On Fairy-Stories

Understanding Tolkien’s approach to writing and creation.

Tolkien gave a lecture in 1938 to present his thoughts on defining what ‘Fairy-Stories’ are, their validity and importance as a creative pursuit. Since that time it has been labelled as his ‘manifesto’ as a justification of his life’s work. His ‘Legendarium’.

In 1938 Tolkien was a prominent Professor of Anglo Saxon. He had already produced his seminal essay on Beowulf in 1936. Many academics have stated that without any of his fantasy writing Tolkien would have been famous in academia for this treatise alone. In fact those same academics spend rather a lot of time wishing Tolkien had put more of his energy into his scholarly writing rather than ‘waste’ his time with fanciful fictions. Perhaps this essay was a reaction? Or maybe he simply wanted to lay a foundation so his work could be better understood?

There are so many themes and ideas in this essay that can be seen though the world Tolkien creates. That is the reason I’ve decided to start by giving it a careful read. It gives an insight into how an author set about, not only, ‘world-building’ but how he gave deep thought into why this creative effort is not only important but vital to his life and the lives of others. I’m interested in what drove him to stick with his creation for decades despite it not reaching the critical acclaim it enjoys today. It must be noted his ‘larger’ works were not published until after his death and he always split opinion of the literary critics of his time (more of which later).

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My Tolkien History

Why I find myself diving deeper into the mythology I love.

I’m a bit of a philomath. Though some might say I have a short attention span. I have fads where I’ll get obsessed with something; entertainment, creators, literature, art or specific subjects. I consume as much as I can and eventually the fire is quelled and the initial intensity of that interest is reduced to lukewarm embers. I still hold a fondness for whatever it was that so held my attention. I’m glad to have experienced it, but it soon becomes clear there is no longevity to my intense scrutiny. There is not enough depth to keep me returning in an obsessive fashion.

I’m sure you see where this is going.

I wasn’t always obsessed with Tolkien’s work. I have a relatively long history with his books and I had to be romanced before I fell all the way in love. I believe I was 10 or 11 when I first read The Hobbit. I recall the exact design of the book I borrowed from the school library. I have been trying my hardest to find it again now to add it to my collection. It had the famous green, blue and white mountainous landscape illustration, drawn by Tolkien himself. I remember that it was printed on a hardback cover, but I’ve only ever seen it as a dustcover. I may well be mistaken. I know there is a version of that book that was recently released as a first edition facsimile. I cannot recall if that initial encounter with The Hobbit was the first edition text, but at the time I didn’t particularly care for the storied and fascinating evolution of Chapter 5.

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Second Breakfast Intro

This blog is the result of my self-initiated Tolkien studies. I’ve loved these books since I was a child and have an up and down relationship with them. All in all I find myself now ready to tackle the entire Legendarium once again but with a critical eye.

I don’t want to pick apart the works, I want to analyse in an effort to enhance my enjoyment. My essays will not be presented in a particularly scholarly fashion. They will simply be points of interest I wish to explore or questions I want to try and answer to my own satisfaction or interpretation.

All of these writings will stay ‘live’. Nothing will be locked in a state of completion. As I read, research and hopefully learn more I hope to revisit each essay to make corrections, amendments and expansions.

I hope what follows will be a decent representation of my deepening understanding of, and affection for, Professor Tolkien’s work.

‘Jump to’ LINK INDEX

My History with Tolkien | On Fairy-Stories

Tolkien Art | Reading List & Resources

*Features adult language and themes.*

Kurt Sampson, a self-help guru, is trapped in the fake life he has built for himself, no longer believing in the profitable shtick he’s peddling. Part of this is writing a monthly magazine article titled ‘How to be Happy’.

Over the New Year period five disparate (and desperate) people from the same small town are guided by their individual issues to seek out Kurt’s advice.

Charlie a young computer genius crippled by social awkwardness which has forced him into a solitary existence.

Daisy a meth addict whose only interest is chasing her next high, no matter the cost.

Simone a strong, independent, business woman. Her life revolves around her job and the comfortable lifestyle it affords her.

Evie is a frustrated artist. Since her son was born she has lost focus. She’s open to any fad or advice that promises to fix her life.

Jon, Evie’s husband, is content with life. He has a wonderful family and a menial job that pays the bills.

Everyone is trying to figure out what makes life worth living, and if happiness is really an achievable aim?

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New Year’s Eve/Day – Charlie | DaisyKurt | Evie | Simone | Jon

January – How to be Happy | EvieSimone | Daisy | Charlie | Jon | Kurt

February – How to be Happy | Charlie | Daisy | Jon | Evie | Simone | Kurt

March – How to be Happy | Charlie | Daisy | Evie | Jon | Simone | Kurt

April – How to be Happy | Charlie | Daisy | Evie | Jon | Simone | Kurt

May – How to be Happy | Kurt | Charlie | Daisy | Jon | Evie | Simone


This manuscript was completed in 2011/2012 after a successful attempt at Nanowrimo. I did send it out to agents at the time garnering a few polite rejections and it has festered on my hard-drive ever since.

After discovering it yet again (when beginning a new novel project) I gave it a read and was shocked to NOT be completely mortified by it. I think my writing has moved on from this, but I also thought this effort deserved a home for anyone that might find it interesting. To that end, I’ll be going through the manuscript again and giving it another hard edit before posting a chapter a week (on Monday’s) until the whole thing lives here.

I will also (probably unwisely) be opening comments under each chapter if you’d like to post feedback.