Friday, 13 June 2014

Dawkins & Tolkien on fairy stories

Here are two contrasting views on the value of fairy stories, the first by Professor Richard Dawkins, the second by Professor JRR Tolkien:
“Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?’
“I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway,’.....
“Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable.”  See report here 
Somewhat confusingly, Professor Dawkins seems since to have rowed back from the rather extreme position he has put forward  ....
  "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.
For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.
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..."  
 J.R.R. Tolkien: On Fairy-Stories from Tree and Leaf  (George Allen  & Unwin 1964) p50

I leave it to the reader to determine which view is the more thought-through, not to say, 'scientific' ....

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Dawkins objects to sci-fi as well? Star Trek: faster than light travel is scientifically impossible. Doctor Who: a man travelling through time and space in a phone box? Dear me! etc.

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