Tree and Leaf by

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Full title: Tree and Leaf (Introductory Note, On Fairy-Stories, Leaf by Niggle) ; Smith of Wootten Major ; The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son (Beorhtnoth’s Death, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, Ofermod)
ISBN: 0048200158
See also: JespersUnivers ; Rosa-Sinenis ; Once Upon A Time review site

I propose to speak about fairy-stories, though I am aware that this is a rash adventure.

This, in many ways, is the perfect book for the Once Upon a Time Reading Challenge as it contains fairy tales and myth and fantasy. It is a collection of shorter works by Tolkien, and begins, not with a story but, with an essay, On Fairy-Stories and surprisingly, I found this the most interesting aspect of the book. Tolkien writes about the origins of fairy stories, why he believes them necessary. He also defines what he means by a fairy story. A very different thing from the tale relegated to the children’s nursery, although somewhat related. Possibly the first defence of the fantasy genre.

The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into swift water. If it could do one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power – upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such ‘fantasy’, as it is called, a new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator

He also has an interesting argument about why fairy-stories are important; they allow us to look again at the world and to appreciate it. Which reminded my of Patrick Kavanagh’s Advent. Tolkien calls this recovery:

We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red.

The stories themselves I enjoyed, but I didn’t love them. Leaf by Niggle is about an artist, Niggle, who lives near a village that doesn’t appreciate art, he himself is often disturbed by his own “soft-heartedness” as helps his neighbours out. Grumbling maybe, but he does help out. It is more of an allegory than a story though. Whether it is religious one, or of his own creative process is up to the reader.

The final section of the book concerns Beorhtnoth, the first part is an introduction to the historical character, the second is the actual poem about him, and the final part is an explanation of Beorhtnoth and the heroic spirit of the Old English and Norse sagas.

Overall this was a more interesting than entertaining read. Fans of Tolkien should read it, or those interested in fairy tales, others mightn’t be so impressed.

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5 Responses

  1. Nymeth says:

    I love love LOVE that essay. I probably quote from it far too much for my own good. I love both the things he says in it and the eloquent manner in which he says them.

  2. Chris says:

    Wow, I didn't know this book even existed! I'll have to add it to the wish list! Great review, thanks for sharing this with us :)

  3. Fence says:

    So you've read it then Nymeth :)

    Chris, I think it is around in various forms, some don't have all the different parts, one may have more.

  4. jean pierre says:

    i've always been curious as to what this book is about…! i've briefly scanned what some of his other books are about, but they've never seemed too inspiring, so i haven't ever gotten around to reading them.

    the essays sound very interesting!

    thanks for the review.

  5. Fence says:

    If you are a fan of faery, or indeed fairy, tales you should find it interesting. Otherwise I'd give it a miss.