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