Podcast,  Q&A,  Show Notes

S5E66: Q&A No. 7, On the Building Blocks of Story

“There can be no great art without great fable. Great art can only exist where great men brood intensely on something upon which all men brood a little. Without a popular body of fable there can be no unselfish art in any country. Shakespeare’s art was selfish till he turned to the great tales in the four most popular books of his time…”

James Masefield, as Quoted by Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, Toward a Philosophy of Education

Show Summary:

  • Today on the New Mason Jar, Cindy and Dawn welcome back previous guests Angelina Stanford and Timilyn Downey to cover some questions listeners had about Episode 60: The Building Blocks of Story
  • Is there an objective answer to the question “What is art?”
  • What do we mean when we say literature is art?
  • Why do we say fairy tales are the building blocks of story?
  • What is the danger of not giving children a foundation in myths, fairy tales and the Bible?
  • Is it ever too late to develop a taste for these stories?
  • What is the difference between historical fiction and literature?
  • How does a wide and varied literary education add to our understanding of story?

Let us take it to ourselves that great character comes out of great thoughts, and that great thought must be initiated by great thinkers; then we shall have a definite aim in education. Thinking and not doing is the source of character.

Charlotte Mason, Toward a Philosophy of Education

Listen Now:

Books Mentioned:

Northrop Frye

C. S. Lewis

J. R. R. Tolkien

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone

Beowulf trans. by Burton Raffel

English Literature for Boys and Girls by H. E. Marshall

Find Cindy, Angelina, and Timilyn:

Morning Time for Moms

Cindy’s Patreon Discipleship Group

Mere Motherhood Facebook Group

The Literary Life Podcast

Cindy’s Facebook

Cindy’s Instagram

House of Humane Letters

Angelina’s Facebook

Angelina’s Instagram

The Literary Life Online Conference 2023



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  • Jenny

    I’m really enjoying this episode! My daughters and I are currently reading Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories”, and I wanted to share one thought about the definition of fairy-stories. It may be that Tolkiein is saying that the land of Faërie cannot be defined more than he is saying that fairy-story cannot be defined. In the paragraph above the quote that was read in the podcast, Tolkien gives a little direction as to what fairy-stories are. He writes “Most good ‘fairy-stories’ are about the aventures of men in the Perilous Realm…” (note that aventure means adventure, chance, or accident, and seems to specifically refer to to accidents that cause death). In the quote that was read in the podcast he says that the definition of fairy-story doesn’t depend on definitions or historical accounts of fairies and elves, but on the nature of Faërie, which is “the realm or state in which fairies have their being” (this definition of Faërie appears just a little earlier in the essay). So, back in the quote that was read in the podcast, it seems that Tolkien is saying that what can’t be defined is the realm of Faërie itself. Later in the paragraph that has the quote from the podcast Tolkien writes, “a ‘fairy-story’ is one which touches on or uses Faërie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy.”

    I don’t at all mean to contradict what was said–I may have mis-heard what was being said! I’m only commenting because I was reading the essay during lunch and came across the quote that was read in the podcast and thought that this passage (and the entire essay, I’m sure!) may be interesting to dig into for further understanding. I am also not at all trying to pick things apart and get very specific definitions of all of these terms nailed down so that we can perfectly place all stories into very specific categories :o). I just thought that this nuance may offer bit of help in comprehending a little bit more about what fairy-stories are like.

    • admin

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jenny! Since you are currently reading “On Fairy-Stories” you may enjoy listening in to a conversation that Cindy and Angelina (along with Thomas Banks) had about this very essay on the The Literary Life podcast. Here is the episode link for you: https://www.theliterary.life/189-2/

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