciate his clear-sighted distinction between being able to become immersed in the "Secondary World" of the story vs. the popular concept of the requisite willing "suspension of disbelief" when the storyteller's created world doesn't feel real enough to hold you in it.

He also repeats that children shouldn't be lumped into a single category: i.e the ones who possess the "credulity" to appreciate fairy-stories:)

He then breaks down the finer point between "possibility" and "desire" by illustrating that certain books, while being "possible", i.e. not "fairy-stories" did nothing to awaken any sense of "desire" in him as a young reader to experience, know, and or venture to these places.

"...the making or glimpsing of Other-Worlds, was the heart of the desire for Faerie ... [a world] richer and more beautiful ... "

I love how he articulates this. As a fantasy-fairy tale author, I would substitute Other-Realms for Other-Worlds ...

Tolkien then proceeds to share his own growing appreciation for fairy-stories as he matures ... "A real taste for fairy-stories was awakened by philology on the threshold of manhood, and quickened to full life by war."

Tolkien's adulthood was shaped by both World War I and II. A quote from him on war:

"One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead."

He continues his critique of Lang's "fairy-stories are for children" and ends along the line of: fairy-stories are for humans—and for children because they, too, are humans;)

He closes this section by naming the four qualities that he defines as the necessary ingredients for a fairy-story worthy of children and adults: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation.


message 16: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments On FANTASY.

The philologist in Tolkien opens with the comparison of specific words: imagination, fantasy, fancy, and fantastical.

Again, he possess strong opinions on the topic and he doesn't appreciate perceptions of fantasy as something lesser than things that exist in our primary world

"That the images are of things not in the primary world (if that is indeed possible) is a virtue not a vice. Fantasy (in this sense) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent."

I have to agree with the "potent" part. I think by awakening the reader's/observer's imagination, FANTASY has the ability to bypass primary world filters to more easily access, stir, tap into the deep, sleepier parts of our psyche.

Hehe. I had to laugh at this:

"They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination."

His strong opinions are evident again, but given what we've learned about the subconscious, etc. I can't agree that Dreaming is not Art. For all we know ... it might be!

Where this section of the essay shines is where he addresses the challenge of creating a fantasy world possessing an "inner consistency of reality".

He gripes about how too often the fantasy world is underdeveloped; and compares fantasy literature to fantasy art and fantasy drama. His disparagement of fantasy drama is all about the "theater" ... the future of film, and what would be an incredible capturing of his work in that medium by Peter Jackson, was simply something he couldn't fathom given the limitations of cinematography in his day.

Consider this quote: "Very little about trees as trees can be got into a play."

The Ents in the movie are believable as both trees as trees and trees as characters.

Tolkien settles on the word enchantment as the most suitable term to describe what occurs by way of FANTASY, the storyteller aims to enchant the audience.

He also makes a point that Reason and Fantasy are not mutually exclusive, in fact, he states: "The keener and clearer the reason, the better fantasy it will make."

I do agree that the Secondary World of the fantasy is a demanding one to create, perhaps one of its most demanding elements as a writer.

In the end of this section, he claims fantasy as a "human right" grounded in our beings as the created of a Creator.

message 17: by Heidi (last edited Jan 21, 2016 12:49PM) (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments Tolkien discusses the three significant functions of "fairy-stories"/"creative fantasy" in the essay's final section.

This is about recovering a fresh view on life and the things that inhabit it.

I like this quote:

"... fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous for their setting."

I almost think the term RECOVERY limits the altering of view that Fantasy can produce. When fantasy opens completely new doors of perception that is when it's at its most powerful.


Tolkien's discussion on this subject confronts any negative connotation implicit in the term "escapist literature" by comparing different forms of literature and their degrees of "unreality"—even making a pass at science fiction, the positive ability to escape the "real surroundings" of say a prisoner of war, then he moves on to the escape of other real and limiting circumstances, poverty, loneliness, drawing on man's "imagined" relations with animals, and ends with some thoughts on escaping death. The gist seems to be: That escape in and of itself is not only not a bad thing, it can be a very good thing.

I have to agree with this point. Fundamentally, our imaginations seed our world. So, again, I'm not sure I'd go with approving of ESCAPE as much as claiming the power of fairy-stories and fantasy to fertilize our IMAGINATIONS.


This is the one quality Tolkien believes all fairy-stories must have—that HEA! Tolkien calls it "eucatastrophe" or good catastrophe: "the sudden joyous turn ... it denies universal defeat ... giving a glimpse of Joy ... poignant as grief."

"It is a mark of the good fairy-story ... that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man who hears it, when the 'turn' comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (and indeed accompanied by) tears as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality."

I love that: "peculiar quality".

In the EPILOGUE, Tolkien expands on this topic of JOY:

"The peculiar quality of the 'joy' in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth."

So ... this ties directly back to the research and writing I've been doing on my Sunburned blog series: http://www.heidigarrett.com/p/sunburn...

Science and Spirituality are getting closer and closer as we study the messages of the mystics, quantum theory, and the unified field. It seems that our universe is one created by love, of love, for love. So that 'turn' that Tolkien is speaking about could also be the 'awakening' to the awareness of our love-infused state, that while not visible is ... "the underlying reality or truth."

Tolkien closes the EPILOGUE with a testament to his Christian Faith, apparently to him, The Jesus Story, is the greatest fairy-story come true:p. Sorry, I couldn't resist that. Anyway ...

I think if you're a fantasy/fairy tale reader and or writer, this essay of Tolkien's as a worthy, if challenging, read, with many salient points.


message 18: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) | 553 comments If you'd like to further discuss Tolkien on Fairy Stories, please join us in the Tolkien Epic Reads Goodreads group:


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