Actualism of Story-Growing

This tale grew in the telling (5). So Tolkien opens the forward to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, a reminder that stories do not emerge, like Athena from the head of Zeus, fully formed and complete, but come into being for the first time in and through the very process by which they are told. What Tolkien says here about his own story, moreover, is equally true of, and bears an analogy to, the fictional beings of his stories as well. It wasn’t just that Tolkien’s tale grew in the telling, but the very concept, for example, of what a hobbit is was something that grew and developed as Tolkien told the story about him. We sometimes think of stories or fictional beings such as hobbits as having a Platonic form, whether in the mind of God or not, that the author or sub-creator simply “discovers.” But this is not how the fictions of our minds work. In more technical terms, stories are “actualistic”: they are no mere actualization of already existing potentialities or possibilities. Rather, it is the very act of telling a story that, paradoxically, creates the conditions and possibilities for what the story is able to be.

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3 thoughts on “Actualism of Story-Growing

  1. The Ainulindalë is presented along these actualistic lines, isn’t it? The Ainur make music according to the themes, not the replaying of a Platonic song, and (except for Melkor and his allies) each singer adapts according to the other singers contributions and the new themes, and thus the story grows in the telling. Then the process of actualizing continues with The Vision, creation becomes clearer, but it’s not yet real; the Ainur see things they either don’t remember composing or didn’t understand while they were composing them (In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit). Only when Creation (and sub-creations?) have the Secret Fire at their heart do they become actualized; and, one might argue, true actualization only occur once the Valar experientially live the story in the conditions they themselves composed.

  2. Pingback: Tolkien and the ‘Actualism of Story-Growing’ | liturgical

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