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On Fairy-Stories (1947)

by J. R. R. Tolkien, Douglas A. Anderson (Editor), Verlyn Flieger (Editor)

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256680,302 (4.28)6
A new expanded edition of Tolkien's most famous, and most important essay, which defined his conception of fantasy as a literary form, and which led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Accompanied by a critical study of the history and writing of the text. J.R.R. Tolkien's "On Fairy-stories" is his most-studied and most-quoted essay, an exemplary personal statement of his views on the role of imagination in literature, and an intellectual tour de force vital for understanding Tolkien's achievement in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. "On Fairy-stories" comprises about 18,000 words. What is little-known is that when Tolkien expanded the essay in 1943, he wrote many more pages of his views that were originally condensed into or cut from the published version. An estimate is difficult, but these unpublished passages perhaps amount to half again as much writing as the essay itself. These passages contain important elaborations of his views on other writers, and their publication represents a significant addition to Tolkien studies. Included in this new critical study of the work are: * An introductory essay setting the stage for Tolkien's 1939 lecture (the origin of the essay) and placing it within a historical context.* A history of the writing of 'On Fairy-stories', beginning with coverage of the original lecture as delivered, and continuing through to first publication in 1947.* The essay proper as published in corrected form in Tree and Leaf (1964).* Commentary on the allusions in the text, and notes about the revisions Tolkien made to the text as published in Tree and Leaf.* Important material not included in the essay as published, with commentary by the editors. Contained within "On Fairy-stories" are the roots of the tree of tales that bore such glittering fruit in Tolkien's published and unpublished work. Here, at last, Flieger and Anderson reveal through literary archaeology the extraordinary genesis of this seminal work and discuss, in their engaging commentary, how what Tolkien discovered during the writing of the essay would shape his writing for the rest of his life.… (more)
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I've read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" quite a few times now, but this is the first I've read this critical edition. The essay is always enjoyable, but of course I found even more value in the editorial commentary. The history of the different versions was well done, not nearly so dry as sometimes such descriptions tend to be.

I admit that I did not read through the two manuscript versions in detail, nor their commentary, which combined consists of about 1/3 of the book. Even so, I'm marking this one done, as for all practical purposes, I have read everything I intended to. ( )
  octoberdad | Dec 16, 2020 |
This is not for everyone, but for Tolkien fans it offers a wonderful glimpse into his background, his faith, and his abundant humor. I actually laughed out loud in several different places as I read his piercing insights. This piece of writing is an academic paper, really, not intended for a wide audience. But it delves into a subject dear to my heart and addresses any concerns that Faërie is not a place for adults. Tis indeed, the man says. ( )
  MMKY | Jul 3, 2020 |
I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” in preparation for teaching a class on Tolkien. Originally written as a lecture in 1939 and first published in 1945, this essay gives a sense for why Tolkien valued fantasy, fairy-story, myth and legend. So, if you’ve ever wondered what was behind Tolkien’s fantasy fiction, this is the book for you! In it Tolkien argues that fairy-stories and fantasy are not just for children--in fact, adults need them more, and get more out of them. He also objects to the notion that fairy-stories are at the bottom rung of evolution from myth to heroic legend to fairy-story. For him, the world of myth and legend and fantasy is a “cauldron” that has been bubbling for centuries, with bits added into the stew over time. He himself draws from this cauldron--and adds to it--in his own fantasy-writing. What does this type of fantasy literature have to offer? His answer is: escape from some of the ugliness and violence of this world; consolation for some of our profoundest desires, such as the desire to communicate with other living creatures, or the desire to escape death; the experience of “eucatastrophe” (“the good catastrophe”)--or “the sudden joyous ‘turn’” of events; and the resultant feelings of joy. And indeed, as I reread The Lord of the Rings, I find myself experiencing some of these very feelings. It is a great wonder to talk with trees and elves. There is a great sadness to mortality--and loss of things past. And, in the face of great threat, there is a sense of the joy of deliverance. Remember, Tolkien lived and wrote through two World Wars, and had a rightful horror of “the ugliness of our works, and of their evil” (On Fairy-Stories). His fiction is steeped in the sense of cosmic battle between forces of good and evil, forces of life and forces of destruction. His works, fantasy though they are, confront some of the most profound questions of his generation--and continue to speak to ours. ( )
  Lori_Eshleman | Jun 20, 2015 |
Cory Olsen (The Tolkien Professor: http://www.tolkienprofessor.com/wp/) teaches an English class at Washington State University on the writings of JRR Tolkien (English 494).

Portions of this class are offered on iTunes...and I am following along with the lectures and the readings as much as possible. This essay On Fairy Stories is the first of the works that will be dissected and discussed.

As you can see...I have earned my nerd/geek tag honestly and I wear it with PRIDE. ;-)
  MrsJoseph | Mar 30, 2013 |
Tolkien's reflections on fairy-stories are pure brilliance. ( )
  chriskrycho | Mar 28, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tolkien, J. R. R.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, Douglas A.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Flieger, VerlynEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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I propose to speak on fairy stories, although I know that this is a rash adventure.
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Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold . . . The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
The English title of this work is "On Fairy-stories". It is a classic essay by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited in some editions by Anderson and Fleiger. It is sometimes mistitled "Tolkien on Fairy Stories" (probably copied from Amazo.com's listing), apparently because of the placement of the author's last name just above the title on the cover of some editions.
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A new expanded edition of Tolkien's most famous, and most important essay, which defined his conception of fantasy as a literary form, and which led to the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Accompanied by a critical study of the history and writing of the text. J.R.R. Tolkien's "On Fairy-stories" is his most-studied and most-quoted essay, an exemplary personal statement of his views on the role of imagination in literature, and an intellectual tour de force vital for understanding Tolkien's achievement in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. "On Fairy-stories" comprises about 18,000 words. What is little-known is that when Tolkien expanded the essay in 1943, he wrote many more pages of his views that were originally condensed into or cut from the published version. An estimate is difficult, but these unpublished passages perhaps amount to half again as much writing as the essay itself. These passages contain important elaborations of his views on other writers, and their publication represents a significant addition to Tolkien studies. Included in this new critical study of the work are: * An introductory essay setting the stage for Tolkien's 1939 lecture (the origin of the essay) and placing it within a historical context.* A history of the writing of 'On Fairy-stories', beginning with coverage of the original lecture as delivered, and continuing through to first publication in 1947.* The essay proper as published in corrected form in Tree and Leaf (1964).* Commentary on the allusions in the text, and notes about the revisions Tolkien made to the text as published in Tree and Leaf.* Important material not included in the essay as published, with commentary by the editors. Contained within "On Fairy-stories" are the roots of the tree of tales that bore such glittering fruit in Tolkien's published and unpublished work. Here, at last, Flieger and Anderson reveal through literary archaeology the extraordinary genesis of this seminal work and discuss, in their engaging commentary, how what Tolkien discovered during the writing of the essay would shape his writing for the rest of his life.

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