In today's class discussion, we talked about Tolkien's conception of "faery" as a place where sub-creation takes place. Sub-creation is a difficult concept: briefly, it is the idea that, as beings "created" in God's image (in a Christian theological world view), people have an instinctive desire to create. This instinct toward creation is not just a desire to create things, like inlaid tables or hand-carved salad bowls, but is a desire to create worlds, and beings, on our own.
This view of sub-creation, then, influences his understanding of how faerie stories work. Tolkien laid out a few guidelines for the development of faerie stories:
- Fairy stories depend on belief. If the author of a fairy story is not taking his material seriously, the audience will detect his lack of belief and the story will cease to work as a true fairy story.
- Fairy stories must be presented as real and true. They can't be illusions, or dreams.
- Fairy stories are about humanity. There may be elves and dwarves and wizards and dragons. But fairy stories are grounded in their attention to humanity, and human concerns give them their depth and meaning.
- Fairy stories can be jovial and less than serious about almost anything. But one aspect must always be taken seriously: magic. If the magic of a fairy story is treated with anything less than respect, the fairy story will not function as a fairy story.
- Finally, Tolkien tells us that fairy stories have two main purposes. First, they respond to a human desire to "survey the depths of time and space." Second, they respond to a human desire to "hold communion with other living things."
With all of this in mind, you should comment on how these concepts seem to play out in Tolkien's own work. Do these principals apply to his stories about Middle Earth? Do they apply to the shorter, smaller tales about Farmer Giles, Smith of Wooten Major, or Niggle?
You don't need to respond to all of those questions, but you need to clearly comment in response to the preceding concepts. I look forward to what you have to say . . .