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

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Tue Aug 24 08:46:03 EDT 2004


On Mon, Aug 23, 2004 at 05:00:41PM -0600, Melissa Proffitt wrote:
>I'm starting to feel like a whiny outcast Donaldson character.  Didn't
>ANYONE here love Tolkien, ever?

I'm another who did and does; I can see the flaws, but I'll still go
back and reread _The Lord of the Rings_ every so often. While I read 
_The Hobbit_ a great deal when I was younger, I find the language a bit 
patronising now; but that's no reason not to recommend it to someone 
else.

And I don't skip at all, when I'm reading. It always feels like
cheating.

>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.

I'll admit that all the Lost Golden Age stuff grates on me now, as it
didn't when I first read it, because I have since met the
pre-Raphaelites and _their_ Lost Golden Age. I suspect that both were to
some extent reactions against the "any progress must be an entirely good
thing" meme; but "any progress must be an entirely bad thing" is just as
pernicious.

>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?).

Well, one might say that as far as a commercial publisher is concerned
that _is_ influence - something "in the vein of
Eddings-and-Feist-and-Goodkind" may be more likely to find a publisher
than something in the vein of Tolkien...

>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.

I suspect that part of the problem now is that the bad knockoff writers
are knocking off, not Tolkien, but other bad fantasy novels - and D&D's
melange of fantasy tropes with all the background flavour sucked out of
them (primarily Tolkien, Howard and Lieber).

>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.

I always reckon Dunsany got a raw deal...

Roger
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