On Fairy-Stories

Shared here are the first three paragraphs of JRR Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories.” The essay was written as Tolkien wrote “Lord if the Rings.” Tolkien and his words have had and continue to have a tremendous influence on me and my words. These paragraphs are wonderful. Please, read them and share what speaks to you.

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4 thoughts on “On Fairy-Stories

  1. I taught a unit on fairy tales and nursery rhymes to my home-school co-op class last winter. In preparing the material, I realized that I could not teach most of the original tales as they came down through time. They were very dark, scary, bloody, and often included explicit sexual aspects. Most of the stories we’re all familiar with have been Disneyfied, with the more unpleasant parts removed. So instead of teaching the tales themselves, I chose to present the history of fairy tales; the traditions that gave rise to them, the writers who began putting collections together in the 1600’s and and forward. We identified objects that show up regularly in fairy tales, such as rings, daggers, swords, and sacred cups; places, like woods, caves, towers, and castles; people like witches, sorcerers, orphans, wicked step-mothers, all sorts of royalty, beautiful maidens and brave, handsome princes. Themes centered on good vs. evil, rich vs. poor, magical creatures vs. brave princes. And then each student wrote a fairy tale, and they were some of the best efforts from high school students it has ever been my pleasure to read.

    All this to say that Tolkien’s ventures into Faerie, while just as exciting and full of courage and fear and horrible evil creatures, are always an adventure into good conquering evil. He has brought the art to a whole new level, leaving out some of the troubling elements of the past. After reading the words he wrote above, I know that he understood the darkness of the traditional fairy tale, and chose to move it into a brighter place, and we have all taken delight in his wonderful imagination. He’s unique, brilliant, and sensible. That’s a hard act to follow 🙂

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  2. The thing that strikes me about Tolkien’s words (in this essay and all his works) is that though he makes it perfectly clear dangers abound as well as delights, I would never be scared to wander there. There is always a sense of fluid painting in his works/words that I know will resolve into something inspiring and enchanting.

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