Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some Quotes from: On Fairy Stories- J.R.R. Tolkien

Children have a capacity for belief and an appetite for marvels that make us associate fairy stories with the world of children. They are capable of literary belief in ways that we adults, find less easy to access. As adults, our cynicism is often the primary lens through which we engage stories. Tolkien says that the real problem is that we are unable to see truth.
...The story-maker...makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true': it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather the art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from the outside.
Tolkien reflects back on his own engagement of fairy stories as a child:
Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded.
On the awakening of desire for danger and adventure:
The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft.
On growing up:
Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder, but to proceed on the appointed journey: that journey upon which it is certainly not better to travel hopefully than to arrive, though we must travel hopefully if we are to arrive.
On "Thou shalt not":
... the gentlest 'nursery-tales' know it. Even Peter Rabbit was forbidden a garden, lost his blue coat, and took sick. The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation.
On "The Great Escape":
And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death. Fairy-stories provide many examples and modes of this ... Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness.
On the fantastical imagination:
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.
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 swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we have taken green from the grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power.

3 comments:

pedro said...

Thanks Phil. I have long contended that children's and young adult fantasy stories (a.k.a. fairy stories) are my favorite genre. Not because they allow me to escape reality but because they provide a glimpse into the wonder of the infinite and unboundedness that we all long for.

It's interesting that you posted this when you did. I had started composing my post on silence and solitude a few weeks ago, and Lewis' description of Joy is indebted to his own experience with Faerie (which, of course was influenced by MacDonald's).

Two of my recent favorites are Ropemaker and its sequel Angel Isle by British author Peter Dickinson. Also the controversial His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Not to mention, of course,
Abarat.

elnellis said...

peter, you've always been an inspiration to me to sit down with a fantasy novel and let it do it's work. thanks for your child-like spirit in this regard.

can't wait for abarat 3!

Swift said...

"The mind that thought of....swift"