On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Luthien
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On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#1 » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:28 pm

I figure we may as well discuss Tolkien's ideas about fairy tales, his essay "On Fairie Story," his idea of the "eucatastrophe," and other such things. I know Beren has already made mention of this, in relation to other series, but I thought we could discuss it in more detail here.

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Beren
Posts: 276

On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#2 » Tue Dec 16, 2008 8:20 pm

Ahh, good idea, Luthien. I'll need to do some studying first, though ;)

Otto's World
Posts: 138

On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#3 » Sun Dec 21, 2008 3:39 pm

I've got my annotated, underlined copy of On Fairy-Stories ready at my elbow. This should be fun!

And I am reading The Faerie Queene right now, which is supposed to be solidly "in the tradition" of the fairy-story. But, as far as I can tell, Spenser made the tradition as much as he "followed" it, and it was influenced a lot by Greek poetry and mythology--or at least references that world a lot--and his other sources were Italian romances, which were also kind of trying to be "antiquated" but were making their own style as much as they were following anything. In graduate school I went on a bit of a wild goose chase trying to find all of these "fairy-stories" that were "traditional" and I did not have much luck. I read some of Spenser and thought, "Aha!" because he feels so much like C. S. Lewis in the Narnia Chronicles and his essays on literature. But I did not find a vast store of English medieval stories that felt like The Faerie Queene. There were a lot of tiresome allegories and church plays (that were shockingly sexist and racist) and Arthurian romances that were really not "romantic" at all, but were more like detailed fight scenes that Mel Gibson would love. I couldn't figure out what it was about any of this material that would have been particularly tickling to Tolkien or to Lewis. My current theory is that Narnia feels like The Faerie Queene because Lewis read and re-read Spenser all of his life. And Tennyson had to have had something to do with it too.

C. S. Lewis has a couple of essays on the topics of fantasy and fairy-tale. May we widen the discussion to include this other Inkling?

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Gandalfs Beard
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On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#4 » Sun Dec 21, 2008 8:29 pm

Romance in it's modern usage is vastly different from medieval Arthurian "Romantic" literature. Then, romance, was something more akin to fantasy adventure and was started by the troubadours. You can find a whole wealth of information at the following website: http://revradiotowerofsong.org/

It is a website by scholar of philosophy and medieval literature (much like Tolkien and CSLewis) who also has a related radio programme. I am very fortunate to call him my friend. There are a number of essays, articles and images directly related to this topic. Any fan of Fantasy will enjoy this site.

I, Like Beren, will have to bone up a little. Until then I will just have to wing it. I for one, would be delighted to discuss the other "Inkling" as well. Much of Tolkien's and Lewis's views flowed from their mutual discussions. They were quite close friends, but the relationship cooled in later life due to what Tolkien perceived to be Lewis's anti-Catholicism. This was ironic because it was Tolkien who brought Lewis back to Christianity. Lewis had been an Atheist since his mothers death and when he became a Christian, he chose Anglicanism.

The ultimate irony though, is that these Christian writers, sharing such a love of nature and Fairie Stories (Paganism) would go on to write literature that largely formed the basis of the modern Neo-Pagan revival that lasts until today. And their books, along with L.Frank Baum's jumpstarted the whole modern Fantasy Literature movement.

Happy Holidays
Gandalfs Beard

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Beren
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On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#5 » Sun Dec 21, 2008 8:38 pm

Luthien wrote:I figure we may as well discuss Tolkien's ideas about fairy tales, his essay "On Fairie Story," his idea of the "eucatastrophe," and other such things. I know Beren has already made mention of this, in relation to other series, but I thought we could discuss it in more detail here.


Oh, btw, if anyone hasn't read Tolkien's "On Fairie Stories," just pm me and I'll send it to you in pdf format.

Otto's World
Posts: 138

On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#6 » Tue Dec 23, 2008 12:59 pm

Thank you for the website link, Gandalf's Beard; I have saved in in my "favorites" list, because it is a wonderful mishmash of TMI, only to be read on purpose in a relaxed manner with lots of available time. Your friend has a wide range of interests.

Yeah, when I took that class in medieval literature, I was mostly frustrated, because there was NO WAY I was going to get a satisfying amount of knowledge in one semester. Basically, it was an introduction to a vast array of topics and lines of inquiry to pursue after the class. I've pretty much continued to take that class (in my own private self-guided way) ever since, because there are so may different background things to know. (The ancient poetry, literature from non-English-speaking countries that are referred to but not studied in English classes, history, the Bible, religion/church history, and familiarity with the eastern cultures that influenced the crusaders and pilgrims and traders) It was hopeless. So much to learn before anything made really good sense. Anyway, while I was in the class, I kept reading stuff and thinking "ick, yuck, eck...well, hang on...I'm sure that the good stuff will be coming soon." I wanted SO BADLY to love it all, and I was dismayed that I was so turned off by it. But right, if you work backwards and start from Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, and you love all of those Arthurian images from the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and you love the Victoian poetry, and anything that has been inspired by it since then, and you keep working backwards, the trail seems to get colder as the literature gets older. But maybe there IS a trail to follow (as shown by the website you provided) but it is not necessarily the mainstream. Or at least my professor maintained that the romance idea that we all love is mostly a Victorian invention and that people in the Midde Ages had little or no interest in that stuff. It really took a lot of the fun out of it for me. And I don't believe him entirely, because there is SOME kind of a trail, otherwise where do the later poets get their ideas? Maybe they thought of the Middle Ages as a Once Upon a Time period because it was just enough distant in time that they could make up fantasy about it.

Sorry for blabbering on so much about my own personal search. I just wonder what kinds of experiences other people have had. I get moments now and then when I think, "Ah HAH! This is what Tolkien is talking about." I mean, I was listening to an audio book of Beowulf recently and thought, "Oh, that sounds just like Tolkien." Or listening to an audio version of the Illiad (whilst weeding the garden) I thought, "Oh, it is so pleasant to listen to the description of them sacrificing the bull and hearing about how they roasted the meat and all. Yum yum yum....I feel like I'm there." If it is a story you are listening to TOTALLY for fun, and not because you have to for a class, it is a very different experience. Even if you want to be taking the class, there is always that sense of time management and "hurry hurry hurry" because you've got to gobble down so many hundreds of pages before 8 o'clock the next day, and you kind of resent the hundreds of digressions and descriptions about what they ate and how this was just like Hercules or Jason or how the celestial beings looked down and approved. Slowly, with time, and thanks to the vast availability of well-made audiobook versions of these old books, I am getting a better sense of how these books would have been enjoyed. The digressions add to the fun, like little fireworks explosions, or flower blossoms, or new branches, causing your mind to make associations (which only work if you are familiar enough with what is being referenced to HAVE associations).

Okay, my daughter is begging me for the computer. I apologize for indulging in such a large spew, which may not have made very much sense. No need for anyone to respond to any of it. I will try to focus more directly on Tolkien's Fairy-Stories essay from now on.

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Gandalfs Beard
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On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#7 » Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:27 pm

Me too Otto's World, (focus on Fairie Storys) that is. As soon as I have reread the essay. Beren is kind enough to email me a copy.

I personally enjoy hearing about other peoples journeys. It gives me a much better idea of where they are coming from once the discussion is entered. It also establishes a kind of intimacy that makes it more difficult for people to demonize one another when disagreements arise. I find it much harder to yell at someone once I call them friend.

You are so right about many literature teachers and classes, they really know how to suck the joy out of reading and learning. I was fortunate that in High School I had a great Fantasy Lit. teacher. We read LOTR and wrote our own stories and he gave us sources to peruse on our own time (as an aside our Sci Fi Lit. teacher was also good and was a ringer for Isaac Azimov).

You are right on the money regarding Beowulf. Tolkien was largely inspired by The Ring Cycle of which Beowulf is a part. The professors you cite claiming that Victorians invented Romance are dead wrong. They merely redefined romance to a much narrower field. As you will discover perusing my friends website, the idea of Romantic Love was developed by the medieval troubadours and was at the time called Courtly Love. Romance was the term they ascribed to what we know today as Fantasy Adventure. Peoples before that time had little use for "romantic" love as marriages were mostly arranged for political and economic purposes, love be damned. As to the focus on food and sundries, you will note that both Lewis and Tolkien made such things an integral part of their "Fairie Stories".

As to the "rambling", knock yourself out, the conversations are much more fun this way.

Happy Holidays

Gandalfs Beard

Otto's World
Posts: 138

On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#8 » Wed Dec 24, 2008 7:17 am

I'm going to try to get the ball rolling here by copying out some segments of Tolkien's essay. I am reading over it and note that he includes a lot of academic discussion because he is being very precise. Below are passages that I deem to be ones that get at the essence of what he is saying.

This is Tolkien:
The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization, and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation of Faerie is more potent. ... The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also coceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, gurn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into swift water. If it could do one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power--upon one plane, and the desire to weild that powerin the world external to our mind awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man's face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, in such "fantasy," as it is called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.

An essential power of Faerie is thus the power of making immediately effective by the will the visions of "fantasy."
...skipping a large portion...

...at no time can I remember (hearing fairy-stories as a child) that the enjoyment of a story was dependent upon belief that such things could happen, or had happened, in "real life." Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility but with desirability. They awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.


...skipping a lot, and then, he is talking about whether children are necessarily more apt than anyone else to enjoy fairy-stories...

A real taste for fairy stories was wakened (in me) by philology on the threshold of manhood, and quickened to full life by war.

...skipping a lot...

...if adults are to read fairy-stories as a natural branch of literature--neither playing at being children, nor pretending to be choosing for children, nor being boys who would not grow up--what are the values and functions of this kind? That is, I think, the last and most important question. I have already hinted at some of my answers. First of all: if written with art, the prime value of fairy-stories will simply be the value which, a literature, they share with other literary forms. But fairy-stories offer also, in a peculiar degree or mode, these things: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation, all things of which children have, as a rule, less need than older people.

Otto's World
Posts: 138

On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#9 » Wed Dec 24, 2008 8:18 am

Tolkien talks about what he means by "Recovery."

We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, and dogs, and horses--and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make. In that sense only a taste for them may make us, or keep us, childish.

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining--regaining of a clear view. I do not say "seeing things as they are" and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say, "seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them"--as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity--from possessiveness. Of all faces, those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of "appropriation": the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands upon them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.

Otto's World speaking again. How very dragonish of us to hoard things and then not appreciate them. G. K. Chesterton said nearly exactly the same thing in his book Orthodoxy in the chapter entitled "The Ethics of Elfland." Here 'tis...

...we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children, we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales--because they find them romantic. ... This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.


Ooo! And here is Tolkien again, reinforcing this idea...

Fantasy is made out of the Primary World, but a good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone and wood which only the art of making can give. By the forging of Gram cold iron was revealed; by the making of Pegasus horses were enobled; in the Trees of the Sun and Moon root and stock, flower and fruit are manifested in glory.

And actually, 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 by their setting. For the storymaker who allows himself to be "free with" Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.


It's me, Otto's World, again. I will leave off here, because I've lost the wind in my sail for doing this, and the material above is enough to start a discussion.

Otto's World
Posts: 138

On Fairie Story--Tolkien's ideas (and essay) about this

Post#10 » Wed Dec 24, 2008 8:26 am

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