I think the tendency to over-explain and over describe is one of the most common failings in fantasy. It's an unfortunate piece of Tolkien's legacy. Don't get me wrong, Tolkien was a great worldbuilder, but he got a little caught up describing his world at times, at the expense of the overall story.
I love fantasy. I grew up reading fantasy. But, I wanted to put a somewhat different spin on it. The whole trope of absolute good versus absolute evil, which was wonderful in the hands of J.R. Tolkien, became cliche and rote in the hands of the many Tolkien imitators that followed.
George R. R. Martin
J.R.R.Tolkien has confessed that about a third of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, some ruffian named Strider confronted the hobbits in an inn, and Tolkien was in despair. He didn't know who Strider was, where the book was going, or what to write next. Strider turns out to be no lesser person than Aragorn, the unrecognized and uncrowned king of all the forces of good, whose restoration to rule is, along with the destruction of the evil ring, the engine that moves the plot of the whole massive trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone "" they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
George R. R. Martin
Tolkien came to regard the tale of Beren and Tinuviel as 'the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, "the wheels of the world", are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak'. Such a worldview is inherent in the fairy-tale (and Christian) idea of the happy ending in which the dispossessed are restored to joy; but perhaps Tolkien was also struck by the way it had been borne out in the Great War, when ordinary people stepped out of ordinary lives to carry the fate of nations.
With a religious book it is less what we see in it than what we see through it that matters. J. R. R. Tolkien's fairy-tale epic the Lord of the Rings helps draw the distinction perhaps. Some of its admirers have tried to make it into a religion book by claiming, among other things, that the Ring of Power which must be destroyed is the hydrogen bomb. Tolkien, on the other hand, denied this unequivocally. But intended or otherwise, there can be little doubt that for many it has become a religious book. The "Frodo Lives" buttons are not entirely a joke, because something at least comes to life through those fifteen hundred pages, although inevitably it is hard to say just what. It seems to have something to do with the way Tolkien has of making us see the quididity of things like wood, bread, stone, milk, iron, as though we have never seen them before or not for a long time, which is probably the truth of the matter; his landscapes set deeper echoes going in us than any message could. He gives us back a sense that we have mostly lost of the things of the earth, and because we are ourselves of the earth, whatever else, we are given back too some sense of our own secret. Very possibly again he did not intend it. I may well be axiomatic that, religiously, a writer achieves most when he is least conscious of doing so. Certainly the attempt to be religious is as doomed as the attempt to be poetic is.
All medieval and classic cultures of the ancient world, including those on which Tolkien modeled his elves, routinely exposed their young and marriageable women to the fortunes of war, because bearing and raising the next generation of warriors is not needed for equality-loving elves. Equality-loving elves. Who are monarchists. With a class system. Of ranks. Battles are more fun when attractive young women are dismembered and desecrated by goblins! I believe that this is one point where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and all Christian fantasy writers from before World War Two were completely agreed upon, and it is a point necessary in order correctly to capture the mood and tone and nuance of the medieval romances or Norse sagas such writers were straining their every artistic nerve and sinew to create. So, wait, we have an ancient and ageless society of elves where the virgin maidens go off to war, but these same virgin maidens must abide by the decision of their father or liege lord for permission to marry? - The Desolation of Tolkien
John C. Wright
Why could Tolkien not be more like Sir Thomas Malory, asked [Edwin] Muir, in the third Observer review of those cited above, and give us heroes and heroines like Lancelot and Guinevere, who ' knew temptation, were sometimes unfaithful to their vows, ' were engagingly marked by adulterous passion? But T.H. White had already considered that paradigm, was indeed rewriting it at the same time as Tolkien in The Once and Future King; and he had seen the core of Malory's work not in romantic vice but in the human urge to murder. In White the poisonous adder that provokes the last disastrous battle is no adder but a harmless grass-snake, and the flash of the sword which brings on the two armies is not natural self-defense but natural blood-lust, creating a continuum from cruelty to animals to world wars and holocausts. Malory has to be rewritten to encompass a new view of evil.
But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver. No, said Tolkien, they are not... just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth. We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil. You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.
J. R. R. Tolkien, the near-universally-hailed father of modern epic fantasy, crafted his magnum opus The Lord of the Rings to explore the forces of creation as he saw them: God and country, race and class, journeying to war and returning home. I've heard it said that he was trying to create some kind of original British mythology using the structure of other cultures' myths, and maybe that was true. I don't know. What I see, when I read his work, is a man trying desperately to dream. Dreaming is impossible without myths. If we don't have enough myths of our own, we'll latch onto those of others - even if those myths make us believe terrible or false things about ourselves. Tolkien understood this, I think because it's human nature. Call it the superego, call it common sense, call it pragmatism, call it learned helplessness, but the mind craves boundaries. Depending on the myths we believe in, those boundaries can be magnificently vast, or crushingly tight.
The two things that came out clearly were the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader. [C.S. Lewis writes to J.R.R. Tolkien on December 7, 1929]
I was heavily influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, C. S. Friedman, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, R. A. Salvatore, and James Clavell to name a few, but of course every book I've ever read, whether I liked it or not, has had an influence... I think I am constantly evolving as a writer, but not to mimic anyone else or mainstream trends.
Peter V. Brett
As a child I was really into fantasy books with elves and goblins and swords, and I went through a phase for a few years when I was reading endless series. But in the end I became totally fed-up with all these sub-Tolkien rip-offs because they all end up doing the same old things and there's no rigour to it.
There are a number of things that I'm trying to get into the books. There's a meta-fictional aspect, if I may use that pretentious word, to writing anything. You're writing in the shadow of all the people that have gone before and, in a way, you're having a dialogue with them. As someone who's read J.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard and all the great fantasists before, this is almost my answer to them.
George R. R. Martin
There's a passage about 'rivers of molten rock that wound their way... until they cooled and lay like twisted dragon-shapes vomited from the tormented earth.' That's a perfect description: how did Tolkien know, a quarter century before anyone ever saw a picture of Io? Talk about Nature imitating Art.
Arthur C. Clarke
I wasn't into Tolkien at school really. But the story is timeless, the themes that it touches on are contained in cultures all around the world. The innocent on a quest, the pretender, an inanimate object that holds evil - it's really strange that these themes are there in so many different countries' folklore.
Tolkien, who created this marvellous vehicle, doesn't go anywhere in it. He just sits where he is. What I mean by that is that he always seems to be looking backwards, to a greater and more golden past; and what's more he doesn't allow girls or women any important part in the story at all. Life is bigger and more interesting than The Lord of the Rings thinks it is.
Aw, fudge, ' floated down to me, as a couple of golden eyes peered over a third-floor window ledge. 'You're a freaking dhampir. Why are you reading Tolkien?' I shrugged, then had to dodge the potted geranium he threw at me. 'After five hundred years, you've read just about everything. Besides, he had hella world-building skills.
I didn't read much SF as a kid - I was a total Tolkien geek - but I started reading Samuel Delany and Angela Carter and Ursula LeGuin in high school, and I was definitely taken with the notion that here was a literature that could explore various notions of gender identity and how it affects the culture at large.
Aw, fudge,' floated down to me, as a couple of golden eyes peered over a third-floor window ledge. 'You're a freaking dhampir. Why are you reading Tolkien?' I shrugged, then had to dodge the potted geranium he threw at me. 'After five hundred years, you've read just about everything. Besides, he had hella world-building skills.
As long as I'm dealing in honesty, I may as well admit that I have been more influenced (as a person) by my childhood readings of Tolkien and Lewis than I have been by any philosophers I read in college and grad school. The events and characters in Narnia and Middle Earth shaped my ideals, my dreams, my goals. Kant just annoyed me.
Deeply rooted in the universalist Western tradition of the Stoics and the the early medieval Christians, Tolkien created a myth to explore the nature of the human person against the avaricious dreams of the capitalists and the diabolical schemes of the national and international socialists, all of whom would replace God with man.
Bradley J. Birzer
They gutted the book, making an action movie for 15-25 year olds. Tolkien became...devoured by his popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of the time. The gap widened between the beauty, the seriousness of the work, and what it has become is beyond me. This level of marketing reduces to nothing the aesthetic and philosophical significance of this work.
My eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Pabst, had done her master's thesis on Tolkien. She showed me how the trilogy was patterned after Norse mythology. She was also the first person to encourage me to submit stories for publication. The idea of writing a fantasy based on myths never left me, and many years later, this would lead me to write Percy Jackson.
There were two books I remember changing my life as a introverted, bookish 14 year old. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. One was set in a fantastic world, populated by outlandish characters, tired prose, foul monsters, evil incarnate and a message about losing one's humanity. The other book was about hobbits.
Christopher Odell Homsley
This is surely the most significant of the elements that Tolkien brought to fantasy... his arranged marriage between the Elder Edda and "The Wind in the Willows"-big Icelandic romance and small-scale, cozy English children's book. The story told by "The Lord of the Rings" is essentially what would happen if Mole and Ratty got drafted into the Nibelungenlied.
Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of "escape." I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.
When I was a kid, I lived in this small town way out in the country. We had three TV channels and one radio station. I couldn't even get my hands on good comic books. My aunt, who is a librarian, gave me Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie," and Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia." They were such incredible treasures to have in my somewhat mundane country life.
I first read [Wendell Berry] short-story collections, "Fidelity" and then "Watch with Me." They just knocked my socks off. The characters and the fellowship of the small town reminded me of my own small town in Illinois.Then I discovered that, much like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, that all of Berry's fiction was centered in this same town.
Look at this fog. The damp gets right into your bones. It's doing my chest no good at all. I'll need a vapour bath." Bryant pulled down his scarf and peered over the sodden hedge. Dew had formed on his bald head and ears. He resembled a minor Tolkien character. "You're getting old before your time, " warned May. "I can't imagine what you'll look like in your eighties." "I'm ageing gracefully, which means not trying to look like a member of Concrete Blimp." "I assume you mean Led Zeppelin...
Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end. Because this is after the end, this is all the Scouring of the Shire, this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn't supposed to happen after the glorious last stand. I saved the world, or I think I did, and look, the world is still here, with sunsets and interlibrary loans. And it doesn't care about me any more than the Shire cared about Frodo.
Critics and academics have been trying for forty years to bury the greatest work of imaginative fiction in English. They ignore it, they condescend to it, they stand in large groups with their backs to it - because they're afraid of it. They're afraid of dragons. They have Smaugophobia. "Oh those awful Orcs, " they bleat, flocking after Edmund Wilson. They know if they acknowledge Tolkien they'll have to admit that fantasy can be literature, and that therefore they'll have to redefine what literature is. And they're too damned lazy to do it.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Back in middle school, Catherine and I had gone through this stage where all we would read were fantasy books. We'd consume them like M&M's, by the fistful, J.R.R. Tolkien and Terry Brooks and Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander. Susan Boone looked, to me, like the queen of the elves (there's almost always an elf queen in fantasy books). I mean, she was shorter than me and had on a strange lineny outfit in pale blues and greens....
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple...Real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with.... My people who are trying to rule don't have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn't make you a wise king.
George R. R. Martin
Contemporary fantasists all bow politely to Lord Tennyson and Papa Tolkien, then step around them to go back to the original texts for inspiration--and there are a lot of those texts. We have King Arthur and his gang in English; we've got Siegfried and Brunhild in German; Charlemagne and Roland in French; El Cid in Spanish; Sigurd the Volsung in Icelandic; and assorted 'myghtiest Knights on lyfe' in a half-dozen other cultures. Without shame, we pillage medieval romance for all we're worth.
Life is very full of sex, or should be. As much as I admire Tolkien - and I do, he was a giant of fantasy and a giant of literature, and I think he wrote a great book that will be read for many years - you do have to wonder where all those Hobbits came from, since you can't imagine Hobbits having sex, can you? Well, sex is an important part of who we are. It drives us, it motivates us, it makes us do sometimes very noble things and it makes us do sometimes incredibly stupid things. Leave it out, and you've got an incomplete world.
George R. R. Martin
My mother used to read to me every night when I was little. We got through most of the major fantasy books of that time. The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis were my favorites and, later, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I started making dolls to fill in the gaps of the dolls I had. Obviously we couldn't buy centaurs and fauns and elves and fairies, so I made them to play with the normal dolls I had. I must have been about six years old when I started making fantasy dolls.
Just then, just when I thought I would be free from the repeated blows to my tender head of the Stupidity Hammer, the Stupidity Hammer rose up from the shining screen, drew back, whirled hugely, and with great force and might and main slammed me right between the eyes so my brain squirted out my ears a yard past my shoulders in both directions. Bilbo does not seal the barrels. I will wait for you to recover in case you just got the sensation of a Stupidity Hammer clonking you from the page. Then I will repeat myself, because it is so dumb you might not believe me: Bilbo does not seal the barrels. He leaves the tops open. - The Desolation of Tolkien
John C. Wright
I love the word 'fantasy'... but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination. I do not love it for the idea of commercial fantasy. Commercial fantasy, for good or for ill, tends to drag itself through already existing furrows, furrows dug by J. R. R. Tolkien or Robert E. Howard, leaving a world of stories behind it, excluding so much. There was so much fine fiction, fiction allowing free reign to the imagination of the author, beyond the shelves of genre. That was what we wanted to read.
The second thing you have to do to be a writer is to keep on writing. Don't listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won't be one of them. Don't listen to your friend who says you are better that Tolkien and don't have to try any more. Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them. I meet far too many people who are going to be writers 'someday.' When they are out of high school, when they've finished college, after the wedding, when the kids are older, after I retire... That is such a trap You will never have any more free time than you do right now. So, whether you are 12 or 70, you should sit down today and start being a writer if that is what you want to do. You might have to write on a notebook while your kids are playing on the swings or write in your car on your coffee break. That's okay. I think we've all 'been there, done that.' It all starts with the writing.
Snow-melt in the stream: Mama Nature turning winter's storms into nourishment for the soil, fecundity, and beauty. This is what I must now learn to do with the stormy weather I've been passing through: turn it into beauty, turn it into art, so new life can germinate and bloom. One example of a creative artist who does this is my friend Jane Yolen, who wrote her exquisite book of poems The Radiation Sonnets while her husband was undergoing treatment for the cancer that would eventually claim his life. This is what all artists must do: take whatever life gives us and "alchemize" it into our art (either directly and autobiographically, as in Jane's book, or indirectly; whatever approach works best), turning darkness into light, spinning straw into gold, transforming pain and hardship into what J.R.R. Tolkien called 'a miraculous grace.
I've been actively engaged with mythic imagery ever since I picked up that Rackham book, but it really came into focus for me when I moved from London to the country. As I walked the extraordinary landscape of Dartmoor, I looked at the trees and the rocks and the hills and I could see the personality in those forms... then they metamorphosed under my pencil into faeries, goblins and trolls. After Alan and I published "Faeries", he moved on from the subject of faery folklore to illustrate Tolkien and other literary works... while I discovered that my own exploration of Faerieland had only just begun. In the countryside, the old stories seemed to come alive around me; the faeries were a tangible aspect of the landscape, pulses of spirit, emotion, and light. They "insisted" on taking form under my pencil, emerging on the page before me cloaked in archetypal shapes drawn from nature and myth. I'd attracted their attention, you see, and they hadn't finished with me yet.