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On Fairy Stories – An Essay by Tolkien


Is Legolas a fairy? (I'm not touching that one, read Tolkien's essay!)

Okay, who’s up for some light weekend reading? By which I mean dozens of pages written by JRR Tolkien about fairy stories.

On Fairy Stories (full text in PDF) is a lengthy essay in which The Man Himself he defends “Fairy Stories” as being worth reading. You can read this piece as a lengthy defense of fantasy literature itself. I did, so I suppose it must be true in some way.

Stories essentially is Tolkien getting at the answers to  at least two questions:

1. What is a fairy story?

The answers matters to students of his work, because they provide a useful look at how Tolkien viewed his work, and why fantasy literature had value to anyone, not just those who Edmund Wilson would say love “juvenile trash.”

It also provides  a framework for talking about the elves.

2. What are the origins of fairy stories?

Well, for that, you’re going to have to read the essay.

I’m putting this out here today because when we start talking about critics who absolutely hated Tolkien’s work, On Fairy Stories can be used to demonstrate that many of their claims aren’t as airtight as they might think.

Or, you could just do something fun with your Saturday.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pieter Collier September 4, 2011, 3:29 pm

    I’m not a big fan of the PDF or Ebook version of anything Tolkien myself and I just adore Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories… and for those who are a bit like me and wish to hold a book in the hand when reading – here is info on the best edition of this fabulous book: http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/808-Tolkien_on_Fairy-Stories.php (sorry for link to my website, but it IS the best edition of that book out there!)

  • Pauline September 7, 2011, 8:35 am

    Hi Josh,
    Some urgent life issues kept me away from here for about ten days. I’m back, and WOW I’m happy about Tolkien month! This is terrific. I’m about to re-read Hobbit and LOTR after I finish a review on a non-related subject for my book club. I have read 51 books this year according to my log, and I know what the next four will be . . .

    • Josh Hanagarne September 7, 2011, 1:57 pm

      Pauline, sounds like you have your priorities in order. Urgent life issues first, reading this blog a distant second, or possibly even third:)

      • lena September 23, 2012, 5:18 am

        Hi Josh,
        could you maybe tell me when the exact version of the text you linked as a PDF was puplished, wich company published it and so on. What is you source? That would be a great help!
        Thank you!!

  • Misty September 7, 2011, 2:43 pm

    Oh this sounds like a delightful read–thanks for posting it!