Tolkien on Faërie

“Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the Sun, the Moon, the sky; and the Earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves … when we are enchanted.”
J. R. R. Tolkien from his essay on Fairy Stories : Tree and Leaf

This seems to have something in common with the view of James Stephens that “we do not go to but become Faery”. Does this mean that is simply a state of mind? Stephens does not appear to believe this and Tolkien clearly indicates that he doesn’t either when he also defines it as “the realm or state in which fairies have their being”. His preferred name for the inhabitants of this realm was ‘elves’ as is clear from his other writings. Here he declares “if elves are true and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them.” The implication of this, and of other statements Tolkien made about what he called “the Perilous Realm”, is that it is an ‘Otherworld’, one which is indescribable in scientific or historical terms though, for all that, not imperceptible. To enter that realm one needs not magic in the sense of a will to power over its guardians or to see through the veils of its borders, but enchantment which derives not from power but from art. Enchantment is the craft of elves while magic is the craft of humans. So Tolkien implies.

The sense, then, in which we do not ‘go’ to Faery but ‘become Faery’, as James Stephens has it, is the same sense in which Faërie contains all the things to be found in this world, as the quotation from Tolkien asserts. The Well of Enchantment is not, after all, so difficult to find. The art of looking not so much with a direct gaze as out of the corner of an eye as we look into its waters may be more difficult to acquire. But to get there it’s only necessary to step off the path which does not lead to it.

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