Is there still a market for (highly) derivative Tolkienian fantasy?


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Does anyone read "THUS BEGINS THE SEEMINGLY HOPELESS QUEST OF A SIMPLE MAN AGAINST THE GREATEST POWER OF EVIL THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN"
without a groan nowadays?


Hmm, I was thinking of re-reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever early next year...


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Oh I remember Thomas Covenant.

Thomas Covenant: [Rolls Dice] I get a 1.
DM: You defeat [insert ur-viles/bad guys]/Bluff/Intimidate/sneak past them.

Repeat lots, over three/six/more books.

LATER
Thomas Covenant: [Rolls Dice] Two 1's! That's a confirmed critical failure!
DM: You win!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

It all depends on the author and how it's handled/spun.

The problem with such stories is that most cultures have some kind of derivation of that story in their mythology. The Hero's Adventure,as Joseph Campbell put it, is imbedded in most adventure stories. It isn't just Tolkein or cliche'.

So depends more on if I like the characters; if its done as comedy or tragedy, etc. For example, I find hard it to slog through Donaldson's writing; and Covenant isn't someone I find to be a hero I like. That being said, the ideas of questioning the reality around him and the notions of power and responsibility that are in the book make it interesting.

So...not sure if that answers the question. I think it might help someone who's never read Tolkien or such to get to understand fantasy literature.


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I think a relevant answer is:

"Do people still see TV-series about psychologically disparate but highly professional people employed at various law enforcement organizations and follow their struggle to make the world a better place by dealing with the criminal of the week?"

Certain parts of a work come from the genre of the work, and thus WILL have some similarity with all or most other works of the same genre. What you describe is merely a very small and unspecific part of a fantasy novel that, yes, is getting pretty old by now, but still "comes with the territory" and people read past without even absorbing it.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder PF Special Edition, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Doodlebug Anklebiter wrote:
Hmm, I was thinking of re-reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever early next year...

That's one series you'll never see on the screen. Nor any Stephen Donaldson series for that matter.

Spoiler:
After all how marketable is a hero who rapes the heroine in the second book, and then has an abusive relationship with the daughter of said rape in the third? I won't even start on the Mirror series.


Doodlebug Anklebiter wrote:
Hmm, I was thinking of re-reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever early next year...

There's a new Covenant series in progress. I think the last book should be out next year.

I don't think of them as highly derivative though. Sure, there's a Dark Lord(tm) and a fantasy world and that's about where the similarity ends. Covenant is far darker and far more about exploring Covenant's depression than about anything like Tolkien. Donaldson likes completely screwed up characters more than pretty much anyone else in SF/F.


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I don't read anything where the first sentence is all caps. Just a personal thing.


LazarX wrote:
Doodlebug Anklebiter wrote:
Hmm, I was thinking of re-reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever early next year...

That's one series you'll never see on the screen. Nor any Stephen Donaldson series for that matter.

Spoiler:
After all how marketable is a hero who rapes the heroine in the second book, and then has an abusive relationship with the daughter of said rape in the third? I won't even start on the Mirror series.

Spoiler:
First and second book respectively. And she's not really the heroine. More of a bit part.

Nor does it get brushed over. Both come back to haunt him again and again.

OTOH, who knows? It's not like Game of Thrones is all sweetness and light.:)
Covenant is probably too dark and complex though.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder PF Special Edition, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
thejeff wrote:
LazarX wrote:
Doodlebug Anklebiter wrote:
Hmm, I was thinking of re-reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever early next year...

That's one series you'll never see on the screen. Nor any Stephen Donaldson series for that matter.

** spoiler omitted **

** spoiler omitted **

OTOH, who knows? It's not like Game of Thrones is all sweetness and light.:)
Covenant is probably too dark and complex though.

The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.


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LazarX wrote:
The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.

Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.


Qorin wrote:
LazarX wrote:
The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.
Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.

Or when China Mieville described him as the "wen on the arse of fantasy literature". Best. Quote. EVAR.


THOMAS COVENANT isn't derivative of Tolkien, though. Maybe deconstructive and revisionist, but it's certainly not a bald take on the same idea without much in the way of spin.

As for if a much more blatantly Tolkien-derivative work can be popular, sure. In fact, there's been a bit of a backlash against 'grimdark' fantasy in the last few years and we've seen authors like Michael J. Sullivan and Brandon Sanderson (arguably Patrick Rothfuss as well) taking fantasy off in a different, less grim and bloody direction (though none of them are really ripping off Tolkien). Whilst the success of GAME OF THRONES and a few authors like Joe Abercrombie have made dark fantasy more acceptable, you're still much more likely to sell more copies of a series if you're more traditional and less bloody.

Quote:
There's a new Covenant series in progress. I think the last book should be out next year.

Only if by 'next year', you mean 'in five days time' :) THE LAST DARK is published on 17 October.

Quote:
Or when China Mieville described him as the "wen on the arse of fantasy literature". Best. Quote. EVAR.

Slightly undone when Mieville later backpedalled, said Tolkien was actually pretty good and he was talking only about the number of authors out there ripping Tolkien off, not that he didn't like Tolkien himself. He then went on to wax lyrical about Tolkien's amazing monsters.

Quote:
Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.

Or Luthien, who overcame Morgoth himself with magic and beat up Sauron (with the help of a magical hound). Or Elwing, who basically saved Middle-earth by taking the Silmaril to Earendil and using it to call on the Valar for aid.


Werthead wrote:
THOMAS COVENANT isn't derivative of Tolkien, though. Maybe deconstructive and revisionist, but it's certainly not a bald take on the same idea without much in the way of spin.

That's probably a better way of looking at it.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder PF Special Edition, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Qorin wrote:
LazarX wrote:
The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.
Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.

Considering that the books were written in the '30's by an old fashioned Oxford Don, it's kind of silly to criticize them for not conforming to modern standards. If you're going to throw away Tolkien for being a chauvinist, then you're going have to shove the bulk of Western culture down the same hole with him.


@Werthead: Huh. Ok. Poor Mieville. I preferred the intensity of the initial comment. Thanks for the heads up, I'll have to make qualifying notes every time I continue to post this most excellent and accurate quote.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder PF Special Edition, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Werthead wrote:
Or Luthien, who overcame Morgoth himself with magic and beat up Sauron (with the help of a magical hound). Or Elwing, who basically saved Middle-earth by taking the Silmaril to Earendil and using it to call on the Valar for aid.

Neither of which really were feats of active heroism, mostly passive, which was the acceptable role for heroic women in the day. Luthien fascinates Morgoth with her music, so that the boyfriend can pull his shennanigans. Elwing takes the Silmaril to the hubby so that He can save the world and call on the Valar with it. In none of the books are the women primary actors themselves. Save for the one instance of Eomer who's a deliberate case of a woman acting against type when she takes down the Nazgul King. She's then promptly put on a bus for the rest of the series, appearing only once more for Aragorn to give her the big letdown.


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I don't think there's any need to qualify your quote. It's normal for artists to malign those who paved the way for them posthumously, because they're artists, after all. Had Tolkien been an artist, he probably would have talked trash about whoever came before him.


@Qorin. No need. Just makes it more fun and interesting.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32

Judging by most bestseller lists I've seen, fantasy novels based on Tolkien (or D&D, for that matter) don't have much traction these days. Over the past decade, the majority of fantasy bestsellers have been contemporary fantasy novels (paranormal, urban fantasy, etc.).


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Geez... again?

Tolkien did not invent the basic plot of Lord of the Rings. In fact one of Tolkien's contemporaries published the definitive analysis on mythic story telling and it is well known that he and Tolkien knew each other and both were examining the same issue, although Tolkien was examining mythic story telling from a linguistic angle.

Go read Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With A Thousand Faces."

Since that book, or derivatives of it, are still being used by novelists, script writers and game designers as a fundamental textbook today, it should be clear that stories which follow it are not going away.


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Qorin wrote:
I don't think there's any need to qualify your quote. It's normal for artists to malign those who paved the way for them posthumously, because they're artists, after all. Had Tolkien been an artist, he probably would have talked trash about whoever came before him.

Tolkien was an artist. And he treated those who came before him with respect bordering on reverence.

Tolkien not only was aware that his story telling was in the mythic tradition, he was very deliberate about it. He viewed his story as what he called "true myth" which was a way of saying that he was weaving the myths and legends of millennia into a single story that may not have been "accurate" but that allowed the reader to see a deeper truth that was revealed through the lens of his story.

In fact he put this concept INTO his story. And had his protagonists even talk about it. When Sam and Frodo are realizing that the Phial of Galadriel is a fragment of the light from a Silmaril, which in turn was a portion of the light from the trees of Valinar. Tolkien used this as a literary technique to demonstrate how the story was part of a larger story and that fragments of the older story remained in the newer.

Tolkien's story telling had layers and layers. I'd love to see more Tolkien style stories.

The Exchange

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Adamantine Dragon wrote:
Tolkien's story telling had layers and layers. I'd love to see more Tolkien style stories.

Agreed. Tolkien is actually pretty complex stuff and is maligned mainly because the subsequent knock-offs are not, and some people see the superficial similarities without seeing the deeper differences.


I assume this thread was less about whether there is a market for stories that use the structure that Tolkien uses

Versus

Stories which shamelessly rip off elements of Tolkien

i.e. Darklords with an army of always evil mooks, standard dwarf/elf/hobbit races, standard pseudo Europe setting, etc

Sovereign Court

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Oceanshieldwolf wrote:
Qorin wrote:
LazarX wrote:
The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.
Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.
Or when China Mieville described him as the "wen on the arse of fantasy literature". Best. Quote. EVAR.

I'd love to see you put forward a coherent critique of Tolkein, rather than throwing lazy insults.

Personally, I found your comment a wen on the arse of these boards...

See how empty that is?

Sovereign Court

jocundthejolly wrote:

Does anyone read "THUS BEGINS THE SEEMINGLY HOPELESS QUEST OF A SIMPLE MAN AGAINST THE GREATEST POWER OF EVIL THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN"

without a groan nowadays?

Honestly, Tolkein is the only writer I can think of who has done this.

Usually the heroes who take on world-shattering evil have secret, special magic powers (Harry Potter, Sparrowhawk), elite training and/or vast experience.


GeraintElberion wrote:
jocundthejolly wrote:

Does anyone read "THUS BEGINS THE SEEMINGLY HOPELESS QUEST OF A SIMPLE MAN AGAINST THE GREATEST POWER OF EVIL THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN"

without a groan nowadays?

Honestly, Tolkein is the only writer I can think of who has done this.

Usually the heroes who take on world-shattering evil have secret, special magic powers (Harry Potter, Sparrowhawk), elite training and/or vast experience.

Though in the Tolkienesque stuff they usually don't know about their special powers. To start with at least.

I'd be kind of curious as to what works the OP (or anyone else) counts as "(highly) derivative Tolkeinian fantasy".

If you get too specific there's very little and never really has been much. If you get too general there's a ton of it and it's as successful as ever.


It's interesting reading this stuff because in the 1970's,early 80's there was all kinds of fantasy coming out, and no one accused it of Tolkien influence. Lost swords series by Fred saberhagen, the Gor series, all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy hyrids like Jerry Pournelle's Janisaries..etc..

Then in early 1980's you get the Shannara series starting which had some Tolkieneske leanings, you get The Belgariad by Eddings (a party of exceptional heroes band together to guide a young boy on his desintey to defeat the evil gord king of the east). You Get the Fvionnar tapestry by Kay, which again uses the evil dark god theme. Thankfully the riftwar saga by Fiest was more a D&D campaign turned into a book. But in any case it seems to me that the Tolkien type books gained a lot of momentum in the late 1980's ..I enjoyed theme but I do think for every 1 series done well, there were 10 published that were forgetable. (Deathgate cycle I am looking at you)

And so by the mid 1990's, I was definitely ready for a change, and that is why a game of thrones was such a shockingly good book. I suspect if I picked it up and read it today rather in 1998 I would not find it as good, because now grimdark is overdone. Am I ready for new Tolkieneske quests to overcome the evil overlord. Probibly, after all, I re read CS Lewis about once a year (seriously, those are thin books, I can go through the entire Narnia saga in less than a week).


There is a pretty huge spectrum of derivative work, from the Iron tower series that borders on plagiarism/fanfic, to Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, Thorn, which has a lot of the tropes but (IMHO) rises above them. So good question...what does the OP consider derivative.


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GeraintElberion wrote:
Oceanshieldwolf wrote:
Qorin wrote:
LazarX wrote:
The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.
Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.
Or when China Mieville described him as the "wen on the arse of fantasy literature". Best. Quote. EVAR.

I'd love to see you put forward a coherent critique of Tolkein, rather than throwing lazy insults.

Personally, I found your comment a wen on the arse of these boards...

See how empty that is?

I don't need to. Master Mieville's quote is as close as you'll get from me. Way too lazy and uninspired by the subject matter to contemplate coherence. But you will get some completely disrespectful but honest appraisal. And for what it's worth, I like your quote. Mind if I use it? I don't find it empty at all. At least you didn't say I was a wen. Maybe that quote is a bit harsh....

Look, regarding LotR and Hobibt et all I read them and loved them. A long time ago. Now I find them incredibly tedious and boring. Like most fantasy. The elegiac praise of his weaving of true myth and coherence through his stories, or the presaging of the death of magic and the rise of industrialization just doesn't really cut it for me. Basically a cheesemonger goes off to fight the corporate bad guys, has some moments of introspection ("If I say Gollum is bad, then really I'm saying I'm bad?!?! Good grief. Sam, pass me a cony, or better yet, a brace of conies"), fails himself grandly, can't do the deed, feels all emo about that for a bit and allows us all to ponder the wondrous tapestry that is the human/hobbit/existential condition and then goes to heaven with the sky-fairies.

*I even read some of the Books of Lost Tales, all of the Silmarillion and all of the Unfinished Tales. I also was impressed to see the scholarly volumes from Christopher Tolkien that followed the evolution of the story and the mutations of the characters along the way - like an early version where Farmer Maggot was a thoroughly dark and evil character.

* I do have a soft spot for the Unfinished Tales sections on the Wose and the "other" Wizards and where they went and what they did. Except for Radagast.

* I cried when Boromir died. That was nicely written.

* I love everything I.C.E. did with Middle Earth, especially the weird Wose-cousins in the Suza Samar region of Far Harad. Loved Dark Mage of Rhudaur. I actually really like Rhudaur for some reason, but I'm sure that's more to do with I.C.E. than Tolkien, and the Kin Strife sourcebook is way cool, but then it was heavily based on WW2 experiences.

* I appeared as a Wild Man/Dunlending in the Two Towers movie, and worked on parts of all three movies, including making Gondorian shields, and casting Sauron's pinky in foam... The movies made me very sad. Though at times visually splendid (loved the Nazgul - played Hackysack with those guys, very tall!) they are even worse than the books, and the first Hobbit movie was an execrable, made-to-be-a-console-game piece of overextended chase scene regurgitant rubbish. But I guess I should tell you how I really feel. ;)

* I cried during the last scenes of the Third LotR movie when it was time for everyone to go to the Grey Havens. That might have been Annie Lennox singing that did that though. I also cry in almost every movie when those terribly terrible music directors, cinematographers and screenwriters (and sometimes, actors) move all the parts together just so, at just the right time to evoke the .... there.... that's it.... time to cry moment. Got him. OSW is at it again. Get him a tissue and dry his eyes.

As for judging Tolkien by his antecedents:
I remember standing in a bookshop in the fantasy section in the mid-late eighties and noticing that almost every single book was either a trilogy or had a prophecy or both. From then I started looking for the single works, and those not signposted from the beginning. There are some very rare gems in the genre.

None of that is Tolkien's fault. That is entirely the fault of the buboes and pustules that came later and put stolid pen to derivative paper without evincing a stroke of creativity.


Read R Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing


Some people here are using sarcasm to point out that Tolkien DID have strong female characters in his work. And for some reason, many of you are not getting it and are responding either as if you agree he did not have those characters (he did), or angrily as if the sarcasm was meant to be taken seriously.

I find that very interesting. The Professor is an interesting topic on these boards. He seems to bring out the worst in a lot of people.

Personally, I love his work. Whether you think there is or is not a market for after-Tolkien derivations of his work, I don't think anybody can honestly deny the historical importance of his work regarding fantasy literature, and myth-making. Some of you will out of spite, but you'll be being dishonest with yourselves. You might not like what he created, and that's fine. But our individual opinions are the final word only for us as individuals.

I also suspect some of the critics haven't really read his work or much of it, and just have some issues with latent envy.


MMCJawa wrote:
There is a pretty huge spectrum of derivative work, from the Iron tower series that borders on plagiarism/fanfic, to Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, Thorn, which has a lot of the tropes but (IMHO) rises above them. So good question...what does the OP consider derivative.

To me, the real derivative stuff was from the '70s and '80s.

Terry Brooks and David Eddings come to mind. I never really was into either, even though I sampled much of their works.

Not sure what the OP is thinking. More recent fantasy trends seem to follow light fare like RPG-style adventure yarns, or Harry Potter-eqsue stuff aimed at tweens, which are more like fantasy soap operas than actual quests. Female characters are "in" right now, as are female authors, and that stuff is usually aimed at the vampire or steampunk crowds. I don't see a lot of quest stuff on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

I'm starting to suspect somebody just wanted to start another Tolkien hate thread.


I'd say there is still a pretty strong Epic/High Fantasy market. If I go into Hastings or Barnes and Noble, the fantasy selection is still sizable. The Harry Potter and Supernatural Fiction isn't really aimed at the same market, although there is the occasional bit of overlap (Dresden Files, for instant)

It's just, judging from the selection, most of it is pulling from George R.R. Martin rather than Tolkien, or at least is heavily filtering Tolkien through the latter.


Whether or not you like Tolkien, if you like modern fantasy you have to thank him for creating the modern fantasy (a fantasy story set in an original fantasy setting). Pre Tolkien fantasy almost always involved real world people stumbling upon fantasy realms (ala Narnia) or were set in the real world (ala Harry Potter). I Personally like all kinds of fantasy but I love exploring those new fantasy worlds whether they are drk and gritty or bright and cheery or inbetween.

But speaking of direct ripoffs I remember a series in the 80s ( name escapes me) but it was like a shot for shot remake. Little people from a land surrounded by a thorn wall. Dark lord attacks. Go on journey. Through dwarf mine, etc. Wish I could remember. I think the "hobbits" we're called Burroughs or something.

The Exchange

Black Dougal wrote:

It's interesting reading this stuff because in the 1970's,early 80's there was all kinds of fantasy coming out, and no one accused it of Tolkien influence. Lost swords series by Fred saberhagen, the Gor series, all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy hyrids like Jerry Pournelle's Janisaries..etc..

Then in early 1980's you get the Shannara series starting which had some Tolkieneske leanings, you get The Belgariad by Eddings (a party of exceptional heroes band together to guide a young boy on his desintey to defeat the evil gord king of the east). You Get the Fvionnar tapestry by Kay, which again uses the evil dark god theme. Thankfully the riftwar saga by Fiest was more a D&D campaign turned into a book. But in any case it seems to me that the Tolkien type books gained a lot of momentum in the late 1980's ..I enjoyed theme but I do think for every 1 series done well, there were 10 published that were forgetable. (Deathgate cycle I am looking at you)

And so by the mid 1990's, I was definitely ready for a change, and that is why a game of thrones was such a shockingly good book. I suspect if I picked it up and read it today rather in 1998 I would not find it as good, because now grimdark is overdone. Am I ready for new Tolkieneske quests to overcome the evil overlord. Probibly, after all, I re read CS Lewis about once a year (seriously, those are thin books, I can go through the entire Narnia saga in less than a week).

Tolien certainly didn't invent "fantasy", which as a genre had existed probably since Weird Tales and has obvious antecedents back way beyond that. But it was probably a fairly different beast before Tolkien's influence began to be felt in the genre, largely due to the different commercial vehicles by which it had come out previously - short stories from magazines, stand-alone short novels and so on.

But the Lord of the Rings was considered by its publishers pretty uncommercial and it didn't sell well until they split it into three separate volumes in the 60s. Certainly, Tolkien wasn't writing for a genre fantasy market, he was expressing his muse in pretty much the way he felt like doing it. But it is Tolkien who really popularised fantasy, as opposed to science fiction which was pre-eminent in the period leading up to then, and it is after Tolkien you start seing a lot of fantasy series with a single continuous story split across several books. I'm sure people can find examples prior to Tolkien of such series, but they became much more common afterwards, along with the stuff like elves and so on.

Also, the book market changed. Ever noticed how novels from the 70s tend to be shorter? Books are much longer now as their increased size gives more "shelf presence" (maybe less relevant now most books are sold by Amazon, but certainly important in the 80s and 90s) so we start getting these doorstop fantasy books (along with doorstop murder mysteries, thrillers and so on). And I doubt the publishers failed to notice that series of books, like films with sequels, probably help sales rather than a series of standalones.


thejeff wrote:
Werthead wrote:
THOMAS COVENANT isn't derivative of Tolkien, though. Maybe deconstructive and revisionist, but it's certainly not a bald take on the same idea without much in the way of spin.
That's probably a better way of looking at it.

[Shrugs]

I remember playing a fun game with Lord Foul's Bane, drawing a list of analogues between them, but my memory's a bit hazy [bubble bubble bubble].

One of the reasons I was planning on reading them again.


Numerian wrote:
Read R Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing

A poor, poor friend of mine did. He called it the Plot of Nothing. It did seem rather derivative and kinda carbon copied from a mix of the Bible and LotR. No, I haven't read it, so I am possibly harsh and unfair.


Quote:
Had Tolkien been an artist, he probably would have talked trash about whoever came before him.

He did. He apparently disliked Robert E. Howard and utterly loathed C.S. Lewis's NARNIA books (despite Lewis being a good friend). OTOH, he was a big fan of Isaac Asimov and, IIRC, liked Dunsany and Eddison.

Quote:
Over the past decade, the majority of fantasy bestsellers have been contemporary fantasy novels (paranormal, urban fantasy, etc.).

Not exactly. The biggest-selling fantasy authors of the last ten years are (roughly) J.K. Rowling, Robert Jordan, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King (for THE DARK TOWER series), Brandson Sanderson, Bob Salvatore and George R.R. Martin. Paranormal/urban fantasy is right up there with Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer, but traditional fantasy still has a lot of traction: amongst the 'dark' epic fantasy authors, only GRRM has been hugely successful (and Joe Abercrombie a lot more modestly). Pat Rothfuss has made a huge start and a number of 'old reliables', like Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks, still sell really well.

Urban fantasy and paranormal stuff probably outsells epic fantasy overall, but that's because there's an absolute ton of it being published. Combined with the massive outliers (Meyer, Harris) and a bunch of authors doing very well at a lower level (most notably Butcher), that explains its success. Epic fantasy probably does better by book, but there's less of it being published.

And yes, I count HARRY POTTER as epic fantasy: magic, a Dark Lord, quests, magical items and a sort-of secondary world (even if there's more of an appearance of the primary world than normal).

Quote:

Honestly, Tolkein is the only writer I can think of who has done this.

Usually the heroes who take on world-shattering evil have secret, special magic powers (Harry Potter, Sparrowhawk), elite training and/or vast experience.

This is true to a point, but there are still a lot of books out there that do feature an untrained, callow hero up against the world: Simon in MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN; Belgarion in THE BELGARIAD; Min, Perrin and Mat in THE WHEEL OF TIME; probably quite a few others if I sat down and went through them.

Quote:
Then in early 1980's you get the Shannara series starting which had some Tolkieneske leanings, you get The Belgariad by Eddings (a party of exceptional heroes band together to guide a young boy on his desintey to defeat the evil gord king of the east). You Get the Fvionnar tapestry by Kay, which again uses the evil dark god theme. Thankfully the riftwar saga by Fiest was more a D&D campaign turned into a book. But in any case it seems to me that the Tolkien type books gained a lot of momentum in the late 1980's ..I enjoyed theme but I do think for every 1 series done well, there were 10 published that were forgetable. (Deathgate cycle I am looking at you)

The history of epic fantasy is that basically LORD OF THE RINGS came out in 1954-55, but only got really big (moreso in the States) after it hit paperback in 1964-65, especially when Ace Books printed an unauthorised edition and it became a big news story. You had quite a few years of authors not really doing anything similar, and then in May and June 1977 you had two books published within weeks of one another (and STAR WARS) which revisited Tolkien: Stephen Donaldson's LORD FOUL'S BANE (the first THOMAS COVENANT book) which was a deconstructionist work, and Terry Brooks's THE SWORD OF SHANNARA, which was more of a, erm, 'straight tribute' (cough ripoff cough). Both were bestsellers, which triggered everything that came after.

You then had authors doing things a little bit differently: Feist's MAGICIAN is actually quite a bit inversion of the things Tolkien did, such as not having a proper bad guy (everyone is a victim of circumstance, though some try to take advantage of it like the Tsurani Warlord). Eddings's BELGARIAD was inspired by LotR's financial success, as Eddings cheerfully admitted, but the series itself does mix things up a bit: no elves, no dwarves, his Gandalf having a female counterpart etc. Glen Cook's BLACK COMPANY and David Gemmell's DRENAI books then both introduced elements of moral ambiguity and gritty (or grittier) realism, with Cook being influenced by Vietnam-style stories. Then later on you had authors more consciously taking on Tolkien's same ideals in big series, like Tad Williams with MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN and then Robert Jordan with THE WHEEL OF TIME. Then you had authors trying to do things differently, like George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Paul Kearney, Scott Bakker, Joe Abercrombie etc.

Of course, epic fantasy isn't the only game in town. You also had the sword & sorcery/pulp adventure school of fantasy that predated Tolkien (arguably being perfected by Robert E. Howard in the early 1930s with CONON and KULL) which descended down through the likes of Moorcock and Fritz Leiber and arguably were a much bigger influence on D&D and, more recently, authors like Scott Lynch and Richard Morgan's fantasy work. There's also the 'Dying Earth' subgenre created (more or less) by Jack Vance and followed-up on by M. John Harrison, Gene Wolfe and, most recently, Mark Charan Newton. And then the New Weird (China Mieville, Steph Swainston etc), which basically borrows a bit from everything and mixes it up.

Quote:
Read R Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing

Word up. Bakker is challenging but also writing the most complex and sophisticated take on epic fantasy ever attempted (Steven Erikson's MALAZAN series may not be far off though). The use of metaphysics, quantum theory, SF ideas and using logical rules and science to explain religion and ideology is quite overwhelming. He does, for the most part, succeed in keeping the story and characters in central view though.

Quote:
I remember playing a fun game with Lord Foul's Bane, drawing a list of analogues between them, but my memory's a bit hazy [bubble bubble bubble].

Donaldson was certainly influenced/inspired by Tolkien, that's not in question. But the conclusions he drew were very different from Tolkien, and the plot, world and characters are very different. THOMAS COVENANT has been described as LORD OF THE RINGS if Tolkien had followed through on the idea of Frodo being destroyed by his journey (despite winning) in much greater detail and then through numerous sequel volumes during which things get more miserable for him.

It's not a happy read, that's for sure.

Quote:
A poor, poor friend of mine did. He called it the Plot of Nothing. It did seem rather derivative and kinda carbon copied from a mix of the Bible and LotR.

Bakker isn't for everybody, but that's a pretty massive over-simplification of what the series is about. Bakker's certainly interested in religion (though his bigger interest in the books is exploring religion as a part of psychology and society) and he was certainly a fan of Tolkien, but the series is about much more than that.

I'm also uncertain how a series which features massive battles in every volume, substantial character development and plot revelations can be called 'nothing'. He's certainly much faster-paced than Tolkien, Jordan, Martin or most other fantasy authors out there (not as much as say Abercrombie, Lynch, Salvatore or Sanderson though).


Qorin wrote:
I don't think there's any need to qualify your quote. It's normal for artists to malign those who paved the way for them posthumously, because they're artists, after all. Had Tolkien been an artist, he probably would have talked trash about whoever came before him.

In one of his more well-known critical essays (on Beowulf), Tolkien uses, as an allegory for the process of mythmaking and storytelling, a man building a new tower using stones from the ruins of the previous era's fallen halls.

Not to say he was full of praise for all other literature (even that which inspired him), which he certainly was not, but I think overall that whilst standing on the shoulders of giants he seems not to have felt the need to pretend otherwise. He frankly seemed to enjoy acknowledging his debts.


I think it is fair to say that Tolkien did not consider himself to be writing in the same genre as Lovecraft or Howard. He saw himself following in the footsteps of the writers of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, the Iliad and the great Norse myths.

So it's not inconsistent to say that Tolkien appreciated the artists that went before him, but disdained artists whose work he considered not to be in the same genre.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
jocundthejolly wrote:

Does anyone read "THUS BEGINS THE SEEMINGLY HOPELESS QUEST OF A SIMPLE MAN AGAINST THE GREATEST POWER OF EVIL THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN"

without a groan nowadays?

If the prose is well written (which can be done in a large variety of ways), the characters are interesting and the plot makes sense, I can heartily enjoy such a tale.

I'm happily far away from being an RP hipster who must hate everything about traditional fantasy.

Sovereign Court

Qorin wrote:
LazarX wrote:
The Donaldson books are too much thinking not enough action. Even the Tolkien movies needed the addition of female action heroes, something that did not exist in the old man's work.
Imagine Tolkien's fury when he discovered someone snuck Eowyn into his work.

DAMN YOU JACKSON!


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Mike Franke wrote:
Whether or not you like Tolkien, if you like modern fantasy you have to thank him for creating the modern fantasy (a fantasy story set in an original fantasy setting). Pre Tolkien fantasy almost always involved real world people stumbling upon fantasy realms (ala Narnia) or were set in the real world (ala Harry Potter).

Yeah, like CAS's "Zothique" stories! And Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros! And REH's "Hyborian Age"!


Pretty much all of the biggest authors built on what came before them: Tolkien was indeed preceded by Eddison, Lord Dunsany and Howard (though CONAN and KULL were somewhat different types of story), just as George R.R. Martin was very much building on what the likes of Glen Cook and Stephen Donaldson (even Tad Williams) had done before him.

The secret is to take what has been done before take it to the next level, either though sheer scale (as Martin did) or by combining it with other elements and traditions: Tolkien fusing secondary world fantasy with real-world mythology and legends for example.


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My recent reading has brought me to what tvttropes calls the only existing Gothic Jungle Opera.

Weird shiznit. I like it. No Gandalf stand-ins.


Kirth Gersen wrote:
Mike Franke wrote:
Whether or not you like Tolkien, if you like modern fantasy you have to thank him for creating the modern fantasy (a fantasy story set in an original fantasy setting). Pre Tolkien fantasy almost always involved real world people stumbling upon fantasy realms (ala Narnia) or were set in the real world (ala Harry Potter).
Yeah, like CAS's "Zothique" stories! And Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros! And REH's "Hyborian Age"!

For better or worse, Tolkien has pretty much become the "Grandfather of Modern Fantasy" if only through higher profile. I can go into any bookstore in the country and find Tolkien. I have never seen Eddison and Clark Ashton Smith anthologies in those same stores. And REH's stuff also tends to get a lot less room; Most of the books of his I have seen are usually linked to a movie release.


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Beside the point; I was rebutting the assertion that Tolkien was somehow responsible for starting the whole "fantasy characters in a fantasy setting" thing, which is patently false on the face of it: the Norse mythology he himself referenced had fantasy characters in a fantasy setting.


Yeah I know I was more just responding that for people born post/~ 1980 (including me), Tolkien is usually are entry point into Fantasy, which tends to make us give him a greater emphasis.

He wasn't the founder of fantasy, but did originate a lot of the tropes. I doubt dwarves and elves, at least the way they are traditionally presented, would be as commonly found in fantasy without Tolkien.


He did inspire a lot of copycats. (I still vastly prefer the elves from Dunsany and Poul Anderson, but accept that I'm in a minority there.)

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