Tolkien (was Re: Who invented the modern fantasy genre?)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Mon Aug 23 19:00:41 EDT 2004

I'm starting to feel like a whiny outcast Donaldson character.  Didn't
ANYONE here love Tolkien, ever?  I swear I read that trilogy about fifty
times when I was a kid (except the poetry and the Tom Bombadil part) and
just felt so swept up in it.  (My friend swears we read it in second grade,
which could be possible, but I can't believe I was quite *that* precocious.)
As an adult I have to be pretty amazed at what he accomplished, considering
that everyone and his well-educated dog borrowed from him to create their
knock-off fantasy universes.  It's been about three years since I read it
last, and in my memory I had come to equate his world with all those others.
But by comparison, his expression of the idyllic past and the idealization
of the nonhuman races (and I include the evil races in this) is so totally
fresh that I wonder how I missed it before.  This is true even if you don't
like the original--you don't have to like Lord of the Rings to notice the
differences.  Terry Brooks should have been shot out of hand.

I've been considering the interview's statement about Eddings, Feist and
Goodkind being giants in the field, implying some sort of widespread
influence when they really just make tons of money selling to the uneducated
masses (how's that for a spasm of annoyed superiority?).  Tolkien had
influence.  He made something that spawned a subgenre, one that can never
quite escape its roots; much of that type of fantasy, whatever you choose to
call it, really does depend on the reader being aware of conventions that
ultimately get traced back to that one series.  Still, imagine if there had
been no Tolkien.  The broad category of fantasy does not depend solely on
one series, one source of ideas.  It's interesting to contemplate how things
would be different for the genre today if the seminal work were based on
folk magic rather than high myth.  Or on ideas of sympathetic magic.  Or
some non-Occidental system of fantasy, even.  Imagine hack knockoffs of
_Bridge of Birds_, and shudder.

Melissa Proffitt

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