Tolkien Essay On Fairy Stories

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It is almost possible to peer over Tolkien’s shoulder as he works through the presentation of complex ideas and metaphors, as well as reintegrates much of the careful research he had been forced to cut from the lecture at St. Readers will observe that most of the key elements (including sub-creation, the failings of the , the indictment of Max Müller, the excerpt from Tolkien’s poem, “Mythopoeia”, and so on) were there from the beginning, but ever more refined through the mortar and pestle of revision.

Other elements (e.g., the Tree of Tales, the Cauldron of Story) emerged later.

He built up a working vocabulary for the craft of fantasy that could be used in its criticism” (19).

Many of the terms we take for granted in Tolkien studies today, of which is surely (and justly) the most well known, first took shape in “On Fairy-Stories.” The editors also give vital background material on the debates of Tolkien’s day, represented in the essay by “the major opponents in the mythology wars” (21), Andrew Lang and Max Müller.

Second, I find the two bibliographies and the index to be a bit idiosyncratic.

The editors quote from Tolkien’s translations of , but that is not in their bibliography either.) He also mentions Charles Kingsley, but the editors have not placed him in Tolkien’s bibliography. The index, while it may have license for more selectivity, is also missing some entries.

The editors throw their own voices in on a few other occasions as well: they say of Drayton’s Pigwiggen: “His name tells you all you need to know about him” (91); or of Thackeray’s : “[m]uch of its content and approach can be deduced from the names of its principal characters [e.g., the Countess Gruffanuff]” (120).

These editorial comments, with their deadpan delivery (intended or not), are most welcome. The remainder consists of two complete (or nearly complete) manuscripts, each with commentary. Much may be gleaned from careful comparison of these two drafts, together with the various published versions (further to this, see Hammond 184-190).

This is an enormously helpful feature I wish more editors would espouse.

I feel I need hardly comment in this review on the essay itself-many others have done so before me, and the issue at hand is the trappings of this expanded edition-and so, in Tolkien’s words, “I shall therefore pass lightly over [it]” (40) and move on.


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