Tolkien’s “Fairy-Exemplarism”

Tolkien’s Augustinian exemplarism is not confined to the Ainur or the Ainulindalë generally, but extends to his view of Fairies as well. In their critical edition of Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” Verlyn Flieger and Douglas Anderson quote Tolkien as writing:

a tree-fairy (or a dryad) is, or was, a minor spirit in the process of creation who aided as ‘agent’ in the making effective of the divine Tree-idea or some part of it, or … even of some one particular example: some tree. He is therefore now bound by use and love to Trees (or a tree), immortal while the world (and trees) last—never to escape, until the End. [cited in Michael Milburn, “Colderidge’s Definition of Imagination and Tolkien’s Definition(s) of Faery,” Tolkien Studies 7 (2010): 57]

According to Tolkien, in other words, part of the metaphysical function of fairies is to serve as intermediary agents by which the patterns of the natural order as they exist in the divine mind might be instantiated or made efficacious in the physical world. In this, as Milburn goes on to observe, “Such fairies are rather like the Valar, the sub-creative ‘gods’ of Tolkien’s mythology, and their lesser kin, the Maiar.”

1 thought on “Tolkien’s “Fairy-Exemplarism”

  1. Pingback: Valinor: Plato’s realm of the forms? | The Flame Imperishable

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