Friday, September 15, 2006

The "Mooreeffoc"

So, you say you've read Chesterton, and Tolkien, and Dickens, and Rowling, and you know all the strange names for their characters and creatures... I ask you, on your honour as a knight, a defender of Notting Hill, a true seneschal of the High Court of Beacon, a card-carrying member of the Last Crusade:

Do you know the Mooreeffoc?

Oh, you missed that? No, it's not the real name of the Ghost of Christmas Past, nor a member of the Order of the Phoenix, nor a crime (or criminal) thwarted by Father Brown, nor one of the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. But it was seen by Dickens, mentioned by Chesterton, and commented on by Tolkien, and now you too will learn about it Wands out, then, and use that great magic (an entrance requirement even for Hogwarts) which you learned so very long ago: read on!
Herein is the whole secret of that eerie realism with which Dickens could always vitalize some dark or dull corner of London. There are details in the Dickens descriptions - a window, or a railing, or the keyhole of a door - which he endows with demoniac life. The things seem more actual than things really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality: it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly. Dickens himself has given a perfect instance of how these nightmare minutiae grew upon him in his trance of abstraction. He mentions among the coffee-shops into which he crept in those wretched days one in St. Martin's Lane, "of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with 'COFFEE ROOM' painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood." That wild word, "Moor Eeffoc," is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle - the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate objects.
[GKC, Charles Dickens CW15:65]

...fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. That kind of "fantasy" most people would allow to be wholesome enough; and it can never lack for material. But it has, I think, only a limited power; for the reason that recovery of freshness of vision is its only virtue. The word Mooreeffoc may cause you suddenly to realize that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future to be reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits; but it cannot do more than that: act as a time-telescope focused on one spot. Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. The gems all turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you. The "fantastic" elements in verse and prose of other kinds, even when only decorative or occasional, help in this release. But not so thoroughly as a fairy-story, a thing built on or about Fantasy, of which Fantasy is the core. Fantasy is made out of the Primary World, but a good craftsman loves his material, and has a knowledge and feeling for clay, stone and wood which only the art of making can give.
[J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories" in Tree and Leaf 77-78]


  1. Beyond the keyhole lies the perilous realm

  2. I love this...thanks for sharing.

  3. I picture Paul McCartney's head in the bathwater upsidedown starting the rumor that Paul is dead. The simple becomes the fantastic. The Jabberwock rules.


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