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history of tolkien-like fantasy


hatsoff

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This is a very difficult question to ask, because, firstly, what counts as "Tolkien-like" will be highly subjective, and secondly, the only other Tolkien-like series I have read is WoT, which gives me little to no frame of reference.  Nevertheless, I will try my best to ask.

 

 

What do I mean by "Tolkien-like"?  This is a bit subjective, but basically I mean a world which is earth-like but not earth, populated by different races (human and non-human, e.g. elves, trollocs, orcs, dwarves, etc.), technology comparable to that of the middle ages (i.e., bows and arrows, horses and carts, candles and lanterns, etc.), and where magic plays a central role in the plot.

 

Okay, so here are my questions.
 

(1)  What were the earliest few examples of novels published which were Tolkien-like?  I see that The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was published in 1960.  Was that Tolkien-like?  Anything earlier than that?  Any others around 1960?

 

(2)  At what point did Tolkien-like novels become common and/or popular?  Obviously, it must have been no later than the early 1990s, when Jordan's novels became so popular.  Were the 1980s Dragonlance novels popular? Were they Tolkien-like?  Were they the earliest popular Tolkien-like novels?

 
Obviously, what counts as "popular" or "common" is also subjective.  I understand that there may not be cut-and-dry answers to my questions, but hopefully you all can see what I'm getting at, and give me some helpful comments.
 
Thank you!
Edited by hatsoff
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This is an interesting article

 

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/12/22/sorry-tolkien-not-father-fantasy/pljM6NOC54JmFaqY8bzNSI/story.html

 

Search fantasy before Tolkien, you'll find many more.

 

Tolkien didn't invent the genre. And modern fantasy writers steal... Um... Are influenced by many writers than are not Tolkien.

 

Jordan definitely borrowed liberally from Tolkien, but there's a hell of a lot of dune in there, and assorted sundry other bits and pieces.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Oddly, a couple of months ago I finished an early draft of A History of Epic Fantasy. I'm currently working on the book version but you can read the blog version here. Part 1 is here.

 

I would say that the primary works of epic fantasy before Tolkien are as follows:

 

Phantastes (1858) by George MacDonald

The Well at the World's End (1896) by William Morris

The Worm Ouroboros (1922) by E.R. Eddison

The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) by Lord Dunsany

Kull the Conqueror (1927) by Robert E. Howard

Conan the Barbarian (1932-36) by Robert E. Howard

 

(1)  What were the earliest few examples of novels published which were Tolkien-like?  I see that The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was published in 1960.  Was that Tolkien-like?  Anything earlier than that?  Any others around 1960?

 

It's difficult to define what "Tolkien-like" is, as a lot of authors reacted against Tolkien and did things very differently whilst still remaining in the epic fantasy genre. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) by Ursula K. Le Guin and Deryni Rising (1970) by Katherine Kurtz were the first post-Tolkien epic fantasies which really started to do similar things to him in mixing history and fantasy, but they're not really much like LotR. In some respects, especially Earthsea, they're a reaction against Middle-earth.

 

(2)  At what point did Tolkien-like novels become common and/or popular?  Obviously, it must have been no later than the early 1990s, when Jordan's novels became so popular.  Were the 1980s Dragonlance novels popular? Were they Tolkien-like?  Were they the earliest popular Tolkien-like novels?

 

There were some epic fantasy novels in the 1950s and 1960s, but the explosion of explicit, Tolkien-influenced epic fantasy came in 1977 with The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks and Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson. The Sword of Shannara is a blatant Tolkien clone, but Lord Foul's Bane is a dark, revisionist take on what Tolkien was trying to do. The next explosion was in 1982 with Magician by Raymond E. Feist, Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings and Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr. Then in 1984 you had the Dragonlance novels by Weis and Hickman along with Legend by David Gemmell and The Black Company by Glen Cook.

 

The next really big evolution after that was in 1988 when Tad Williams released The Dragonbone Chair, the first volume of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy. This was the first fantasy novel which explicitly tried to do the same thing as Tolkien on the same (or even grander) scale. This was the book that popularised the really big "Epic Fantasy" saga which The Wheel of Time (which only started two years later) sits in.

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  • 8 months later...

        I fear Tolkien's name tends to be misused when people talk about Tolkien-like fantasy.  We're talking a man's lifelong work that he emphasized was based off of folktales and mythology so yes plenty of elves and demons and all sort fantasy existed long before him.  Honestly what I believe Tolkien brought to the fantasy world was bringing a very deeply and well fleshed out world and he used themes and character that resonated with the time and culture better than any fantasy writer before him.  He is no father of fantasy but he revolutionized the fantasy world because he brought it into the mainstream.  He wrote a wonderful story very, very well and when I think fantasy I think of Middle earth first and foremost.

         I honestly think if any fantasy writers owe anything to Tolkien or drew anything from him is the fact that he gave them a better shot at making it mainstream or "big" in the business of writing.  As some posters have said, many writers do copy or grow on his particular style or themes but even those Tolkien didn't invent.  If anything he only used a genre and writing style skillfully to bring a very enjoyable genre to the masses that were previously uninterested or turned off from the genre normally thought of as fairy-tales.

        He wrote a wonderful essay, which i believe was based off of a lecture, of his about fantasy writing that I highly recommend reading.  I have it in "The Tolkien Reader" and I believe it gives a great picture into how he viewed fantasy or "fairy-stories."  I believe people give him a lot more credit than needed as the father of fantasy but as a writer and "world creator" he is a master.

       Now as for good fantasy books I couldn't giver you very suggestions as I've only read a handful of decent fantasy series and a lot of bad ones.  One resent one that is decent that I've started reading is the "Unhewn Throne" trilogy.  I found it pretty good but not quite on par with Martin, Jordan, or Tolkien.

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