John Wright has posted some thoughts on Tolkien’s essay on Faerie Stories. In Tolkien, in Wright, and in the comments, there are little bits I should read whenever I sit down to write.
Two bits in particular, I wish to preserve. From a comment by tz:
A few more thoughts. Magic in most forms is a technique. a recipe. It is the antithesis of Faerie.
We were commanded to subdue nature, not to make it an object, chop it apart, and reassemble it as we desire. There is an element of necromancy in our technology because we must kill nature – remove the spirt and subject and make it an object.
Horses can be turned to glue, but a wild horse needs to be broken, then it can be ridden, and taken care of. In LoTR, Shadofax could not be broken, but would willingly bear Gandalf.
Aragorn subdues the Palantir and the ghosts. Dangerous and powerful, they become his to command.
Lewis in Abolition noted before the modern era, it was about conforming man to nature, not nature to man. Faerie is the former.
In a scene that Jackson got wrong, when Gandalf goes to Saruman, he notices he is not wearing white, but something iridescent. Prismatic. Gandalf comments that when someone breaks things to understand them, they have lost the way. We see this continuing, but I think the point is Gandalf is a lover to Saruman who turns rapist. Tom Bombadil is so conformed to nature, he is part of it. The orcs, trolls, and uruk hai are perversions. Technology is necrophilia.
Greens make the mistake of worshiping nature – the wild, chaotic nature, not stewarding and subduing it. Kosher and Halal meat at least force the recognition blood is being shed so you can eat – Christians may object, but they have lost more when they don’t feel a chill for what is lost at a factory farm.
When you read the bible, specifically the miracles, there is little sense of a magical procedure. Occasionally there is a task – dip 7 times in the Jordan, or making mud from spittle to restore sight. But it has no feeling of a spell or a procedure.
Maybe we really are in the land of Faerie, but elves and dwarves are the cartoon version, a child’s misunderstanding of reality. But misunderstanding can lead to understanding. Rejection and denial means you can never find it.
And the succinct statement of the master himself:
Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso : if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.
And herein lies the deepest fault of my own writing. As a confirmed logic-monkey (among my friends, so admittedly a big fish for my small pool), I tend to write fantasy that is really a sort of science fiction. It operates by mechanism. There are sigils made from auras that grow in a biological fashion. It is the vulgar device of a laborious, scientific magician. There is an element of necromancy in the necromancy, yes. But also an element of necromancy in the spells and charms of heroes. This, I think, needs to be ruthlessly exterminated. I should go back through my fantasies and conform them to a spirit rather than trying to evoke a thing from the clockwork.
My present project, to do what Eragon attempted and failed, to graft Star Wars into Middle Earth, is, in my vastly inflated opinion, already better than its precursor. But while I’ve always known it would never live up to Middle Earth, I have discovered that it does not even live up to Star Wars. Even Star Wars, in conforming to its watered-down Buddhism, is more true than my own work.
Edit: And some more, from Mr. Wright:
The primary purpose of nonfiction books is either to give us facts, give us insights based on facts, or to persuade or urge us into some course of action based on that insight. But the primary purpose of fiction is to slake the thirst we have for the magical waters which flow from worlds beyond the dry and bitter world of facts, to drink, to bathe, to be cleansed, to be refreshed, and to emerge shining from the baptism of the imagination to return to the dry wasteland of the factual world washed and prepared for battle. Science fiction and Fantasy form the deeper waters which carry us farther from the shore of this wasteland, and therefore provide deeper springs from which, through the imagination, to irrigate it…
…Fantasy is refreshing [because the] wasteland at such times seems too full of machinery and modernism and the endless rush of little men pursuing little fortunes in little ventures, and the soul aches for a touch of magic, the sense that there are golden cities far beyond the horizon, and fields in some distant and forgotten mountain glen where fauns leap and dance and fairies hold revels, or darkest ocean depth which no sunlight touches, where the monsters waiting Ragnarök stir in uneasy sleep. We want to see true love, and the sick healed by the touch of a king, and the dead raised, and all the things we do not see in the evening news.
Edit: Also, I must keep this in mind: