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Old 03-02-2013, 02:43 PM   #1
Haramu
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Sting Do most fantasy novel nowadays have traceable elements of Tolkienism in them?

I know the professor inspired a lot of authors like J. K. Rowling but it seems fantasy writers nowadays haven’t anything else to add. They can’t make anything new and fresh. Its like people have lost their ways to create new things. Of course, I know the professor had cleverly borrowed ork from the Norse mythologies as well as other tales. But he did it in such a way that it became interesting to read and to know more about these so called repulsive creatures. He was a very intelligent man with an enormous imagination unlike most authors nowadays who seem to copy and paste from Tolkien or other clever authors like C. S. Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson or Lloyd C. Douglas. If you're going to make a fantasy book then do it in such a clever way to make it more interesting and readable. Every time I pick up a fantasy book I can't help but sense some form of Tolkienism . Deep down and dark at the bottom of my heart I really wished that the professor had finished 'The New Shadow'. It would've made a brillant thriller and a good sequel to 'Lord of the Rings'. Sorry if I am rabbling on a bit

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Old 03-02-2013, 04:21 PM   #2
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Well, the Professor himself borrowed much more than just orcs from various myths, legends, and cultures. But he integrated those better than modern fantasy writers (in general) integrate Tolkien.

I also noticed the trend in novels that tell medieval stories of epic proportion that take place in fantasy settings. I stopped looking at those ones when I pass the bookshelves in the local stores. They, indeed, fail to impress because they are just recycling the same ideas over and over again.

There are some fantasy novels that don't follow this pattern, though. From those that I've read in the recent past, I can assure you that Plain Kate and The Night Circus are very original and enjoyable books. Both have very unique ideas and twists and give you lots of food for thought. While every once in a while you get an element that looks vaguely like Tolkien, it is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and they stand very well on their own.

So there are both kinds. I don't underestimate the influence Tolkien had on modern fantasy, but there are still books out there that do not use his legendarium as support.
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Old 03-02-2013, 05:01 PM   #3
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I don't underestimate the influence Tolkien had on modern fantasy, but there are still books out there that do not use his legendarium as support.
I agree. I admit to not being a "genre" reader, in that I don't seek out other fantasy works just because they are fantasy. That means I'm not well up on the fantasy sector in general.
However, things I have read, like the aforementioned Harry Potter series certainly can be described in my mind as "Tolkienesque". It's especially notable in Stephen King's Dark Tower as well.
I think too that Tolkien's popularity naturally causes his readers to see his influence in other works, whether it's truly present, or not. We all tend to see what we expect to see.
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Old 03-02-2013, 05:49 PM   #4
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Well, now that's tough to say. Many Fantasy Novels have archetypes and while you could say Tolkien had them, I think it'd be hard to say he invented them.

The hero who is stronger than he realises.

The exiled king.

The wizard.

Many fantasy novels use these. Originality is hardly dead:
United States (2010) 328,259 (new titles and editions)

The thing is do you think all those make it onto Barnes and Noble's shelves?(For the recorder I wanted to say borders because it was shorter but...)

I hate to say but many of these recycled tales come to the forefront because it's what people buy. I read on my lunch break and interestingly enough I've started buying books at the store they're like $3 and I figure eh passes the time. I've been introduced to some great unknown authors.

some of my favorites out there right now:

Tim Wagonner- Nekropolis Series. It's basically a noire set in the city of the dead. waiting for the fourth book.

Glen Cook- Black Company series. Here's your fairly basic fantasy but where it wins is it's not over the top. I think the wizards here could be compared to Gandalf in the factthat they're not all powerful and specialize in illusion more than actually battle magic. sadly the tenth(and final) book kind of takes it from fantasy to sci fi which is a weird transition.

Matt Haig- The Radley's- Now this story on the surface is about a family of vampires but under that is a theme of denying your inner deisres and pushing down instincts really good I've read it four times in the past month.

Dean Crawford- Ethan Warner novels, now to be fair I've only read his first book but I want to read more his story is so vivid I acually cast it in my mind and knew which actors played what...

...

...

what was the original question?
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Old 03-03-2013, 05:22 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Morsul the Dark View Post
Well, now that's tough to say. Many Fantasy Novels have archetypes and while you could say Tolkien had them, I think it'd be hard to say he invented them.

The hero who is stronger than he realises.

The exiled king.

The wizard.

Many fantasy novels use these.
That in itself doesn't make something a Tolkien rip-off, by any means. Still, I've read too many authors that do quite blatantly copy Lord of the Rings, without adding much of their own.

However, Tolkien isn't the only influence even on hack fantasy. If you think about the elements you expect to find in a typical Epic Of Epic Epicness cliche-fest, quite a lot come from other sources.
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Old 03-03-2013, 07:53 AM   #6
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I know the professor inspired a lot of authors like J. K. Rowling but it seems fantasy writers nowadays haven’t anything else to add. They can’t make anything new and fresh. ...
I don't think there is much in Tolkien that was truly new. As you say, his main input was making it fresh for his time. He drew on sources, what Jung calls archetypes, from Norse and Celtic mythologies, but there are also huge chunks of Mesopotamian, Indian and Greek tales in there too, not to mention philosophies from Plato to Nietzsche. Drawing on so many themes it is hard to imagine how any writer could avoid Tolkien's influence. Even when authors go back to the root stories they cannot avoid the comparison. Tolkien has become the standard that others get measured by.

One series I really like is Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle (Taliesin, Merlin and Arthur), because it draws on the Atlantean myths and throws them into the mix with Celts. In that legendarium it is we Anglo-Saxon invaders who play the 'Orcish' role, which is one of the interesting twists. The books also won a C.S.Lewis award, so the Inkling influence is aknowledged.

Another favourite is Babylon 5, a TV series, but again the comparisons are explicit. Instead of being set in a distant past it is set in a distant future with Vorlons and Shadows in the role of Maiar and sentients like humans aspiring to join them beyond the rim of the galaxy. There is even a Beren and Luthien tale, Sheridan and Delen, where she gives up part of her Minbari nature to merge their two races.

These two examples may not appeal to everyone, they both have their flaws and stand in the shadow of Tolkien, but they are special to me because, in the course of their story telling, they introduced me to ideas that I might otherwise have rejected as old fashioned, obsolete or simply un-interesting.
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Old 03-03-2013, 09:24 AM   #7
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It depends, but in my readings of late I seem to be detecting attempts by a number of writers to remove themselves from Tolkien's influence. Subverting old archetypes is all the rage right now...to the point that its becoming an archetype all its own that someday will be in need of subversion.

George R. R. Martin, who is probably the biggest figure in contemporary fantasy, is vocal about his debt to Tolkien. However, his stories are certainly not Tolkienesque.

Steven Erikson, who wrote the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, explicitly denies Tolkien's influence on his work.

Joe Abercrombie, of The First Law fame, praises Tolkien's work and writing, but at the same time (at least in my view) tries to minimize the level of Tolkien's influence on his own work.

I've never read Wheel of Time and am not familiar with Robert Jordan's or Brandon Sanderson's opinions of Tolkien or his influence on their work.
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Old 03-03-2013, 01:59 PM   #8
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Diana Wynne Jones' The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is an amusing collection of typical fantasy tropes, and not all of them originate in Tolkien's tales. I find stories most interesting when the authors take the time to think up something original. And I agree with those who've answered that wizards, lost kings, orphan heroes etc. have been around much longer than JRRT - just recall fairy tales for many of those elements!

I think the reason Tolkien inspired so many authors is because he has been read by so many, and because the quality of his writing is so good. A number of well-known authors wrote about that influence in the book Meditations on Middle-earth, edited by Karen Haber. In the introduction George R. R. Martin writes:
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Fantasy had existed long before him, yes, but J.R.R.Tolkien took it and made it his own in a way that no writer before him had ever done, a way that no writer will ever do again. ...he created something that touched the hearts and minds of millions. ...none of us have ever been the same... especially the writers. Tolkien changed fantasy; he elevated it and redefined it, to such an extent that it will never be the same again.
He goes on to say that JRRT's special contribution was making the secondary world a special place, "a character in its own right". And continues:
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Most comtemporary fantasists happily admit their debt to the master (among that number I definitely include myself), but even those who disparage Tolkien most loudly cannot escape his influence.
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Old 03-03-2013, 02:14 PM   #9
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I'd also note that much of fantasy writing has hopped off the Tolkien themes entirely. Modern urban fantasy set in the current day is awfully common. Charles de Lint with Moonheart and many similar books might be an early proponent of the subgenera. Of late, and more cliched, we have had Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight with it's vampire werewolf conflict. The leading character is often female and a quite competent combatant. There is generally a strong romance element, borrowing the love-hate style familiar to those who have touched regency romance. If werewolves and vampires have been over done, one can find angels, demons, furies and any other similar sort of beast. The powers and abilities of the heroine might change, but the themes and style of the work doesn't. I've recently discovered mermaids have become a popular theme in the young adult market.

There are still books exploring the fringes of the territory established by Tolkien, but an awful lot of the market is chasing an entirely different set of cliches. I suspect many in this group might find Tolkienesque writing a higher class of thing than the typical modern vampire story, but younger readers, judging from sales and market share, might find the urban fantasy style work speaks more to the world they are growing up in.

While there is common ground between Frodo and Buffy, I don't see the two styles as aspects of the same genera. The rules and traditions seem distinctly different.
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Old 03-03-2013, 02:53 PM   #10
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I'd also note that much of fantasy writing has hopped off the Tolkien themes entirely. Modern urban fantasy set in the current day is awfully common. Charles de Lint with Moonheart and many similar books might be an early proponent of the subgenera. Of late, and more cliched, we have had Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight with it's vampire werewolf conflict. The leading character is often female and a quite competent combatant. There is generally a strong romance element, borrowing the love-hate style familiar to those who have touched regency romance. If werewolves and vampires have been over done, one can find angels, demons, furies and any other similar sort of beast. The powers and abilities of the heroine might change, but the themes and style of the work doesn't. I've recently discovered mermaids have become a popular theme in the young adult market.

There are still books exploring the fringes of the territory established by Tolkien, but an awful lot of the market is chasing an entirely different set of cliches. I suspect many in this group might find Tolkienesque writing a higher class of thing than the typical modern vampire story, but younger readers, judging from sales and market share, might find the urban fantasy style work speaks more to the world they are growing up in.

While there is common ground between Frodo and Buffy, I don't see the two styles as aspects of the same genera. The rules and traditions seem distinctly different.
Well said! I couldn't agree more and so I have nothing else to add because you had taken every word out of my mouth.
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Old 03-03-2013, 11:45 PM   #11
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Reading this thread, though, I fear we are perhaps in danger of trying to talk a problem out of existence. Because, honestly, there really are thousands of books out there that do consist largely of just the kind of unimaginative cut-and-paste exercise described by the OP- which is not the same thing as "being influenced by" or "having elements in common".
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Old 03-04-2013, 04:30 AM   #12
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Reading this thread, though, I fear we are perhaps in danger of trying to talk a problem out of existence. Because, honestly, there really are thousands of books out there that do consist largely of just the kind of unimaginative cut-and-paste exercise described by the OP- which is not the same thing as "being influenced by" or "having elements in common".
I believe Theodore Sturgeon was once told that ninety percent of science fiction is crap. He responded with the claim that ninety percent of anything is crap. We could argue on the ninety percent number, but, sure, an awful lot of fiction might fit the unimaginative cut-and-paste description. I don't know that either the Tolkienesque or modern urban fantasy camp has that much of an edge over the other in this regard.

One might write in either tradition without adding to it, but if the characters feel real and the interactions between the characters feels fresh, it might still be art.
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Old 03-04-2013, 08:43 AM   #13
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In a different artistic context, bassist Billy Cox made this reference about modern guitarists:

"There are those who admit being influenced by Jimi Hendrix, and those who try to pretend they aren't."

It is difficult to argue Mr. Cox's reasoning, particularly when a preponderance of great guitarists admit such a debt.

In regards to late 20th century/early 21st century fantasy authors, I would have to say the same rationale applies to Tolkien. This goes far beyond the stylistic approach to fantasy novels, the continuing popularity of the fantasy genre is due in greater part to Tolkien's Middle-earth. There is no other logical manner to explain the ongoing phenomenon. Simply, the genre would not be the same without Tolkien's influence. Michael Moorcock be damned.

A secondary influence, particularly in regards to Arthurian cycle fantasies, may be given to T.H. White's The Once and Future King, which humanized the unbelievably chivalric and stiff paragons of Thomas Malory, indelibly imbuing humor, sadness and incredible depth to characters too virtuous for their own good.
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Old 03-04-2013, 08:56 AM   #14
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I'd also note that much of fantasy writing has hopped off the Tolkien themes entirely. Modern urban fantasy set in the current day is awfully common. Charles de Lint with Moonheart and many similar books might be an early proponent of the subgenera. Of late, and more cliched, we have had Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight with it's vampire werewolf conflict. The leading character is often female and a quite competent combatant. There is generally a strong romance element, borrowing the love-hate style familiar to those who have touched regency romance. If werewolves and vampires have been over done, one can find angels, demons, furies and any other similar sort of beast. The powers and abilities of the heroine might change, but the themes and style of the work doesn't. I've recently discovered mermaids have become a popular theme in the young adult market.
Note - Buffy and Bella are worlds apart, and it's not werewolves in Buffy, it's demons.

Counting TV as 'fiction', which it is, the BBC's Being Human centres on the relationships and conflicts of vampires, werewolves and ghosts and is anything but cliched. I've not seen the American alternate version but the original British one is marvellous and wholly original (and sadly ending for good next week), managing to be both hilarious and horrific at the same time.

Also note that almost all 'supernatural' fictions seem to have contemporary settings, as indeed did the daddy of them all, Bram Stoker's Dracula. This is because they all share that common theme - they walk among us. Quite a lot different to traditional fantasy written by Tolkien, George RR Martin, Ursula le Guin, Mervyn Peake etc. Fantasy worlds are about escape, even where they are utterly grim, however sometimes the two collide - see Neil Gaiman for more.

I don't think it can be denied that Tolkien is an influence on almost or even all fantasy writers who followed him, whether they graciously admit this (like George RR Martin and JK Rowling) or claim they are nothing like Tolkien (see Terry Pratchett and Phillip Pullman). There are absolutely masses of books (and TV) out there that are 'original' though, in as much as any fiction which uses long standing tropes and myths can be said to be 'original'.
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:02 AM   #15
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Surely people try to emulate what they like, or what was successful. But like someone else said, much of what Tolkien wrote was borrowed from something else.

There is a saying "No Idea is original". And it's true.


You can make a cake, but did u invent the batter, the oven, the frosting, the recipe? ANY of it? probably not. You are going to do it the same way with the same stuff, just like everyone else did before you and everyone else did after.


Your mission though, is to make it more delicious, or at least, different and memorable.

That being said, it doesn't matter how much rip-off there seems to be in a writing, especially within our beloved fantasy genre.

If you want to find something new, fresh, strange, un-done, its your responsibility to go out searching for it. The writers of unique and groundbreaking things are hidden away in obscurity because people publish mostly what is recognizable, relatable and profitable to the majority.
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Old 03-07-2013, 01:51 AM   #16
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Surely people try to emulate what they like, or what was successful. But like someone else said, much of what Tolkien wrote was borrowed from something else.

There is a saying "No Idea is original". And it's true.

You can make a cake, but did u invent the batter, the oven, the frosting, the recipe? ANY of it? probably not. You are going to do it the same way with the same stuff, just like everyone else did before you and everyone else did after.

Your mission though, is to make it more delicious, or at least, different and memorable.

That being said, it doesn't matter how much rip-off there seems to be in a writing, especially within our beloved fantasy genre.

If you want to find something new, fresh, strange, un-done, its your responsibility to go out searching for it. The writers of unique and groundbreaking things are hidden away in obscurity because people publish mostly what is recognizable, relatable and profitable to the majority.
I can sympathize with this. Playing with the cooking metaphor, in my youth the primary ingredient in icing was sugar. Lately, I've been encountering icing that seems centered on whipped cream. I don't know that this was really a recent innovation, or whether the cooks in my family just recently discovered it, but it is really neat either way to break out of one tradition and embrace another.

Cyberpunk and Steampunk are in my lifetime examples of new generas that grew out of a few authors sufficiently breaking molds to create a new pattern and a new market. It is not at all common to write a book that is innovative enough and popular enough that one gets copied sufficiently often to create a new genera. It isn't easily done. I wouldn't suggest that a writer seek to deliberately do it. You just write you best books and maybe it will happen. I will be tempted to applaud when it is done.

Far more writers or artists of all sorts will work within a tradition. Quite a few work within a tradition in such a way as to expand the tradition and keep it alive rather than cliched. At the same time, if one doesn't care for a particular genera, a particular tradition, then one can almost define such as a collection of cliches. The comment about ninety percent of everything might stand.

Tolkien? He borrowed from so many diverse sources that it would be hard to write fantasy without borrowing from some of the same sources. I don't know that this makes him the father of all fantasy. There is no doubt that he revitalized fantasy. He set some patterns that many have borrowed. I do see modern writers who are still playing similar games by similar rules.

JK Rowlings didn't invent fantasy. She also didn't invent the young adult plot line where the kid is sent off to boarding school and has lots of coming of age experiences. She did combine two traditions in a quite readable and sellable way. I've read em all and like them quite a bit.

If I don't give Tolkien credit for the teen age angst modern urban fantasy novels where vampires contest with werewolves... Please don't interpret this as disrespect for the Professor. I just don't see fantasy as having a single tradition.
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Old 03-07-2013, 01:30 PM   #17
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I know the professor inspired a lot of authors like J. K. Rowling but it seems fantasy writers nowadays haven’t anything else to add. They can’t make anything new and fresh. Its like people have lost their ways to create new things. Of course, I know the professor had cleverly borrowed ork from the Norse mythologies as well as other tales. But he did it in such a way that it became interesting to read and to know more about these so called repulsive creatures. He was a very intelligent man with an enormous imagination unlike most authors nowadays who seem to copy and paste from Tolkien or other clever authors like C. S. Lewis, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson or Lloyd C. Douglas. If you're going to make a fantasy book then do it in such a clever way to make it more interesting and readable. Every time I pick up a fantasy book I can't help but sense some form of Tolkienism . Deep down and dark at the bottom of my heart I really wished that the professor had finished 'The New Shadow'. It would've made a brillant thriller and a good sequel to 'Lord of the Rings'. Sorry if I am rabbling on a bit
## Michael Moorcock - despite his criticisms of Tolkien's story - does seem to be indebted to him. "Elric of Melnibone" is about the last ruler of a great kingdom, that is 10,000 years old; Elric relies on dragons, which need to sleep for 100(?) years to restore their strength; he has a sword, with a name (Storm-bringer) that is exceptionally dangerous; the name "Melnibone" vaguely recalls "Numenore"; & Elric is a sorcerer. He is almost an anti-Aragorn, or an Aragorn-as-Dark-Lord. Elric is a combo of Aragorn, Turin, Ar-Pharazon, & Sauron - a pretty unpleasant character.

A lot of this does not need to be traced to Tolkien, but had there been no Tolkien, I think Moorcock's work would have been poorer. STM that the pessimism (& worse) in "E of M" is a serious weakness: Tolkien's story is shot through with hope, & IMO that makes it more humane: he does not "darken the heart" in his treatment of evil; unlike Moorcock.

I don't think "The New Shadow" was "finishable" - Tolkien's achievement was too complete. I could have done with more info about Eldarion, though. And Aragorn's daughters.

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Old 03-08-2013, 11:44 PM   #18
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## Michael Moorcock - despite his criticisms of Tolkien's story - does seem to be indebted to him. "Elric of Melnibone" is about the last ruler of a great kingdom, that is 10,000 years old; Elric relies on dragons, which need to sleep for 100(?) years to restore their strength; he has a sword, with a name (Storm-bringer) that is exceptionally dangerous; the name "Melnibone" vaguely recalls "Numenore"; & Elric is a sorcerer. He is almost an anti-Aragorn, or an Aragorn-as-Dark-Lord. Elric is a combo of Aragorn, Turin, Ar-Pharazon, & Sauron - a pretty unpleasant character.
Not so much Turin or Ar-Pharazon- Moorcock started writing the series before the Silmarillion was published, so in part this is actually an example of two writers drawing on the same mythological sources.

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I don't think "The New Shadow" was "finishable" - Tolkien's achievement was too complete. I could have done with more info about Eldarion, though. And Aragorn's daughters.
I'm torn about "The New Shadow". It's intriguing, all right, and ends on such a chilling note that you feel frustrated there isn't any more of it- and yet, on the whole I think Tolkien made the right decision. Too many authors just can't resist yet another trip to the well (Moorcock being rather a case in point).

Anyway, welcome to the Downs!
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Old 03-11-2013, 09:54 AM   #19
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Not so much Turin or Ar-Pharazon- Moorcock started writing the series before the Silmarillion was published, so in part this is actually an example of two writers drawing on the same mythological sources.


I'm torn about "The New Shadow". It's intriguing, all right, and ends on such a chilling note that you feel frustrated there isn't any more of it- and yet, on the whole I think Tolkien made the right decision. Too many authors just can't resist yet another trip to the well (Moorcock being rather a case in point).

Anyway, welcome to the Downs!
## Thanks for the correction - & the welcome
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Old 04-05-2013, 07:37 PM   #20
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Try R. Scott Bakker's trilogy, "The Prince of Nothing."

Once you get finished with that storyline, try his follow up novels, "The Aspect-Emperor," which deals with the world of Ëarwa twenty years later.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_of_Nothing

You can get a taste here of Ëarwa's history (Bakker's worldbuilding skill) that in my opinion, rivals Tolkien's Middle-Earth. http://princeofnothing.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline

R. Scott Bakker's Official Website:

http://www.rscottbakker.com/

Here's a forum for his fantasy work, akin to Tolkien's here: http://secondapocalypse.forumer.com/index.php
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Old 04-06-2013, 12:32 PM   #21
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...You can get a taste here of Ëarwa's history (Bakker's worldbuilding skill) that in my opinion, rivals Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
Thank you for your personal assessment, Mr. Bakker.
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Old 05-29-2013, 06:53 PM   #22
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I think its hard not to have some Tolkienism in the fantasy if you're going to include classic fantasy races like elves and dwarfs ect... But there are fantasy writers who go outside the box and don't include those. For instance Ted Dekker's fantasy series The Circle is not Tolkien and it is quite good. At least I think its good.
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Old 06-04-2013, 09:55 PM   #23
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Fad verus epic (versus parody)

I agree with someone earlier in this thread who stated it would be difficult for any post-Tolkien fantasy author to not borrow (consciously or unconsciously) from the Professor. But tales can be built off of earlier tales, if they are done right. It's a fine line. In my opinion, there are 2 aspects to a story: the constructive elements (such as setting, characters, etc) and the motive behind the story (in Tolkien's case, the promotion of honor, redemption and the lesson that good works in small hands can change history). Copycats tend to take some of the constructive elements but fail to offer a legitimate motive for their story. So it comes off hollow. Believe me, I know because I wrote a couple similar novels myself. Upon review years later, I had to admit to myself that while aspects of my writing were good, the storyline was nothing more than a flattering copy. That's why I recently shifted gears and cut right to the chase...if I am going to incorporate Tolkien, then make it obvious. So I published a parody of his works called High as a Hobbit. Some may cringe at such heresy (ha!), but at least it's honest.
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Old 06-05-2013, 01:56 PM   #24
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Must you shill for your product every time you post? It's getting quite annoying.
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Old 06-06-2013, 08:11 PM   #25
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Cry your pardon.

You are absolutely right, and I apologize for that. Please chalk it up to mis-directed and overblown enthusiasm of a first time writer. It's hard to sit quiet when your piece has hit the streets, but it's no excuse for bending the line of protocol in this fine forum. It will not happen again.
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Old 06-14-2013, 06:44 PM   #26
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But can you always spot Tolkien influence?

Many fantasy stories written before The Lord of the Rings or even before The Hobbit might also seem to be influenced by Tolkien if you did not know when they were written.

For example, there is Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland's Daughter or William Morris’ A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark which in different ways may seem Tolkienish, but any influence in these books might have inspired Tolkien, not the reverse.

There is Hope Mirrlees’ magnificent Lud-in-the-Mist, which fantasy writer Neil Gaiman calls one of his top ten books. See http://www.goodreads.com/genres/neil-gaiman-top-ten .

And there are influences on Tolkien of various passages in past fantasy stories which on the whole are not very Tolkienish. For example George MacDonald’s Lilith, at the beginning of chapter 39, describes dreams in a house in which the protagonist and his friend take refuge, dreams which are almost identical to the dreams that the hobbits have in the House of Tom Bombadil:
Their night was a troubled one, and they brought a strange report of it into the day. Whether the fear of their sleep came out into their waking, or their waking fear sank with them into their dreams, awake or asleep they were never at rest from it. All night something seemed going on in the house—something silent, something terrible, something they were not to know. Never a sound awoke; the darkness was one with the silence, and the silence was the terror


Once, a frightful wind filled the house, and shook its inside, they said, so that it quivered and trembled like a horse shaking himself; but it was a silent wind that made not even a moan in their chamber, and passed away like a soundless sob.

They fell asleep. But they woke again with a great start. They thought the house was filling with water such as they had been drinking. It came from below, and swelled up until the garret was full of it to the very roof. But it made no more sound than the wind, and when it sank away, they fell asleep dry and warm.
And George MacDonald’s novel Phantastes has an evil sentient Ash much like Tolkien’s Old Man Willow, who is sleepy in the day time but comes fully awake at night. And there are other speaking trees as well in that book.

There are also hundreds of old fantasy tales which are now mostly unread, and mostly justly so, and the same for relatively new fantasy tales.

I point to Nerwen’s note that Moorcock started writing about Elric before The Silmarillion was published. What may seem Tolkienish may indeed just be coincidence or a case of two writers being influenced by some of the same previous writers.

Tolkien, for example, was very influenced by the writings of Rider Haggard, but his atmosphere and style is very different, though again and again the same motifs occur.

As Galadriel55 indicates, there is much fantasy published that is not very Tolkienesque but it is for the reader to seek it out.
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Old 06-15-2013, 04:07 AM   #27
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I must join the chorus of people who are not genre readers, and therefore cannot say anything about the patterns of development withing fantasy.

It seems clear that Tolkien is the most influential fantasy writer there is, and some argue that he is the father of the modern genre.

One has to remember, that even though Tolkien him self did not invent his concepts, he altered many of them, and any subsequent fantasy seems to be based on his depictions. The way elves are depicted, is probably the best example of how Tolkien significantly altered an existing concept, and how it caught on.

I have read some modern fantasy, that had clear elements of copy-paste when it came to story-line. Still, I am convinced that the popular fantasy authors can mostly be placed within the confines of "inspired by".
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Old 06-15-2013, 06:18 AM   #28
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For example, there is Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland's Daughter or William Morris’ A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark which in different ways may seem Tolkienish, but any influence in these books might have inspired Tolkien, not the reverse.
I was going to mention Morris and his prose romances myself; in fact I've been meaning to start a "Morris and Tolkien" thread for some time. Morris' The Roots of the Mountains and The Glittering Plain are also very Tolkienesque, but in fact came first, and in Letter 226 the Professor attests Wolfings and Roots as influences. Given that these were meant to evoke Norse sagas and such Tolkien is very much the mediator between the traditional Romance and the modern fantasy novel. It puts me in two minds about how much Tolkien influence there really is in modern fantasy. The detailed, functioning imaginary worlds with invented histories and cultures, spiritual crises (good people vs a dark lord or diabolus-figure) etc. are the more superficial fantasy elements which have definitely been extracted largely, I would argue, from Tolkien, but in terms of tone and style I think they tend much more towards the storytelling methods which are in a conventional novelistic vein which Tolkien eschews.
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Old 06-15-2013, 04:19 PM   #29
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I must join the chorus of people who are not genre readers, and therefore cannot say anything about the patterns of development withing fantasy.

It seems clear that Tolkien is the most influential fantasy writer there is, and some argue that he is the father of the modern genre.
First you say you can’t say anything, then you say something. You might better have followed your first instinct and not said anything. Tolkien may be “the most influential fantasy writer there is” but there are many fantasies that don’t have Elves at all, not to speak of Tolkien elves. Have you read all the fantasy mentioned on this thread which readers claim is not particularly Tolkien? Have you read any of it?

I would agree that Tolkien is “the father of the modern genre” in that his writing vastly increased the amount of fantasy published. But that was mainly in creating a market for similar works to his, into which works which were not very similar could also be fitted by book sellers. But there remains much fantasy published that has little of note connecting it to Tolkien’s work. For example the works of Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, arguably the two most popular of obviously non-Tolkien fantasists.

You might show examples of their work which you would claim derive mainly from Tolkien, and not from other writers, or is not mostly original, if you wish to make your point.

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One has to remember, that even though Tolkien him self did not invent his concepts, he altered many of them, and any subsequent fantasy seems to be based on his depictions. The way elves are depicted, is probably the best example of how Tolkien significantly altered an existing concept, and how it caught on.
For elves in previous fantasy I suggest Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland's Daughter and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword which predates The Lord of the Rings. True, Anderson’s Elves are more like Tolkien's Orcs than his Elves, but they are not little people. Or go back to the man-sized Elves in Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene. Tolkien did not alter any concepts. The idea of man-size Elves is common in medieval works.

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Still, I am convinced that the popular fantasy authors can mostly be placed within the confines of "inspired by".
Then show how Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Eowyn Ivey, Tanya Huff, and Josh Whedon are primarily inspired by Tolkien. Well Eowyn Ivey’s first name comes from Tolkien, but not her novel The Snow Child.

Perhaps you have only read Tolkien-inspired fantasy. But there is lots more modern fantasy works out there that are not particularly Tolkien-inspired.

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The detailed, functioning imaginary worlds with invented histories and cultures, spiritual crises (good people vs a dark lord or diabolus-figure) etc. are the more superficial fantasy elements which have definitely been extracted largely, I would argue, from Tolkien, but in terms of tone and style I think they tend much more towards the storytelling methods which are in a conventional novelistic vein which Tolkien eschews.
Quite so, more-or-less. Tolkien was not “the father of fantasy” which some claim, but do not argue, because in fact those people have not read much in previous fantasy or they would not make such an absurd claim. Before Tolkien published The Hobbit there were James Branch Cabell, William Hope Hodgson, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, H. Rider Haggard, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber (barely), Eric Rücker Eddison, Lewis Caroll, Charles E. Caryl, John Ruskin, Kenneth Grahame, James Barrie, Edith Nesbit, Carlo Collodi, Beatrix Potter, Felix Salten, A. A. Milne, Hugh Lofting, Walter R. Brooks, P. L. Travers, and L. Frank Baum to name only those writers I can think of at the moment that I have not already mentioned in my two posts on this thread and whose fantasy writing is still widely read.

If some of these works of fantasy writing are known primarily as children’s books, I do not apologize, because the same is true of The Hobbit. There was a period where, except for dark fantasy, fantasy was mostly only publishable as children’s literature. Among more recent works Ursula K. LeGuin’s original Earthsea trilogy and Richard Adams’ Watership Down were originally published as children’s books.

I admit it quite possible, counting strictly by books published, that most fantasy published contains elements that most would accept as imitative of Tolkien. I don’t think this is true for the most popular fantasy.

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Old 06-15-2013, 04:46 PM   #30
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I would agree that Tolkien is “the father of the modern genre” in that his writing vastly increased the amount of fantasy published. But that was mainly in creating a market for similar works to his, into which works which were not very similar could also be fitted by book sellers. But there remains much fantasy published that has little of note connecting it to Tolkien’s work. For example the works of Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, arguably the two most popular of obviously non-Tolkien fantasists.
First off, I wouldn't exactly consider King a "fantasy" writer primarily, though he does dabble in it, perhaps.
Second, at least the Dark Tower series owes a serious debt to Tolkien. In King's Introduction to the revised edition of The Gunslinger, he says:

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The Dark Tower books, like most long fantasy tales written by men and women of my generation (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson, and The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, are just two of many), were born out of Tolkien's.
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Before Tolkien published The Hobbit there were James Branch Cabell, William Hope Hodgson, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, H. Rider Haggard, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber (barely), Eric Rücker Eddison, Lewis Carol, Charles E. Caryl, John Ruskin, Kenneth Grahame, James Barrie, Edith Nesbit, Carlo Collodi, Beatrix Potter, Felix Salten, A. A. Milne, Hugh Lofting, Walter R. Brooks, P. L. Travers, and L. Frank Baum to name only those writers I can think of at the moment that I have not already mentioned in this post and whose fantasy writing is still widely read.
It's a quibbling detail, but are Lovecraft and Poe "fantasy" authors too? I'd always consigned at least Lovecraft to the Horror genre.
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Old 06-15-2013, 05:04 PM   #31
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It's a quibbling detail, but are Lovecraft and Poe "fantasy" authors too? I'd always consigned at least Lovecraft to the Horror genre.
Based on the few of Lovecraft's stories that I've read, I'd actually put him under sci-fi, with a little bit of fantasy and horror sprinkled in. Maybe I just haven't read the right stories, though.
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Old 06-15-2013, 08:30 PM   #32
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If it's Lovecraft we're talking about I think the safest classification might be the one which was used at the time, "Weird fiction", a genre classification which isn't really used these days. It's a sort of blend of horror, fantasy and sci-fi styles from before the genres became as delineated as they are today. If you look at Lovecraft, his earlier Dream Cycle stuff has a very heavy element of what we would today classify as pure Fantasy: a world beyond this world with its own peculiar societies and inhabitants, although they were never extensively detailed. His 'Cthulhu mythos' stuff, by comparison, is more "horror/sci-fi" given that it often involves the horror being of extraterrestrial nature (see The Color Out of Space, The Shadow Out of Time, The Call of Cthulhu, The Whisperer in Darkness, At the Mountains of Madness etc.) while other stories are more pure horror with a more 'magical' explanation for the supernatural elements. His later writings strive to tie the Cthulhu mythos and Dream Cycle stuff together with explanations involving other dimensions and such, returning back, as it were, to the hybridity of 'Weird fiction'.

In my opinion the influence of Professor Tolkien's work is primarily to be found in what is called "High Fantasy", involving imaginary worlds/societies, an epic scale, good versus evil, saving the world, long quests or some combination thereon. I think the overwhelming majority of "High Fantasy" novels contain some element of "Tolkienism" but that Fantasy as a whole is too broad a genre to argue that Fantasy novels in general owe something to Tolkien. I think he codified a very specific sub genre of Fantasy but not all Fantasy. Personally I think High Fantasy is an increasingly exhausted genre; indeed I think it's been the case since Eddings' Belgariad deliberately produced the most generic High Fantasy story imaginable (orphan with mysterious past and group of mismatched friends finds magic device with which he kills evil god) in what was effectively a pastiche of the tropes which had so encapsulated High Fantasy storytelling. It makes things like The Wheel of Time seem utterly irrelevant, in my opinion (outside of the gender issues stuff which didn't need fourteen massive volumes to be explored). As I've said in the other thread I'm no fan of George R.R. Martin but, and correct me if I'm wrong, at least his books (seemingly) shake up some of those very weary tropes a bit.
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Old 06-15-2013, 08:32 PM   #33
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Based on the few of Lovecraft's stories that I've read, I'd actually put him under sci-fi, with a little bit of fantasy and horror sprinkled in. Maybe I just haven't read the right stories, though.
Yes, it really depends which of his stories you’re talking about– and genre boundaries weren’t as defined then as they are now anyway.

Thinking about the main question, it seems to me that there’s two traps to be avoided. One is that of assuming that every similarity is due to copying, and the other is that of assuming that none are. (Not that I think anyone here is literally doing either of these, by the way.)

I’d say there are four classes of similarity:
a.) Pure coincidence.
b.) Similarity due to use of the same sources.
c.) Actual influence.
d.) Direct copying.

There are still problems with this– exactly where c.) ends and d.) begins can be a matter of dispute. And you need to be careful about b.), because, for example, there is a difference between Elves or goblins as traditional folklore races and Tolkien’s versions.

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For elves in previous fantasy I suggest Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland's Daughter and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword which predates The Lord of the Rings. True, Anderson’s Elves are more like Tolkien's Orcs than his Elves, but they are not little people. Or go back to the man-sized Elves in Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene. Tolkien did not alter any concepts. The idea of man-size Elves is common in medieval works.
True– but it is none the less quite common for post-Tolkien fantasy writers to feature Elves who are obvious direct copies of Tolkien’s (often filtered through D&D). As I said, there’s a difference.
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Old 06-15-2013, 08:34 PM   #34
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In my opinion horror authors are more properly called horror fantasy authors. After all, they are usually writing about things which most people think can’t actually happen. Trying to define fantasy fiction as different from realistic fiction puts most horror fiction on the fantasy side, not on the realistic side.

Science-fiction is vague by that definition, though supposedly a science-fiction story should also seem to be scientifically possible, even if it involves time travel or faster than light travel. So is Jules Verne’s From Earth to the Moon hard science-fiction rather than fantasy when Verne knew that his method of space travel really couldn’t work, or only when we do? Or does it remain science-fiction with an unfortunate error in the science.

I see Lovecraft as mostly writing fantasy with a science-fictional cover over it. Same with Stephen King. But his Dark Tower series is very fantasy in my opinion, unless all alternate word stories are to be classed as realistic fiction which seem just wrong to me. His The Shining seems to me to be very much fantasy. So does Carrie. Is Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows really science-fiction set in a parallel world in which animals can talk?

Quibble away if you wish. And remove most of Lovecraft, and Poe, and King from my lists if you wish to fit your definitions which don’t agree with my definitions. It doesn’t matter very much to me.

You will not be able to find any definitions of fantasy and horror that are universally accepted. I was at a conference here in Toronto last weekend at which academic Robert Runte discussed writer Margaret Atwood who has very much denied being a science-fiction writer and has been blamed for making up a definition of science-fiction of her own which no-one else uses. Runte showed that the definition Atwood was using was the same one Robert Heinlein used, but that since the date when he put it forth science-fiction criticism has moved on.

So drop all the horror-fiction and Hugh Lofting from my list if you wish. But I hope you now understand why I disagree.

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Based on the few of Lovecraft's stories that I've read, I'd actually put him under sci-fi, with a little bit of fantasy and horror sprinkled in. Maybe I just haven't read the right stories, though.
That seems to me to be an adequate way to look at much, perhaps most, of Lovecraft’s work.

But there are exceptions in his writing.

Consider Lovecraft’s story “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”. That seems to me to be very much a fantasy tale by any definition, despite the horror elements. The definitive version, with corrected text is published by Arkham House in At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels and by Penguin Classics in The Dreams in the Witch-House and Other Weird Stories.

See a discussion of this story by John D. Rateliff ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Rateliff ) at http://web.archive.org/web/200307040...sicsdreamquest .
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Old 06-15-2013, 09:05 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by jallanite View Post
Science-fiction is vague by that definition, though supposedly a science-fiction story should also seem to be scientifically possible, even if it involves time travel or faster than light travel.
...
You will not be able to find any definitions of fantasy and horror that are universally accepted. I was at a conference here in Toronto last weekend at which academic Robert Runte discussed writer Margaret Atwood who has very much denied being a science-fiction writer and has been blamed for making up a definition of science-fiction of her own which no-one else uses. Runte showed that the definition Atwood was using was the same one Robert Heinlein used, but that since the date when he put it forth science-fiction criticism has moved on.
I've heard that Atwood is keen to have her work regarded as "speculative fiction" rather than "science fiction" (to avoid the alleged 'genre ghetto', perhaps?). I once had a brief discussion with another student in an undergraduate tutorial years ago about Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle and whether or not it was "science fiction", my view being 'not necessarily'; it was motivated by the discussion the novel's characters have about the genre of their own (meta)fictional alternate-history narrative and whether or not it was sci-fi. My suggestion was that if we strictly classify a novel like that as science-fiction without flexible boundaries, we may as well call something like Atlas Shrugged science-fiction as well.

I myself am presenting a paper (my first one ever, woo) on Tolkien and Orwell next month in the hope that we can read The Lord of the Rings etc as something other than just "Fantasy" by some loose definition, more specifically in regards to 'Secondary Worlds' as a commonality rather than what conventional genres may prescribe.
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Old 06-16-2013, 02:57 PM   #36
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In my opinion the influence of Professor Tolkien's work is primarily to be found in what is called "High Fantasy", involving imaginary worlds/societies, an epic scale, good versus evil, saving the world, long quests or some combination thereon. I think the overwhelming majority of "High Fantasy" novels contain some element of "Tolkienism" but that Fantasy as a whole is too broad a genre to argue that Fantasy novels in general owe something to Tolkien.
Perhaps, in the end, there's simply too much subjective interpretation involved when one reads to say definitively whether this or that is the result of influence by a particular author (unless such is indeed admitted by a writer).

Maybe one can simply define Tolkien's achievement in terms of what the Beatles did for rock 'n roll. They took what was perceived by many as a juvenile form of music and elevated it to Art, giving it both maturity and wide acceptance.
Could it be said that Tolkien, with LOTR, took Fantasy fiction and showed that it could not only be popular, but also respectable?
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Old 06-16-2013, 03:42 PM   #37
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True– but it is none the less quite common for post-Tolkien fantasy writers to feature Elves who are obvious direct copies of Tolkien’s (often filtered through D&D). As I said, there’s a difference.
The first such story that I recall reading was Excalibur by Sanders Anne Laubenthal ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excalibur_%28novel%29 ) and I thought it was atrocious. It was a copy of Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams, almost a paint-by-numbers story, in which in one incident the protagonist entered another world which was pure mock-Lothlórien, though this was implied to be an American aborigine fantasy world. Personally such sloppy fantasy writing simply doesn’t interest me.

But I realize that many readers don’t even notice.

For man-sized Elves or Fairies, one may also go to Lewis Carroll’s Bruno and Sylvia, which I feel was very bad, but for other reasons. I realize that Tolkien’s man-sized Elves in The Hobbit didn’t surprise me at all when I first read it. I suppose I must have encountered similar beings in other books that I no longer remember. I do remember the human-sized Fairy of the Turqouise Hair in the original story Pinnochio, whom in Disney’s version becomes the winged (but still human-sized) Blue Fairy.

For fantasy I can think of two other older writers missing from my list: William Shakespeare (not only for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest but for Hamlet and Macbeth) and E. E. Chesterton. And might as well add Sir Thomas Malory, as a writer still much read outside of university course work untranslated. Perhaps also add Howard Pyle.

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I've heard that Atwood is keen to have her work regarded as "speculative fiction" rather than "science fiction" (to avoid the alleged 'genre ghetto', perhaps?).
For Margaret Atwood’s own definitions of what she writes, see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/s...ryId=129324791 and http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/...ptic-optimist/ .

But others have different definitions for speculative fiction. See Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speculative_fiction and a talk page which largely disagrees at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Speculative_fiction .

Personally speculative fiction seems to be normally used as a more pretentious term for what most people simply call science-fiction or sf. After all, all fiction is speculative, or it would not be fiction. Fictional fiction?

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I once had a brief discussion with another student in an undergraduate tutorial years ago about Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle and whether or not it was "science fiction", my view being 'not necessarily'; it was motivated by the discussion the novel's characters have about the genre of their own (meta)fictional alternate-history narrative and whether or not it was sci-fi. My suggestion was that if we strictly classify a novel like that as science-fiction without flexible boundaries, we may as well call something like Atlas Shrugged science-fiction as well.
Sure, call Atlas Shrugged science-fiction if you want. The conference actually got into stories set in the supposed near future which were mainly about politics. The consensus seemed to be that they were not really sf books.

So invent a new name like political thriller. Genres are invented when a lot of works are seen as so similar that they belong together, and they provide a reasonable handle to talk about them and compare them. But there are always works on the fringes of a genre, however you define it, and peoples’ definitions differ somewhat from one another.

For example, I note that no-one has called me out for implicitly including dream-tales among my fantasy works by including Lewis Carroll and Charles E. Caryl among my fantasy authors. Well, I feel these stories are dream-stories but are also fantasy stories. Note that in his essay “On Fairy-stories” Tolkien writes that dream-tales are not fairy-tales, not that they are not fantasy.

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Old 06-16-2013, 05:54 PM   #38
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Could it be said that Tolkien, with LOTR, took Fantasy fiction and showed that it could not only be popular, but also respectable?
Only partially. Previous fantasy tales that had already been very popular including notably William Morris’ romances and Lord Dunsany’s many tales. James Branch Cabell was also reasonably popular.

These were very respectable writers.

What is surprising is that their success was not followed up by other authors. The conventional wisdom was that fantasy just didn’t normally sell, except in children’s books. The conventional wisdom may have been true. George MacDonald’s two adult fantasies sold poorly. Evangeline Walton’s first Mabinogion romance was published in 1936 and died.

People seemingly were really not interested in romances about magic which didn’t exist.

Sf changed that. People were ready to read tales about marvelous adventures that possibly really might happen, some day, even if many sf tales were badly written. Sf had reached the level of penetration of the market where obvious and outright fantasy could be appreciated and would be purchased.

Then the genius who had written The Hobbit produced an immense work for adults. It sold, and sold incredibly once it was available in paperback. But no-one was repeating Tolkien at once. He stood alone. Ballantine could at first only reprint older adult fantasy in an attempt to cash in on Tolkien.

Then very gradually new works of fantasy began to be printed. At the same time hardcover sf began appearing in bookstores. Sf had itself become respectable and in potential carried fantasy with it as it was mostly printed by the same paperback publishers.

But it was not until 1969 that Ballantine published Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place and The Last Unicorn. Then Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shanarra was published in 1974. It was from then onward that publication of new adult fantasy works became normal. But many Tolkien fans also do not consider liking The Sword of Shanarra to be respectable. (I agree.)

Considering that The Lord of the Rings saw its first complete publication in hardback in 1955, if Tolkien is compared to the Beatles, this is as though The Rolling Stones did not appear until 1970 instead of in 1962.

Tolkien is still not respectable according to many academics. They see The Lord of the Rings just as a flash-in-the-pan like Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, reputably the most popular novel in the 19th century. They keep waiting for the bubble to burst. That it hasn’t yet is to be blamed on the poor taste of current readers.

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Old 03-21-2014, 08:16 PM   #39
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I have not read much. The only two series I have read are Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter books(I'm half through the Hobbit and the Silmarillion). And I found Harry Potter books highly influenced by the Lord of the Rings books. Stephen King's books are also said to be inspired by Tolkien, and he is one of the most celebrated authors of our time. Tolkien borrowed from Mythology, and it is seen in his work (I see his work influenced by Hindu Mythology as well. I don't know what he would said on this!). But his own experience in the wars affected his writing enormously.
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Old 03-22-2014, 07:32 AM   #40
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I found Harry Potter books highly influenced by the Lord of the Rings books. Stephen King's books are also said to be inspired by Tolkien, and he is one of the most celebrated authors of our time. Tolkien borrowed from Mythology, and it is seen in his work (I see his work influenced by Hindu Mythology as well. I don't know what he would said on this!). But his own experience in the wars affected his writing enormously.
King has acknowledged Tolkien's influence in his work. I can really see it in the Dark Tower series, but even in books like The Shining, obvious references are there. I'm thinking mainly of the end of that novel, though I won't spoil things for those who have never read it.

As for Potter, one can see some similarities. There's the guiding hand of Dumbledore who, like Gandalf, is the mastermind of the movement against the prime evil force. He, as is Gandalf, is taken away from Harry in a self-sacrifice.
I think also that with Voldemort's Horcruxes there is an element of the One Ring, as those inanimate artifacts have within them a piece of Voldemort's being, and thus have an adverse effect on one who possesses them.
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