Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Megan Becker-Leckrone

Number of Pages



Tolkien's 1939 lecture, "On Fairy-stories," is viewed by fantasy critics as a statement of Tolkien's aesthetics, rather than a critical framework for interpreting Tolkienian fantasy. This work will attempt to show that this lecture by Tolkien actually creates a framework for interpretation, the four qualities of Tolkienian fantasy, that will be applied later on to four contemporary fantasies by David Eddings, Roger Zelazny, Stephen R. Donaldson, and J. K. Rowling, along with Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; After surveying fantasy criticism from George MacDonald's late 19th Century essay to the present, we look at Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesy and his place in fantasy criticism. Following the lead of Italian humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Sidney responds to critics of his day, arguing that the poet should not be subject to the restraints reality, but rather, should be free to go as far as his or her imagination will carry him or her. He also borrows from neo-Platonist ideas as also Aristotle, creating a space for the poet to operate outside of the limits of our world. Joseph Addison's Spectator essays on the pleasures of the imagination, expands upon Sidney, noticing the power of words to create images of things not present, requiring a reader of equal imagination. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, posits that this ability to create on the part of the author is a reflection of the creative act of the divine creator who made man. Oscar Wilde's essay, "The Decay of Lying," defends imaginative literature against the realists of his day, arguing for a return to the "art of lying," which is the creation, through art, of "beautiful, untrue things." Tolkien seems to respond to Wilde's challenge, picking of the threads of Sidney and Coleridge to explain his idea of "sub-creation" on the part of the author, who creates through writing secondary worlds that contain fragments of the "truth," which is, for Tolkien, the truth of his Catholic beliefs in God and his creation of man. If the author does his work well then he creates in the reader "secondary belief" in the secondary world of the narrative, taking up Addison's ideas and taking exception to Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief." The reader believes the created world is "real," in the sense that it exists while the reader is "inside" the narrative world; These ideas lead Tolkien to give the four qualities of a "fairy-story," as he names them, fantasy, recovery, escape, and consolation. (Abstract shortened by UMI.).


David Eddings; Donaldson, Stephen R.; Eddings, David; Fairy; Fantasy; J. K. Rowling; Lecture; Fairy stories; Qualities; Roger Zelazny; Rowling, J. K.; Stephen R. Donaldson; Stories; Tolkien; Tolkien, J. R. R.; Tolkienian; Zelazny, Roger

Controlled Subject

Literature, Modern; Comparative literature; British literature; English literature--Irish authors; Irish literature; American literature

File Format


File Size

8202.24 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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