primary world

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Coined by J. R. R. Tolkien in his 1947 essay "On Fairy-Stories".


primary world (plural primary worlds)

  1. (fantasy) The real world of the reader or viewer, as opposed to the imaginary "secondary world" of a work of fiction.
    • 1947, Tolkien, J.R.R., “On Fairy-Stories”, in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, page 60:
      What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful 'sub-creator'. He makes a 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. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside.
    • 1982, Burelbach, Frederick M., “An Introduction to Naming in the Literature of Fantasy”, in Literary Onomastics Studies[1], volume 9, number 11, page 132:
      Now, this secondary world can be made to stand entirely on its own, so that there is no primary world in the fiction and the only reference points to the real world are those the reader brings with him or forges for himself. This is generally the case with what is commonly called "high" fantasy, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
    • 2008, “Fantasy and Realism”, in Exploring Children's Literature[2], →ISBN, page 120:
      Fantasy fiction has been categorized and described in different ways. One classification divides fantasy into two major types:¶ low fantasy, which takes place in the primary world (our world);¶ high fantasy, which takes place in alternative worlds.


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