John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892 and died in England in 1973. During his adventurous life, he was an orphan, a husband, a father, a second lieutenant, a linguist, a professor, and—
In Tolkien's essay, he claims that he does not count beast-fables as fairy stories. These are the types of stories "in which no human being is concerned; or in which the animals are the heroes and heroines" (6). However, he does state that the element of animals being able to speak has a place in fairy stories because it derives from the desire for humans to commune with other living beings (6). Since he believes that one of the most important operations of Faerie is "the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires," it only makes sense that he incorporated this into his own fairy story (5). In The Hobbit, Bilbo is able to communicate with the Eagles, spiders, and Roäc the raven. Gandalf can understand the language of the Wargs even though no one else in the party is able to, and the dwarves can understand the language of the crows and all ravens. Tolkien even reverses the idea of humans desiring to communicate with animals when he introduces the thrush, who can understand what the hobbit and dwarves are saying but is unable to speak their language and therefore goes to get Roäc as a translator.
The Hobbit also supports the statements Tolkien made regarding children in his essay, mainly that fairy stories should not be classified as children's stories. He berates those who shorten and simplify them because he believes that "[children's] books, like their clothes, should allow for growth" (15). He also states that "if a fairy-story is a kind worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults" (15). The Hobbit itself is over three hundred pages long and seems much more complicated than most children's books are today. He incorporates his own inventions of races and places with rhyme and riddle and complicated sentences. In a nutshell, Tolkien has made The Hobbit the epitome of what he believes a fairy story should be: it is appealing to adults because it's not below their level, and it's perfect for children because it makes them think and will continue to make them think even as they grow older.
In this essay, Tolkien also explored the topic of belief. He disagrees with the term "willing suspension of disbelief" which has often been used to describe what occurs when readers are able to immerse themselves so deeply in a story that fact becomes indistinguishable from fiction (12). He believes instead that the writer creates a "Secondary World" for the mind to enter, and as long as this world has been created well, anything the author claims to be true will be true in that world (12). He also states that "every writer making a secondary world...hopes that he is drawing on reality" (23). There is no question that in The Hobbit, Tolkien successfully created a secondary world. He knew his world and the creatures in it so well that he was able to create maps, histories, genealogies, and cultures. He also drew from reality by describing the land in a way that readers could relate to: the rolling, green hills of The Shire; the jagged, rocky peaks of the Misty Mountains; and the dense, dark depths of Mirkwood are not difficult concepts to grasp for readers who have ever looked out a window or at a travel magazine.
Tolkien also helps to create his secondary world through his form of narration. In "On Fairy Stories," he states that his belief as a child was dependent on "the way in which the stories were presented" (13). In The Hobbit, he often interrupts the story to make side notes on something that readers haven't yet gotten to in the story or to comment on the characters' humorous thoughts or habits. This detracts from the serious tone of the story and reminds readers that it is only a story. However, instead of making the story seem less believable, it makes it seem more as if it is an actual event that someone has written down so it won't be forgotten; the form of narration makes the story seem like a piece of history, and nothing is given more credit than history. In fact, since the original title was The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again, readers already know what happens: the hobbit goes on an adventure and lives long enough to go back to where he started. The end of the story is already known, just as a historical fact might be known; the interesting part is the adventure and how the adventure is presented. By making "historical" references within the story, the secondary world is preserved and the story is viewed as just a piece in an even bigger adventure.
At the end of The Hobbit, Gandalf tells Bilbo that he is "only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all" (305). The same could be said for both the book and the essay. It's rare to find an author who will sit down and tell readers exactly what he was thinking when he wrote each part of his story, but, by writing "On Fairy Stories," this is what Tolkien has done. The Hobbit is no ordinary fairy story; it is a work of fictitious history, written for children and adults, that features many humanistic desires, such as communicating with animals. It's amazing that one small book and one short essay could impact the literary world so greatly. It's almost as amazing as one little hobbit going on an adventure with thirteen dwarves, helping to defeat a dragon, and getting back home safe and sound.