Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Primary and Secondary Worlds

Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being 'arrested.' They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination. (p. 69)
I found this quote interesting because it brings to mind a question not presented in class: what exactly is the difference between the Primary and Secondary world as referenced by Tolkien? Why do we become uncomfortable when they interact? As a person who enjoys writing, myself, I find truth in the idea that meddling with the comfort zone provided by the Primary World (reality) is a task reluctantly and cautiously pursued; however, without this discomfort, the task would not be worthwhile. As human beings, we have the capability to create wonderful stories, ideas, and art, either as representations of our Primary World or as creations of a Secondary World (the world of Fantasy). We can truly invent almost anything we wish, and perhaps this concept induces fear. To provide some modern pop culture examples, modern novels and films/television provide an outlet for us to escape our everyday world. The show American Horror Story, for instance, collects classic examples of people, events, and concepts which make people the most uncomfortable and somehow manages to captivate a massive audience, regardless of discomfort. We enjoy roller coasters and skydiving and horror and Fantasy because, while we dislike meddling with the limits of our existence, we also crave it. Perhaps we compare Fantasy to Dreams, but we also analyze our dreams as though they somehow mean something about ourselves and our lives. We all look at our favorite story characters with envy and immense admiration, and possibly even as though we see ourselves in some way. Tolkien offers the comparison between Fantasy and mental disorder, which I can only attribute to the idea that perhaps people are terrified of their capability to create things they've never experienced, or maybe they don't like what they see when they free their mind to create, unbridled and unrestricted by reality. Perhaps there is a different implication of this comparison, and that would be something to discuss further. I think, in this modern time as it relates to Fantasy and fairy-stories, Tolkien would be impressed with how extensive the realm of accepted strangeness has become amongst audiences of fiction writing.

3 comments:

Aulë said...

One thing I noticed is that when Tolkien addresses the Primary and Secondary Worlds here, he seems to imply that they are not entirely separate and that they, in fact, blend into each other on a regular basis. "The Primary World, Reality, of elves and men is the same;" (p. 52) even though the realm of Faerie is so clearly a world different from our own, Tolkien tells us that it and our real world are simply different views or facets of the same plane of reality. Faeries, according to Tolkien, are simply better able to create a Secondary World at will and envelope their observers more convincingly in it.
The Primary and Secondary Worlds make the most sense as the real world and the world invented by an author or artist, but throughout "On Fairy-Stories," Tolkien keeps intertwining the two. They are inseparable: the Secondary World is better created and defined when it has some root in or relatability to the Primary World, and a reader or author's perception of the Primary World is influenced by the Secondary Worlds they have been immersed in.

Estë said...

My understanding of this idea of primary and secondary worlds was that the primary was, like you said, reality and the secondary was “Faerie.” I think they also can be seen as Creation (with a capital “C”) and sub-creation. It is a bit confusing though how and when these realms blur together. One instance in which Tolkien writes that they connect is in reference to the “Christian story.” In the Epilogue he writes that
“the Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels- peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance and among these marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable euchatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world, the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation.”
What is he saying here? It seems to me that he wants the “Christian story” to be understood as a fairy-story in terms of its magical, beautiful, euchatostrophic significance. The question I have is why is the Christian story such a significant moment in which the Primary and Secondary worlds collide for Tolkien? Obviously he was a devout man and his faith influenced everything he did, but what is he saying here about the realm of Faerie and that of reality? What do you think of placing the “Christian story” under the title of a fairy story? Does this have anything to do with Tolkien’s claims that Christianity is the truest myth?

Ulmo said...

I would like to comment on what you said about how we are sometimes afraid of what we create. Although modern society has become more accepting of being 'different' or 'weird', it can still be a shock to see what comes from people's innermost thoughts and desires. Oftentimes if we do not understand something, we are afraid of it. This can go for both the creator and the observer of any phenomenon, whether it be art, writing, ideas, etc. However, we as a species find it immensely interesting as well, and I think that's part of why fantasy fiction and fairy stories have become more familiar and varied. With a culture that has become more comfortable with the uncomfortable, Tolkien's idea of the Secondary World has become more feasible and even lucrative in some cases.