Michael Tolkien
APPENDIX 2. The importance of narrative art.

    1.) And if the narrative quality is good enough, he said, (OFS p.38) ' I doubt if...the enchantment of effective fairy stories...becomes blunted by use...less potent after repeated draughts...'
    2.) Most of what T. says in his letters about his characters and the issues they raise tends in part to be a defence of his integrity as a story-teller. And his fantasy cannot be fully appreciated without more specific reflections on his technique and the principles that he advocated. Critics have sometimes implied that T.'s stress on narrative art may be a surreptitious justification for presenting any material provided it is enthrallingly told. Even Shippey says about OFS. that you get an awkward feeling that make-believe will do if you narrate it well.(RTME pp38-9) Of a different order, though is his comment in a letter to Christopher Tolkien in the course of dispatching to him parts of BK IV of L/R ( L pp 109-10.)[ Letter to J. Naeve (p.321) indicates which parts of L/R were sent.] He discusses the Book of Genesis as part of an inheritance that up-to-date Christians put away in shame. Yet the quality of the story is still a source of nourishment, and it is possible that the outsider or agnostic admirer derives something the sophisticated insider misses. But there is a blending of narrative quality with a universal theme: the sense of 'exile' that we all have; a reaching beyond or back for the unattainable.  (A feeling he projects particularly in the annals of the Eldar, but what T. calls here, talking of the L/R ' the heart-racking sense of the vanished past (‘ best expressed by Gandalf's words about the Palantir...’) But this sense of longing is also viewed in terms of narrative power in the same letter:'...it is the untold stories that are most moving... you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle's) never to be approached...' (L pp 110-11)
    3.)This letter also contains an important hint of T.'s own estimate of what he hoped to achieve in narrative: combining the diurnal, immediate emotions of individuals and their successes or tribulations with a sense of the history that is the framework and, in a sense, the inevitable arbiter and context of all these. Part, no doubt, of what he calls the difficulty of 'maintaining a difference of quality and atmosphere in events that might easily become 'samey'.'(L p.110)
    4.)He planned to answer Auden's critique of his use of 'quest' narrative as if it were an imitation of the late Mediaeval quest poems, which T. dismisses (L p.241 & footnote) as an 'errantry reduced as pastime reading of a class chiefly interested (as far as literary entertainment went) in feats of arms and love'. Prior to which he says 'To a story-teller (which Auden isn't) it is...a device, a strong thread on which a multitude of things...he has in mind may be strung to make a new thing, various, unpredictable...yet coherent. My chief reason for using this was simply technical...' (L. p.239)
 Perhaps, one wonders, a quest/journey structure is intrinsic to our western literary heritage, a way of looking at what transforms us: in contrast to the oriental voyage of the soul evolving through states and types of consciousness.