J. R. R. Tolkien’s collection Tree and Leaf this week before I read Sean Malone’s review of Snowpiercer, but Sean’s discussion of internal logic only confirmed my choice. If there’s one book every writer of science fiction and fantasy absolutely must read, it’s Tree and Leaf. Several different editions have been released over the years, but all contain two vitally important works: On Fairy-Stories and Leaf by Niggle. “On Fairy-Stories” began as a keynote address Tolkien delivered in 1937, around the same time he published The Hobbit and began writing The Lord of the Rings. The first part of the essay addresses what fairy-stories are, though Tolkien gives no more precise definition than that they are stories about Faërie; misconceptions of the Fair Folk; the muddle critics make when discussing the origins of fairy tales; and the modern mistake of thinking that fairy tales are only for children. Tolkien moves beyond mere criticism, however, when he turns to the topics of how fairy tales are written and why they are worthwhile. He never cites Sidney’s Defense of Poesy, but his view of literary creativity is in a similar vein. Tolkien defines human creativity as sub-creation. Only God can create something from nothing, and Tolkien calls the world God created the Primary World. Yet humans, made in God’s image, have the right to use our sub-creative powers, defined as Art, to form Secondary Worlds from the material we find in the Primary World. Here Tolkien quotes from his poem “Mythopoeia,” which appears in full in recent editions of Tree and Leaf. Written for C. S. Lewis shortly after the famous conversation on Addison’s Walk in 1931, “Mythopoeia” attacks Lewis’ assertion at the time that myths are “lies breathed through silver.” Tolkien counters not only that myth is a vehicle for truth but also that myth-making is a human right—“we make still by the law in which we’re made.” And “Leaf by Niggle,” Tolkien’s only deliberate allegory, celebrates the idea that God may someday grant us the great gift of seeing our Secondary Worlds given primary reality. Yet Tolkien argues in “On Fairy-Stories” that the purpose of Art isn’t just the author’s own enjoyment. A well-made Secondary World is one into which author and audience alike can enter. The Secondary World therefore needs to have “the inner consistency of reality” that allows the audience to believe that what the author says is true within that world. If disbelief has to be suspended, the art has failed. Tolkien notes,
- Chinatown – Dissecting the ScreenplayIn Featured Story, Nonfiction, ReadIn what a lesser film would treat as a forgettably functional, utilitarian scene in service of the next story beat, Towne infuses with situational humor, interpersonal politics, colorful character beats and mundane yet identifiable and immediately relatable stakes--on top of a stirring cornerstone revelation.
- The Valley by Alfred SearlsIn Fiction, Issue No 5, Read
- Prayer Therapy by Marisa WhitneyIn Fiction, Issue No 5, Read
- An Amazon’s Tale, Part Three by Dick YaegerIn Fiction, Issue No 5, Read
- Anomaly, Part Three by Jennifer MilneIn Fiction, Issue No 5, Read