Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tolkien On Fairy-Stories: Expanded edition, with commentary and notes by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien On Fairy-Stories: Expanded edition, with commentary and notes by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson. Hardcover book published by HarperCollins 2008, 320 pages.

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. These passages contain important elaborations of his views on other writers, and their publication represents a significant addition to Tolkien studies.”

It's easy to forget that the bloke behind the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings had a day job. Yep, besides penning one of the most popular fantasy sagas of the 20th century, he was also an academic, which is sort of not surprising when you think about it. The Lord of the Rings has a complexity and depth that can at times be a trifle difficult and downright baffling, particularly if you're a 13 year old boy in the mid nineteen seventies growing up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. An Oxford academic such as Tolkien, would have found this depth essential to his story telling and the fact that a boy in Springvale didn't understand this complexity would probably not have concerned him all that much. It's this background and mythos that is one of the reasons why Tolkien's work is so entrancing... that is if you're into difficult and complex backgrounds and mythos. 

I seem to remember having read a version of this essay at some point in my teens... I also seem to remember thinking that there wasn't enough adventure or excitement in it. I was expecting something a little different to what I got and failed to understand the purpose of the essay within the world of Tolkien's works. I guess that like some of the more complex bits of The Lord of the Rings mythology, this essay wasn't aimed at the 13 year old me.

Tolkien remains a very popular author whose reputation has been enhanced by an overly successful movie franchise. This popularity makes his works incredibly sought after by the book buying public and I have had great success over the years selling Tolkien titles when I have found them. Unfortunately they are few and far between as people do seem keen on keeping their precious Tolkiens...

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