“On Fairy-Stories” by J. R. R. Tolkien


In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892-September 2, 1973) delivered a fairy story called The Hobbit to his publisher. The manuscript included the world of the Hobbit with twenty original drawings, and two maps, and an artistic rendering of Tolkien, himself.

Three years later, on March 8, 1939, at the University of St Andrews, Scotland; J. R. R. Tolkien presented a discussion on the fairy story as a unique form of literature. The lecture explored the folklorist and collector of fairy tales Andrew Lang’s notions of what a fairy story entailed. Unlike Lang, Tolkein didn’t agree that the Fairy genre should include traveller’s tales, beast fables, and other types of stories. Instead, Tolkien viewed fairy stories as occurring in the enchanted realm of the Faerie, with or without fairies as characters. Tolkien took the position that the development of fairy stories grew from a the natural development of the interplay of human imagination and language.

The original art of The Hobbit has been put together in a volume from his old papers and can be purchased online (See Below). Go inside the book and see more of the original Tolkien Drawings by clicking on the Youtube: The Art of the Hobbit below.

According to Tolkein, what makes a fairy tale unique is that the story is presented as real with, “It is at any rate essential to a genuine fairy-story, as distinct from the employment of this form for lesser or debased purposes, that it should be presented as ‘true’. … But since the fairy-story deals with ‘marvels’, it cannot tolerate any frame or machinery suggesting that the whole framework in which they occur is a figment or illusion.”

Tolkien notes that a fairy story is “a rare achievement of Art,” and that the fairy story allows the reader to review his own world from the “perspective” of a different world.

Tolkien asks us to consider the power of the fairy story to change attitudes of people by challenging their assumptions through escapism and how an emotionally healing monent can be offered with a moral or consoling ending.

Lastly, Tolkien emphasizes that a really good fairy story, is an experience in joy with, “Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faerie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

Theatre of the Word actor Kevin O’Brien presents as J.R.R. Tolkien on Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Man as co-Creator. From The Prairie Troubadour’s 2017 Symposium “The Restoration of the Imagination” at the Liberty Theatre in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Further reading on Tolkien and “On Fairy Stories.”

The paper is an analysis of how Tolkien’s thought on” fairy-stories” evolved between his
1939 St. Andrews Andrew Lang Lecture” Fairy Stories,” through his contribution” On Fairy-Stories” to the 1947 Essays Presented to Charles Williams, and concluding with his 1967essay on the nature of” Faërie.”


  1.  Scull, ChristinaHammond, Wayne G. (2006). The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. Volume 1: Chronology. London: HarperCollins. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-261-10381-8
  2. ^ “Inside Tolkien’s Mind”. University of St Andrews. 4 March 2004. Archived from the original on 10 March 2007. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  3. Jump up to:a b Flieger, Verlyn. “On Fairy Stories” – essay, Tolkien Estate
  4.  Tolkien, Letters, pp. 220, 239, 244, 283, 375–6.
  5. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (2001). Tree and Leaf, Mythopoeia, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son. London: HarperCollins. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-007-10504-5.

I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of J.R.R. Tolkien’s views on the Fairy Story as a literature genre and a look at his original The Hobbit artwork.

Let The Fairy Dust Fly!

Mary Cathleen Wilson

Thank You readers for all your ideas about what fairy story discussion points/genres you would like explored. Please continue to use the comment section below. You can also sign up for immediate delivery of these Naissene Fairy World blogs and the monthly chronicles of The Naissene Fairy Story. All emails are CONFIDENTIAL!

Post Script: The Beginner DIY Fairy Dwelling page has been updated, and includes full instruction with a download file. https://niassenefairy.com/?page_id=189

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Published by naissenefairy

Creating dioramas and writing fairy stories

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