On Fairy Stories

Episode 17 of The Forge of Tolkien, ON FAIRY STORIES is now live on Unauthorized, featuring the newest Presidential appointee to the Federal Cultural Property Advisory Committee, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown.

In 1938, Tolkien gave a lecture at St. Andrew’s University on the topic of “fairy stories,” ostensibly meaning to explain what “fairy stories” were. In the course of the lecture, however, Tolkien spent more time explaining what they weren’t—travelers’ tales, beast fables, dreams, children’s stories—than, it would seem, explaining what they were. Why did Tolkien find it so hard to define fairy stories other than in the negative? What was he thinking of when he defined them not as stories about fairies, but as stories about “Faërie,” aka the Perilous Realm?

In this episode, Prof. Rachel Fulton Brown reads the published version of Tolkien’s lecture for clues about what Tolkien intended his own fairy stories to achieve. We pull back the veil of Fantasy to learn why real fairy stories have happy endings—and why our reading of Tolkien’s own stories has only just begun.