This article is by Anne Marie Gazzolo.
In the essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien speaks of a subject close to his heart. He had a life-long interest in and love for the genre, and approaches the topic as an author.
According to Tolkien, fairy-stories allow us as readers and authors to experience what he calls recovery, escape, and consolation. In our broken world, we need all three.
Such affords us the opportunity to profoundly change the way we view ordinary things and life itself.
Seeing the World Anew
The world of Faërie does indeed have all the things we are used to seeing, as Tolkien notes: “the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky…tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted”.
But we see these things in a new way while we travel through strange lands that at times become home to us.
We do not see merely a sea but the Sea and all that means to those who live near it or travel upon it. Wine and bread mean more to us when they are shared between heroes. Such has been dipped into the Cauldron of Story, and we savor the flavors that come from such a rich and heady mixture.
Can we look at a horse again the same way after encountering one in the world of Faërie, or look at the moon and not think of those we have met doing the same?
Escape from the Culture of Despair
If we are open to the potent power of the Faërie kingdom, it changes us, improves our outlook, and sharpens our senses. While the spell lasts, we do not see, touch, smell, hear, or taste things in the same way we did before.
We escape from the culture of death and despair that surrounds us, and enter a world where the same may hem the heroes about, but where they do not surrender to it. Such gives us the strength not to be overwhelmed ourselves.
If we are lucky, the magic does not fade after we reluctantly return to the Primary World, but is incorporated into our everyday life to enliven and enrich it.
We look at a sunset with new eyes and really smell the air after a spring rain. We recover the joy of children playing in the snow and catching flakes on their tongues.
The Consolation of the Happy Ending
Along with recovery and escape, another great gift from the realm of Faërie that we can give ourselves and our readers is, as Tolkien calls it, “the Consolation of the Happy Ending”.
He coined the term eucatastrophe to explain what he meant and calls it “the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function”.
We desperately need to know that even if everything is falling apart around us, and all seems headed to disaster, that we can still experience the “sudden joyous ‘turn’” that saves our lives from utter ruin. Fairy-tales teach us this is possible.
Those who scoff and say “That only happens in stories” have not had the consolation of such eucatastrophic joy themselves. They do not realize such is possible in the Primary World. But it is.
Has entering the Perilous Realm of Faërie through stories affected you? If so, how?
About the Author:
Anne Marie Gazzolo is the author of Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings, which includes a chapter on The Hobbit. It is available from WestBow Press. You can also visit her site at annemariegazzolo.com, and can connect with her on Facebook and Pinterest.