C.S. Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves, 22 June 1930:
Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the woods – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them.
We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.
We experience only a fragment of what is happening in the world. And what is out of our sight and sense is also, mostly, out of mind. Our conscious experience and intention run alongside the merely material happenings in our brains and bodies. Similarly, the presence of “fairies” is not ruled out merely because what happens “naturally” also involves the motion of material parts. Nor is it ruled out by the fact that there are very general “laws” to describe what happens: The laws of nature that we discover are not explanations but very general descriptions—and real explanations, if there are any, may lie in the conscious intention of spirits with their own agendas and inclinations. Martin Buber once remarked:
The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no aspect of a mood; it confronts me bodily and has to deal with me as I must deal with it—only differently. One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity. Does the tree then have consciousness, similar to our own? I have no experience of that. But thinking that you have brought this off in your own case, must you again divide the indivisible? What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself.
But perhaps that is exactly what encountering “the soul of a tree or a dryad” is like. Something is really there, and we describe it in the terms with which we are most familiar, while also knowing that those familiar terms are strictly inapplicable. Or rather, in applying them to trees or rocks or stars, we may suddenly find that they are unfamiliar terms, and that we hardly know even what other human creatures are. We may find that we are in Fairyland already.
From Stephen R. L. Clark, professor of philosophy emeritus at the University of Liverpool in this article for First Things.