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Authorial presence in J. R. R. Tolkien’s minor fiction: ‘Leaf by Niggle’ and ‘Smith of Wootton Major’ revisited

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J. R. R. Tolkien’s primary concern as an author was to write good stories without trying to impose any specific intention on the reader. He overtly disliked allegory, which he viewed as ‘purposed domination of the author’, preferring instead what he called ‘applicability’, which guaranteed ‘the freedom of the reader’. Although he admitted that an author’s ‘sub-creation’ could not but be affected to some degree by his personal experience, he rejected the many-faceted theories built around his own writings, which were considered as sources of inspiration by critics, viewing them as ‘at best guesses’ from ambiguous and inadequate evidence. If aspects of Tolkien’s unconscious or unavowed intentionality remain either well hidden under the surface or more diluted in the maze of his ‘Legendarium’, we can nevertheless (up to a point) use the author as a guide concerning his minor fiction. This article examines the extent to which the authorial figure can be perceived in his two short stories ‘Leaf by Niggle’ and ‘Smith of Wootton Major’, and how this can fit in with the concept of applicability. Both works are placed in the light of the author’s biographical landmarks and, most importantly, of his theory on fairy stories.
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Keywords: The Lord of the Rings; Tolkien; authorial presence; fairy stories; ‘Leaf by Niggle’; ‘Smith of Wootton Major’

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Université Catholique de l’Ouest

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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  • Short Fiction in Theory and Practice is an interdisciplinary journal celebrating the current resurgence in short-story writing and research. Looking at short fiction from a practice-based perspective, it explores the poetics of short-story writing, adaptation, translation and the place of the short story in global culture.
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