Outline of ďOn Fairy-StoriesĒ

"[O]cean of supernatural energy . . . Power/ Beauty/ Zauberfluidum . . . . Zauberfluidum Brahman R.t.a. Wakan Orenda"--Notes in Tolkien's draft of On Fairy-Stories

“Fairie . . . is the occult power in nature behind the usable and tangible appearances of things which may tend or pretend to tap, but in which and by which fairies have their being” from Manuscript B of On Fairy-Stories

IntroductionóFaŽrie, a realm of beautiful peril and enchantment

I.                   What are Fairy-Stories?

A.     FaŽrie is not supernatural (i.e. Heaven or Hell) but about a realm deeply tied to the natural realms.

B.     Fairies are more like humans than Draytonian sprites.

C.    Not really about fairies or elves, especially diminutive ones; the true definition of elves is more like that of John Gower.

D.    About human aventure within the realm of FaŽrie [aventure (French): adventure, but also hazard and peril.]

E.     Magic taken seriously within this realm.

F.     The Magic must not be mocked; this violates one of the key principles of FaŽrie because it essentially explains it away.

G.    Not travelersí tales, dream projections, or beast fables; rather, where the marvelous is true.

II.                  What is the Origin of Fairy-Stories?

A.     The folklore approach tends to focus on historical context and/or sort by motifs and thereby ignore literary values,

B.     Which is not to deny that the "Tree of Tales" has a fascination not unlike the philologist's love of language

C.    Story derives from a mixture of "independent invention," "inheritance" from previous traditions, and a "diffusion" of strands of story within the soup of story.

D.    Mythology proceeds language in some sense, and the gift of language makes story possible. Mind, language, and story are "coeval."

E.     The faculty of sub-creation, that is the craft of making of new forms of art, makes the realms of FaŽrie into forms of story.

F.     Rejects MŁller's nature theory: personality, not abstraction, is the key to good story.

G.    No real distinction between high and low mythology, or between myth and religion.

H.     Three faces to fairy-stories

1.     Mystical towards Supernatural

2.     Magical towards Nature (the key element)

3.     Mirror of scorn and pity towards Man

I.        The Cauldron of Story can not be ranked or methodized, for history and fiction are both put into the pot.  

J.       History and fiction are created out of the same human elements.

K.      The cooks/authors are selective in what they use from the pot.

L.       Fantasy opens a door on other time or outside time; thus, the appeal of the "distant past."

III.                What is the Use/Value of Fairy-Stories?

A.     There is no essential connection between children and fantasy.

1.     Children are only immature adults; much of what is attractive in fairy stories to children is also at a higher level attractive to adults of a certain persuasion.

2.     Association of children and fairy stories is simply an "accident of domestic history."

B.     What is needed is an appetite for marvels,

C.    Not a suspension of disbelief, but a entrance/belief in the secondary world of fantasy.

D.    This taste for fantasy is neither child-like nor primitive (as Lang claims).

E.    Fairy-stories not concerned so much with possibility as desirability.

1.     A hunger for the Other World is at the heart of much FaŽrie (e.g. the dragon).

2.     Mercy and justice are both present in such worlds, and fairy stories should encourage growth in children, as it should in adults.

IV.               Fantasy

A.     Imagination is the mental power of image-making, not the Romantic notion of a power that gives created works an internal consistency.

B.     Artistic craft is the link between imagination and the final product of a sub-creation.

C.    Fantasy is both that faculty that brings "inner consistency" to a secondary world and that quality that imparts a sense of "arresting strangeness" to the story.

D.    Stage drama does not succeed in fantasy because the fantastic cannot have a feeling of counterfeit magic about it.

E.     FaŽrian drama offers an experience of the secondary world in a state of direct enchantment.

F.     "Magic," then may not be the right word to describe this quality since "magic" also refers to the power machinations and the will to power.

G.    Enchantment, then, is the quality that produces an artistic secondary world that can be entered by both creator and reader.

H.     Sub-creation is an extension of Adamic naming/lordship

1.     The imago dei is realized in sub-creation.

2.     It is a human right and a natural human activity.

3.     Reason assists fantasy; without a desire for truth, fantasy can become deceptive.

4.     Fantasy can, thus, be misused, but then so can all good things.

V.                Recovery, Escape, Consolation

A.     Recovery is a renewal or regaining of a clear view, a sense of things as they truly are. Fairy stories do this; so does humility.

B.     Mooreeffoc (Chesterton)óto see what has become trivial from a new angle requires a renewal of its queerness. This is a quality different than that of fantasy, though they are related.

C.    Fantasy is an escape back into the reality of things.

1.     It is like the prisoner who wishes to escape or chooses to think on the outside world while in prison.

2.     The subjects of fairy stories are as real as (or more real than) the products of modern technology.

3.     A return to the permanent truths about things in the face of the ugly modern world, for example, beauty and evil may be related.

4.     The desire for things less and more profound--to visit the sea, to understand the speech of animals, to renew ties with fantastic realms that humans are sundered from.

5.     The Great Escape from death vs. the Elvish escape from Deathlessness

D.    Eucatastrophe: the consolation of the sudden, happy ending in the face of certain doom

1.     An evangelium of joy that denies the finality of defeat

2.     Joy beyond the boundaries of this world; therefore, a pointing to a certain truth (see first page of epilogue).

VI.               Epilogue

A.     All fantasy writers desire to draw on Reality, to provide " a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth."

B.     The Gospels contain a true fairy-story, which is the essence of all fairy-stories.

C.     This story has entered history and the primary world.

1.     Christís Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history,

2.     Christís Resurrection as the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation,

3.     The great eucatastrophe of the eschaton: "Legend and History have met and fused."

      D.    Fantasy is an element in the kingdom of redemption; The gospel hallows other stories rather than rendering them superfluous.  


A: The problem with dramatizing beast fables is it still may violate the child's original imagination of the story.

B: Folklorists in discussing oral transmission should not forget that the primary purpose of tales is story-making.

C: Children have no special bent towards writing fairy-tales.

D: Tolkien's personal interest in Nature, along with FaŽrie, though the two are not the same.

E: Drama (including visual art and cinema) lacks the mind's personal power to imagine a scene.

F: Allows for FaŽrie off-stage, though this then focuses on human responses not FaŽrie itself.

G: Rejects the primitive, evolutionary hypothesis (i.e. totemism) for the blending of human and beastly elements in tales.

H: There is no ending (or even beginning) to fairy-tales, which exist in "a great uncharted world of time."

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding