Monday, April 25, 2011
On Fairy Stories
Written by Tolkien for the Andrew Lang Lecture for the university of St Andrews (Scotland) in 1939, and later revised in 1947, On Faerie Stories gives us a glimpse's into the creative driven purpose of Middle Earth and the fascination Tolkien had with faerie literature.
I had decided to read this lecture and give it its own review apart from the rest of the book (The Tolkien Reader) because of its importance and relevance to modern fantasy as we know it.
In the essay, Tolkien describes how legends and myths became nothing more than children's tales, where as the origin of these tales were intended for adults long ago.And this (in his mind) was a great loss to humanity.
Today, you can walk into any book store, new & used, and find a massive assortment of science fiction, medieval epics, and fantasy in all kinds. We have movies, video games, role playing games such as Dungeons & dragons and we are not strangers to fantasy by all means. In fact, fantasy escapism is readily available to everyone world wide.
But the origins of this new wave of escapism is largely due to Tolkien and C.S Lewis. Because of Tolkien we have authors in the likes of Robert Jordan and J,K Rowling who can write a series of books. And book publishers cashing in on it. Obviously there is more and more need of it.
I found it interesting that Tolkien says in his essay : "It is part of the essential malady of such days-producing the desire to escape, not indeed from life, but from our present time and self-made misery-that we are acutely conscious both of the ugliness of our works, and of their evil."
Tolkien was disgusted with modern Europe during the rise of the industrial revolution: 'The rawness and ugliness of modern European life'-is the sign of a biological inferiority, of an insufficient or false reaction to environment.' he said. Calling anything in the likes of the combustible engines, smoke stacks, and pollution creating technology's as Orc inventions.
To Tolkien the fantasy realm held more value than our current world state and lack of nature conscience society. He stated : 'And actually faerie-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 story makers who allows himself to be 'free with' Nature can be her lover not her slave...'
In retrospect this is true of Tolkien's Middle Earth. He valued these things in the story's he read and passed them on. As this is true for me, reading The Lord of the Rings and suddenly feeling awakened to nature, and noticing trees and rivers, for what felt like the first time. And seeing my world as a lot more fragile than before Noticing the ugliness of busy urban life and machinery. Seeking more green in my life.
Tolkien states : '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.'
The realism of creation was Tolkien's gift. He suggested that if God is the main creator, we're made in his image therefore we can sub-create secondary worlds. The importance of these worlds is the believability of it. Having rules like our own world. Death.Famine, and so on. Having the reader believe the world and its realism as long as they remain within the pages.
the idea that people calling fantasy 'escapism' bugged him greatly. He writes: 'Evidently we are faced by misuse of the words, and also by a confusion of thought'.
He goes on to say; 'Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.'
For Tolkien fans this hits awfully close to home.