Parla Tolkien: “FANTASY”

In vista del nostro prossimo (e si spera ultimo) post sul Convegno di Trento, riportiamo qui per comodità alcuni passi originali del capitolo intitolato FANTASY di On Fairy Stories, dato che Fatica lo ha sintetizzato nel suo intervento (senza citare la fonte). Per ora nessun commento; ma grassetto, sottolineato e trattini chiarificatori sono nostri. Se potete, controllate l’originale; le traduzioni sono utili ma potrebbero essere svianti. Se abbiamo tralasciato qualcosa di importante, segnalatecelo.

Ci limitiamo a far notare la sbalorditiva modernità di Tolkien che avvicina “Fantasy” a “Fantastico”, un passo che la letteratura mondiale ha compiuto solo negli ultimi decenni, includendo nel Fantastico non sono solo il Fantasy, ma la fantascienza, l’horror, il weird etc, in quanto legati dalla stessa parola usata da Tolkien nel terzo paragrafo, unreality. Ci vorrebbe tutto un altro post per coprire questo argomento.

FANTASY

The human mind is capable of forming mental images of things not actually present. The faculty of conceiving the images is (or was) naturally called Imagination. But in recent times, in technical not normal language, Imagination has often been held to be something higher than the mere image-making, ascribed to the operations of Fancy (a reduced and depreciatory form of the older word Fantasy); an attempt is thus made to restrict, I should say misapply, Imagination to ‘the power of giving to ideal creations the inner consistency of reality’.

[…] I venture to think the verbal distinction philologically inappropriate, and the analysis inaccurate. The mental power of image-making is one thing, or aspect; and it should appropriately be called Imagination. The perception of the image, the grasp of its implications, and the control, which are necessary to a successful expression, may vary in vividness and strength: but this is a difference of degree in Imagination, not a difference in kind. The achievement of the expression, which gives (or seems to give) ‘the inner consistency of reality’ [1: That is: which commands or induces Secondary Belief] is indeed another thing, or aspect, needing another name: Art, the operative link between Imagination and the final result, Sub-creation.

For my present purpose I require a word which shall embrace both the Sub-creative Art in itself and a quality of strangeness and wonder in the Expression, derived from the Image: a quality essential to fairy-story. I propose, therefore, […] to use Fantasy for this purpose: in a sense, that is, which combines – with its older and higher use as an equivalent of Imagination – the derived notions of ‘unreality’ (that is, of unlikeness to the Primary World), of freedom from the domination of observed ‘fact’, in short of the fantastic.

I am thus not only aware but glad of the etymological and semantic connections of fantasy with fantastic: with images of things that are not only ‘not actually present’, but which are indeed not to be found in our primary world at all, or are generally believed not to be found there. But while admitting that, I do not assent to the depreciative tone. That the images are of things not in the primary world (if that indeed is possible) is a virtue not a vice. Fantasy (in this sense) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most, nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.
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 [2_ This is not true of all dreams. In some Fantasy seems to take a part. But this is exceptional. Fantasy is a rational – not an irrational – activity.]

[…] But the error or malice, engendered by disquiet and consequent dislike, is not the only cause of this confusion. Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. Fantasy may be, as I think, not less but more sub-creative; but at any rate it is found in practice that ‘the inner consistency of reality’ is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of ‘reality’ with more ‘sober’ material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half- seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely ‘fanciful’. Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough – though it may already be a more potent thing than many a ‘thumbnail sketch’ or ‘transcript of life’ that receives literary praise.
To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, storymaking in its primary and most potent mode. In human art Fantasy is a thing best left to words, to true literature.

[…] Now ‘Faerian Drama – those plays which according to abundant records the elves have often presented to men – can produce Fantasy with a realism and immediacy beyond the compass of any human mechanism. As a result their usual effect (upon a man) is to go beyond Secondary Belief. If you are present at a Faerian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World. The experience may be very similar to Dreaming and has (it would seem) sometimes (by men) been confounded with it. But in Faerian drama you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp. To experience directly a Secondary World: the potion is too strong, and you give to it Primary Belief, however marvellous the events.

[…] Art is the human process that produces by the way (it is not its only or ultimate object) Secondary Belief. Art of the same sort, if more skilled and effortless, the elves can also use, or so the reports seem to show; but the more potent and specially elvish craft I will, for lack of a less debatable word, call Enchantment. Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.

[…] That creative desire is only cheated by counterfeits, whether the innocent but clumsy devices of the human dramatist, or the malevolent frauds of the magicians. In this world it is for men unsatisfiable, and so imperishable. Uncorrupted it does not seek delusion, nor bewitchment and domination; it seeks shared enrichment, partners in making and delight, not slaves.

To many, Fantasy, this sub-creative art which plays strange tricks with the world and all that is in it, combining nouns and redistributing adjectives, has seemed suspect, if not illegitimate. To some it has seemed at least a childish folly, a thing only for peoples or for persons in their youth.

[…] Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

[…] Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

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