28 May 2013

Tolkien’s Essay on Why Fantasy Is Important

A friend recommended I read Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories. I really enjoyed it. And I listed my favorite quotes below (to save you a couple hours of reading):

  • “Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold. And overbold I may be accounted, for though I have been a lover of fairy-stories since I learned to read, and have at times thought about them, I have not studied them professionally. I have been hardly more than a wandering explorer (or trespasser) in the land, full of wonder but not of information.” 
  • “It is man who is, in contrast to [elves and] fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he.”
  • “Most good ‘fairy-stories’ are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches.”
  • “Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible.”
  • “The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water.”
  • “To the elvish craft, Enchantment, Fantasy aspires.”
  • “Though all the crannies of the world we filled
    with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
    Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
    and sowed the seed of dragons—’twas our right
    (used or misused). That right has not decayed:
    we make still by the law in which we’re made.”
  • “Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
  • “Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it.”

These mean a lot to me as a fictionist—a creator of secondary worlds. And they’re important to fantasy readers too.

Read Tolkien’s full essay here.

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— J