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                    Secondary Belief is the term coined by JRRT in consequence of his theories on sub-creation and Secondary Worlds. It is, however, also in direct challenge to the widely influential conclusion by Coleridge that the ideal reader-writer relationship is achieved by a "willing suspension of disbelief". For this to succeed, the reader must first be positively inclined (willing) and secondly he must decide not to apply the same expectations of consistency, logic and accountability that he would outside the literary world. However, in simply stifling disbelief, we are likely already to have "stepped out" of the story. Tolkien therefore argues that suspension of any kind is not desirable in reading because "the moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken, and more specifically of fairy-stories, the "magic" or rather, the art has failed. You are then outside in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive world."19  The distinction here is between the conscious state of simply indulging the story, as it were, and the unconscious effect of  being genuinely transported by art.
                    The term which for Tolkien seems a closer description of the process is his own coinage, subcreation. Successful storytelling – that is storytelling capable of inspiring Secondary Belief – is indeed an art equal to any other, Tolkien would argue. Yet much of the spell is of course produced by the deliberate application of certain narrative techniques. An example of such techniques is described in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy20  as the mixing of dictions "within single passages, usually to contrast an archaic form of speech with the default language of the text at that stage." In LotR this is discernible in the following:
Elrond went forward and stood beside the silent figure. 'Awake, little
master!', he said, with a smile. Then, turning to Frodo, he beckoned to
him. 'Now at last the hour has come that you have wished for, Frodo,'
he said. 'Here is a friend that you have long missed.' … 'Bilbo!' cried
Frodo with sudden recognition, and he sprang forward. 'Hullo, Frodo
my lad!' said Bilbo. 'So you have got here at last. I hoped you would
manage it. Well, well! So all this feasting is in your honour, I hear.
I hope you enjoyed yourself?' 21
                    Narrative techniques for the implicit inspiration of Secondary Belief are many and varied, although several seem to hinge on the evocation of historical (and mythical) depth behind the present story. It is the principle of the Chinese box which conceals many layers beneath the surface. The mixing of register, voice, diction, the breaking off into internal narration or song or poetry are all devices meant to produce the kind of depth which makes the surface story branch out beyond the needs to suspend any disbelief. As Tolkien states in his lecture, "the story-maker's success depends on his ability to make a consistent Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true', it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside"22.  These notions could be described as the literary equivalent of what in modern language acquisition is termed "total immersion".
                    This ideal is not unknown in remote literary history, but at the time of writing (1930s) stories involving elements of "the fantastic" were generally not as utterly autonomous as the theory of Secondary Belief seems to imply. Many early fantasy stories involved only a limited secondary reality. In practice, that tendency led to intricate time-slips or dreams, secret doors (or in Lewis' case, wardrobes!) into other exotic realms of Faërie. First and foremost this was a mediating effect,  reducing excursions into the fantastic to localised occurrences and subordinating them to every-day reality. Apart from C.S. Lewis' Narnia cycle23 , a well-known example is Lewis Carrol who transports his heroine into a local world where supernatural events and unreal characters may roam freely. This represents a constraint on the literary use of the fantastic element. Evidently, the need to "legitimise" such fancies by including effects like the above was still deep-seated. The fact remains, though, that there was clearly an urge to express oneself outside the frames of conventional reality. Early fantasists like William Morris and George MacDonald certainly broke new ground, but what made Tolkien's approach a revolution, both in theory and in practice, was his invention of a Secondary World so rich in detail, so far-reaching in terms of invented languages and so profound in its evocation of historical and mythical depth that it exceeded any need for generic mediators. In effect, Middle-earth and the theories of subcreation set new boundaries for reader immersion and redefined the reader-writer relationship which had reigned for the past hundred years.

  19Tolkien, J.R.R., ed. Christopher Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”, in The Monsters & the Critics and Other Essays, HarperCollins, London, 1997, p. 132.  back
  20Clute, John & John Grant, eds., The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, St Martin's, New York, 1997, article on J.R.R. Tolkien  back
  21Tolkien, LotR, p. 246  back
  22Clute & Grant op.cit, p. 132.  back
  23Which, incidentally, contained far too explicit references to Christian theology (bordering on allegory) to meet with Tolkien's approval - see Letters, p. 352  back
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