I read Leaf by Niggle, and I've ever since been recommending it to just about anyone who will listen to me.

Now, I want to know how The Magician did it. I read over his essay On Faerie Stories, and while it was a difficult read, there is a key part where he says that when done correctly, faerie stories have the "inner consistency of reality". What does he mean by this?

I'd also like to know what authors he read, to get his ideas in the first place. To sum up, I'd like to learn to create worlds like the one inhabited by the painter, Niggle. Any knowledge toward that end would be greatly appreciated!


Essentially it means that they obey their own internal rules and logic. If it's established that dwarves live 200 years, there can't be one who is arbitrarily 500 years old. There has to be an explanation: he carried the One Ring, Aulë gave him extra years, etc. A mage can't just endlessly cast spell after spell without having a source of magical energy (just as a person can't run endlessly or regenerate a limb). Starships need inertial dampeners so that when a ship comes out of warp, everyone isn't flung against the forward viewscreen and reduced to chunky salsa.

The reader is suspending a certain disbelief by accepting that there are such things as fairies, dwarves, elves, wizards, FTL travel, aliens who can reproduce with beings from another planet, and so on. The writer must make sure to establish consistent, logical rules about how the universe works, and then obey those rules. That gives the fantasy the strength of reality.


While a story does not need to be consistent with reality, it should have the same consistency with itself as reality has. "Inner consistency" simply refers to being consistent within itself. "Of reality" means of same quality as the self-consistency of everyday reality we know.

In practice this more or less means what Lauren Ipsum said. Everything happens for a reason, everything has consequences. And the rules of causality linking the reasons and consequences stay the same unless something specifically changes them.


For speculative fiction (fantasy and sci-fi), the "inner consistency of reality" usually has to be even more rigorous than with mainstream fiction.

If the story doesn't set up reality-rules of some kind, it's basically a dream-sequence-retelling or else a 5-year old's storytime. If the story has rules, but violates them, it's deus ex machina, at best, or at worst, a joke on the reader. None of these genres have a very long lasting audience.


I think that Tolkien in that quote is intentionally using both meanings of "consistency". The story's reality must have an internal consistency; it must agree with itself. Other answers have covered that, so I won't belabor it. But also "consistency" means "texture." Tolkien labored greatly to give his stories the "texture" of reality. They are full of the same kind of details that reality is filled with. There are different languages, there are flora and fauna, there is geography, there is history. There are seasons, and climates, and microclimates. Not only do men differ from elves, dwarves, hobbits, ents, orcs, and trolls (not to mention sentient spiders and eagles), but the men differ greatly from each other. And I don't mean only that the good men and the bad men are different. Nor do I only mean that there are distinguishable varieties of good men and bad men. No, enough details are given so that the reader can easily distinguish Beregond from Denethor. Think of the characterizations of Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Sam, the Gaffer, Fatty Bolger, etc. They're all male hobbits, all good-guy male hobbits, and yet are all distinguishable. They have the "consistency of reality." Even the various hobbit places are different. Hobbiton, Bywater, Bree, Buckland, the Took Smials, Farmer Maggot's farm, Michael Delving -- these are all identifiably "hobbitish" and yet all different, just like they would be in reality.

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