On the nature and corporeality of Elves and Fairies according to Tolkien

Wednesday Aug 07   02:30 PM to 03:00 PM (30 minutes)

The question of the nature and corporeality of Elves and fairies in Tolkien’s writings and its relationship with traditional literature has been already extensively explored and might seem a moot one. In Tolkien’s legendarium, Elves (called Quendi or Eldar) are incarnate beings born into the world, similar in bodily form to Men, but having a different relation with Time, being immortal and bound to the world until its end. This conception was well established since ‘The Book of the Lost Tales’ in 1917 and was consistently maintained in subsequent rewritings of the mythology. However, while revising his ‘On fairy-stories’ essay for publication in the early 1940s, Tolkien speculated on the “real” nature of fairies (or elves) in the Primary World, and posited that they were actually “spirits, daemons, inherent powers of the created world”, “non-incarnate minds (or souls) of a stature and even nature more near to that of Man (…) than any other rational creatures.” This passage is remarkable in exposing Tolkien’s metaphysical speculation on fairies and has been noted by many scholars such as Fimi, Flieger and Wickham-Crowley. This ontological status of fairies in the Primary World is essentially different from the one of the Elves in the Secondary World that Tolkien developed in over 50 years of creative work. The goal of this paper is firstly to explore how this idea of fairies and elves as daemons and non-incarnate minds relates to classical antiquity and medieval sources influenced by Plato’s Timaeus (Apuleius, Chalcidius, Bernardus Silvestris...), early modern folklorists such as Robert Kirk and Jacob Grimm, as well as Tolkien’s contemporary and friend C.S. Lewis. Secondly, I will investigate whether non-incarnate elf-like beings appear in Tolkien’s writings, examining his early poetry and ‘The ‘Book of the Lost Tales’, his science-fiction novel ‘The Notion Club Papers’ and the associated account ‘The Drowning of Anadûne’, concluding with ‘Smith of Wootton Major’ and its related essay.

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