Secondary world

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"Part of the attraction of [The Lord of the Rings] is, I think, glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist."
― J.R.R. Tolkien[1]

Secondary world is a term used by J.R.R. Tolkien to refer to a consistent fictional world or setting, created by someone in the process of sub-creation, within a real, primary world. The world of Arda, and generally the setting of the legendarium, is Tolkien's secondary world. His views regarding the "secondary world" can be found in the essays The Monsters and the Critics.

Tolkien claimed that the author should respect his creation, grant it internal consistency, and let it obtain "life" of its own. The tales should have several dimensions: geography, characters, languages, timeline, all being interdependent. The "scenery" should seem able to sustain the events and characters it hosts, and this would make the world's immersive effect credible to the reader. Nowadays the concept of a secondary world is better known as a conworld or a fictional universe.

Tolkien believed in the philosophical concept of sub-creation, which is founded on the idea that any creation by mankind is an emulation of the true creation of God. In the instance of the secondary world, Tolkien constructed the secondary world using materials and experiences derived from the primary world. Tolkien believed that sub-creating helps us understand the Creation better, and of course the Creator (God). This view, while influenced by his Roman Catholic faith, is Tolkien's own derived philosophy.

Students of Tolkien's works use the term "primary" and "secondary" to refer to two dimensions of the creation of Middle-earth. For example one can study Tolkien's languages being aware of both the primary and secondary factors. For instance, the primary world history of Sindarin refers to the creation process of the language by young Tolkien, from Gnomish until Noldorin, and finally Sindarin proper. In contrast, the secondary world history of the language refers to the fictional history, and the etymological evolution of the language of the Elves, from Primitive Quendian not long after their awakening to the numerous languages and dialects found by the end of the First Age and beyond. There are also many secondary world versions of this history, each one belonging to the various levels of the myth.

Mysteries and gaps found anywhere in the legendarium can discussed and solved with reference to both the primary and secondary worlds. These concepts are also known as "in-universe" and "out-of-universe" perspectives in other franchises.

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