Goodreads: “On Fairy-Stories”
In this essay, Tolkien explores the world of Faërie and the purposes of telling stories set in its realm. He gives fairy-stories serious consideration, explaining why he feels they are even more relevant for adults than they are for children.
This essay is, essentially, Tolkien’s personal musings about fairy-tales. He begins by explaining what, exactly, he believes the definition of a true fairy-story to be, then goes on to argue why the tales are neither childish nor insignificant in our “practical” modern world.
Tolkien is clearly a brilliant and well-read man, and parts of this essay can be difficult to fully appreciate, especially if you – like me – are not familiar with all of the tales Tolkien makes reference to. But reading this essay is worth it, even if you were only to understand half of what Tolkien is saying. He repeatedly makes statements that made me put the book down, laughing at how true his words were. “A child may well believe a report that there are ogres in the next county,” he notes, “many grown-up persons find it easy to believe of another country; and as for another planet, very few adults seem able to imagine it as peopled, if at all, by anything but monsters of iniquity.” Tolkien constantly challenges ideas of what is “real” and encourages us to think very seriously about our perceptions of what is true and where that truth can be found.
Tolkien speaks of the people of Faërie with reverence, but he focuses on men, and on what the world of Faërie means to us. He touches on ideas of “fantasy,” “recovery,” and “escape” and essentially argues that fairy-stories, by giving us glimpses into another world, allow us to live our lives in this “primary world” more fully. In this essay, Tolkien puts the enchantment back into fairy tales. He left this reader convinced, anew, that they are indispensable.
Published: 1938 original version, 1947 longer version
*Posted as part of the Tolkien Reading Event to celebrate Tolkien Reading Day. Check out more Tolkien-related posts this week and next week!