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On Tolkien, Fairy Stories, and Going to Prague

November 1, 2012

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it…
Fantasy is made out of the Primary world, but a good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone and wood which only the at of making can give… By the making of Pegasus horses were ennobled. (Tolkien, On Fairy Stories)

Faun says:

On the way home from a night class, I was suddenly surrounded by those huge, fluffy, intricate snowflakes that are illuminated beautifully by streetlights and provide a whole new kind of contrast to evening walks. This kind of snow always makes me feel a bit like a child, and by night it summons the same kind of peace, awe, and sense of magic that I acquired from stories as I grew up.

In that flash, everything had changed. The snow was there as it had been a moment before, but not piled now on roofs or stretching flat over lawns and fields. There were only trees. (Susan Cooper, the Dark is Rising)

I loved stories that were full of mythologies, symbols, and moral journeys. It was so easy to feel magic, as a child. Now, as an adult, magic can only rarely be reclaimed, but stories still illuminate a life in invaluable ways. We are meaning-making, creative creatures, and it’s extremely saddening that my generation might be the last one to grow up reading books.

If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.
(Richard Bach, Illusions)

We assemble our lives like stories. I have a goal, I have climaxes and characters and genres. The most significant moments in my life have had story-like qualities, and I can pull motifs from the assortment of themes that give meaning to my narrative.

Let’s momentarily think about this and go to Prague. In the figurative sense, in the “read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, date a sculptor, now I know how bad American coffee is” sense:

Human lives… are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven’s music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life… Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.
It is wrong, then, to chide the novel for being fascinated by mysterious coincidences (like the meeting of Anna, Vronsky, the railway station, and death or the meeting of Beethoven, Tomas, Tereza, and the cognac) but it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty. (Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

The conclusions of this sadly disjointed mulling? To be happy and feel like my life has weight, I sometimes need to pay attention to magic, motif, and miracles. Fairy stories, as our dearest J.R.R. asserts, are certainly a form of high art. Read more of them, especially to children.

Miriam says:

One of the things that Faun and I bonded over those many years ago was our love of fantasy. We swapped our favorite fantasy books, and compared notes on ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Arthurian legend. It was great fun to escape and to explore both the crappy and well written worlds of dragons, unicorns, wizards, sole adventurers, and relatable teens thrust into fantastical situations.
I’m going to go back earlier than that though, and talk about fairy tales. What immediately sprang to mind when I read Faun’s post was the fairy tale ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’. Here is a link to the story:

What I like about this story is that I never saw a film of it. I don’t think I even read a story book with pictures of it. But it captured my imagination, more so than the Disney-fied fairy tales. And it’s because I created my own lush imagining of the story. The groves of trees with leaves of gold? What is better for igniting the imagination of a child?
I’d love to hear from people about what their favorite fairy tales were as a child; it’s often surprising what stories grab childrens’ attention. I don’t know how I would be different if it were different

fairy tales playing such important roles in the development of my imagination, but I guess I’m pretty satisfied with the result. Dancing princesses! Trees of diamonds! I’m gonna go read some fairy tales now.

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