Are these magic cloaks?' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder. 'I do not know what you mean by that, ' answered the leader of the Elves. 'They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that love into all that we make.
I knew that iridium-193 was one of two stable isotopes of iridium, a very rare, very dense metal, but I didn't know that the periodic table even existed. I knew how many zeroes there were in a quintillion, but I thought that algebra lived in ponds. I'd picked up a few Latin words, and a smattering of Elvish, but my French was non-existent. I'd read more than one book of more than one thousand pages (more than once), but I wouldn't have been able to identify a metaphor if it poked me in the eye. By secondary-school standards, I was quite a dunce.
Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away ere break of day To seek the pale enchanted gold. The dwarves of yore made mighty spells, While hammers fell like ringing bells In places deep, where dark things sleep, In hollow halls beneath the fells. For ancient king and elvish lord There many a gleaming golden hoard They shaped and wrought, and light they caught To hide in gems on hilt of sword. On silver necklaces they strung The flowering stars, on crowns they hung The dragon-fire, in twisted wire They meshed the light of moon and sun. Far over the misty mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away, ere break of day, To claim our long-forgotten gold. Goblets they carved there for themselves And harps of gold; where no man delves There lay they long, and many a song Was sung unheard by men or elves. The pines were roaring on the height, The wind was moaning in the night. The fire was red, it flaming spread; The trees like torches blazed with light. The bells were ringing in the dale And men looked up with faces pale; The dragon's ire more fierce than fire Laid low their towers and houses frail. The mountain smoked beneath the moon; The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom. They fled their hall to dying fall Beneath his feet, beneath the moon. Far over the misty mountains grim To dungeons deep and caverns dim We must away, ere break of day, To win our harps and gold from him!
For my present purpose I require a word which shall embrace both the Sub-Creative Art in itself, and a quality of strangeness and wonder in the Expression, derived from the Image: a quality essential to fairy-story. I propose, therefore, to arrogate to myself the powers of Humpty-Dumpty, and to use Fantasy for this purpose: in a sense, that is, which combines with its older and higher use as an equivalent of Imagination the derived notions of 'unreality' (that is, of unlikeness to the Primary World), of freedom from the dominion of 'observed fact, ' in short of the fantastic. I am thus not only aware but glad of the etymological and semantic connexions of fantasy with fantastic: with images of things that are not only 'not actually present, ' but which are indeed not to be found in our primary world at all, or are generally believed not to be found there. But while admitting that, I do not assent to the depreciative tone. That the images are of things not in the primary world (if that indeed is possible) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most Potent. Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being 'arrested.' They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control; with delusion and hallucination. But the error or malice, engendered by disquiet and consequent dislike, is not the only cause of this confusion. Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve... Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough - though it may already be a more potent thing than many a 'thumbnail sketch' or 'transcript of life' that receives literary praise. To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.
Responding to a moderator at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2008 (video), about the Spanish words in his book: When all of us are communicating and talking when we're out in the world, we'll be lucky if we can understand 20 percent of what people say to us. A whole range of clues, of words, of languages escape us. I mean we're not perfect, we're not gods. But on top of that people mis-speak, sometimes you mis-hear, sometimes you don't have attention, sometimes people use words you don't know. Sometimes people use languages you don't know. On a daily basis, human beings are very comfortable with a large component of communication, which is incomprehensibility, incomprehension. We tend to be comfortable with it. But for an immigrant, it becomes very different. What most of us consider normative comprehension an immigrant fears that they're not getting it because of their lack of mastery in the language. And what's a normal component in communication, incomprehension, in some ways for an immigrant becomes a source of deep anxiety because you're not sure if it's just incomprehension or your own failures. My sense of writing a book where there is an enormous amount of language that perhaps everyone doesn't have access to was less to communicate the experience of the immigrant than to communicate the experience that for an immigrant causes much discomfort but that is normative for people. which is that we tend to not understand, not grasp a large part of the language around us. What's funny is, will Ramona accept incomprehension in our everyday lives and will greet that in a book with enormous fury. In other words what we're comfortable with out in the outside world, we do not want to encounter in our books. So I'm constantly, people have come to me and asked me... is this, are you trying to lock out your non-Dominican reader, you know? And I'm like, no? I assume any gaps in a story and words people don't understand, whether it's the nerdish stuff, whether it's the Elvish, whether it's the character going on about Dungeons and Dragons, whether it's the Dominican Spanish, whether it's the sort of high level graduate language, I assume if people don't get it that this is not an attempt for the writer to be aggressive. This is an attempt for the writer to encourage the reader to build community, to go out and ask somebody else. For me, words that you can't understand in a book aren't there to torture or remind people that they don't know. I always felt they were to remind people that part of the experience of reading has always been collective. You learn to read with someone else. Yeah you may currently practice it in a solitary fashion, but reading is a collective enterprise. And what the unintelligible in a book does is to remind you how our whole, lives we've always needed someone else to help us with reading.