Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tolkien On Fairy Stories

I have just finished J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" which, amazingly, I have never read until now. :P (aaah! There are so many pieces of literature which I have never read! I need to get going...) Anyway, in that essay he criticizes a great many things, one of which is educated criticism of fairy tales. I agree with most of what he has to say, and I'm relieved that I'm not the only one who is extremely fascinated with literature and yet who finds it tedious to employ common literary "dissections" which are often employed by English professors.

Yes, I find it worthwhile to focus on a limited section and try to figure out what the author is trying to say, what hidden meanings are there, what common themes, etc... however, most literary criticism goes much further than needed, in attempt to strip the whole book down to its skeleton. (I find their skeletons, especially fiction, to be completely beside the point of the whole book.) Besides, most critics cannot dissect the work without a great deal of arrogance in surmising what the author's intentions are... perhaps the author didn't intend the color red to symbolize blood, or use a circling bird to forshadow doom... you never really know, and it's foolish to think that every writer had "literary studies" in mind when s/he wrote the book in the first place. Most "fairy stories" are like many paintings in that you get a clearer picture when viewed from a distance... observing the different brush strokes and hues of brown aren't going to tell you much about the actual painting and what it's trying to evoke.

Besides, it's the flesh of the story that I'm really interested in, the pieces that make it unique, not the pieces that are easily labeled. I thouroughly dislike "stock" characters... I feel it's a cop-out for those who don't want to put in the work of creating an actually interesting character. I dislike them when they're written that way (probably why I get bored of Commedia Del'Arte), and I dislike them even more when someone has dissected a perfectly complex character and turned him or her into a boring stick figure. :P

But then, I'm also a creature of Chaos- I dislike trying to sift out patterns and labels where they are not beneficial to my interest in the book. I enjoy Tolkien's work, and I applaud him for creating a world where war is explored (without the whole piece being a political allegory) and with meaningful philosophical and religious thought (without the whole piece being overly symbolic or religious).

That said, there are some things in his essay I disagree with, such as his assertion that fairy-stories should not be dramatized in plays (I think a play can successfully represent fantasy, IF it is done right) and other minor quibbles which I won't list. I don't worship the guy, but he does write some awe inspiring stuff. :)


  1. Such wisdom,are you sure you're 22? I enjoy reading what's going on inside of your head

  2. yes i am 22... lol... and i don't think wise people talk as much as i do, hehe

  3. Hi
    'Tolken' is one of my son's favorites. He is an accomplished and published writer.
    And I too have commented on you being wise beyond your years. And 'old soul' as the saying goes.
    I commented over at your other blog too.
    Love Gail'