Fantasy today: What would Tolkien think?

If Professor Tolkien were [del]undead[/del] alive today, what would he think of contemporary fantasy novels?

I don’t know much about the man personally except his writing seems frightfully Victorian. Nobody in the Lord of the Rings bumps uglies for any reason except for high, noble love — there doesn’t seem to be any attraction. Would he approve of the lascivious covers and… well, the big-breasted women who routinely appear in fantasy novels if he were [del]at the stone of Erech[/del] alive today?

Also, his stories were meticulously planned worlds with amazingly detailed backgrounds, based on language and culture and with an eye toward historical myth. If he were [del]a Barrow-wight[/del] alive today, would he consider the fantasy books less than rigorous, or would he appreciate them for what they are?

It’s hard to say that some of the best epic fantasy today, (I’m thinking, of course, of A Song of Ice and Fire, is anything less than a meticulously planned world with amazingly detailed background. For that matter, whatever the (numerous) flaws of The Wheel of Time, it’s detailed to a slightly preposterous degree.

I can’t think of any fantasy series that goes into such excruciating depth as Middle Earth. The various Dungeons & Dragons settings and even Magic: The Gathering have long and even intricate histories, but a lot of it isn’t always fleshed out deeply. Setting aside Robert Jordan’s writing, the Wheel of Time series has come up with a fairly complete world, even including a regularly-used ‘ancient language’, which Tolkien would probably appreciate simply because it’s relatively original and doesn’t quite steal as blatantly from Middle Earth as 90% of modern fantasy does. Beyond that, I don’t know what Tolkien was like in life, so I can barely begin to extrapolate.

Check out Steven Erikson. Hugely detailed, and it sure seems so far that everything has been planned out from Day One.

Oh, and the books aren’t as dull as LotR.

-Joe, D’ing and R’ing

If Tolkein were alive today I’m thinking he’d want a damn royalty from 90% of the fantasy authors out there.

And God help TSR.

He’d need a time machine.

And then he’d get sued by Wells.

-Joe, :slight_smile:

What fantasy novels are you reading? I haven’t seen anything like that appear since the pulp fantasy of the early 80s, and 99% of that is instantly dismissable.

I think Tolkien would be a grumpy old bastard about most modern Fantasy, and would complain about how they’re not putting the due and proper care into their writing.

But I’m not a fan of Tolkien, and think his writing was overly loquacious, misogynistic, and inconsistent.

If he were alive today he’d think most (if not all) contemporary fantasy writing was total crap. Part of his motivation in creating Middle Earth was to make an imaginary “home” for English folklore – a sort of unifying meta-myth that tied together a bunch of different stories and legends into a coherent whole. Part of the reason that Middle Earth feels like such a real place is that Tolkien used real folktales as his source material, firmly anchoring his work in the English folklore tradition.

During his life he criticized both C. S. Lewis and Richard Wagner for (in his opinion) their misreading northern European folklore. So it’s very unlikely that he would look favorably on contemporary fantasy which is a complete hodge-podge of actual folklore and random invention. If he didn’t have much respect for Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, he would have far, far less for Lord Foul’s Bane or The Sword of Shannara.

Tolkien wasn’t a Victorian, he was a Medievalist. He would have hated all of modern fantasy, since he hated 99% of everything composed after 1395.

He would consider it mostly generic and derivative. He’d think the level of writing was pretty poor. But, then, he had high standards. Wasn’t always happy even with his own stuff…

I doubt the he would acknowledge that much modern fantasy was in the same milieu as his own work. Tolkien was attempting something much older, something that certainly predates the ersatz “English folklore tradition”.

I wasn’t thinking of any books in particular, really. I was just pointing out that modern fantasy novels actually acknowledge the human race has two genders — a principle that some authors have taken to, um, heart. :slight_smile:

I’ll give you loquacious. He strove for consistency, although he likely did not achieve it to his own exacting standard. I cannot accept misogyny; his two favourite characters were Luthien and Galadriel. Possibly he put them both on a pedestal, but there is a reason why his and his wifes gravestone bears the inscription Beren and Luthien.

Well, the cover of the first Steven Erickson book, one of the better and denser series in modern fantasy, looks like the cover of a bad porno.

Huh? That looks like a romance novel, sure. But a porno? Pffft.

I’ll see you a Gardens of the Moon and raise you a Slave Girl of Gor

Funny, my paperback’s cover is cropped where the woman isn’t even on it. Just the guy, the sky, and part of the horse.


Don’t get to thinking that Tolkien would have been shocked by today’s licentious fantasy; half the fantasy novels written in the 50’s and 60’s were softcore porn too.

I rather imagine that Tolkien would ignore most popular non-literary fantasy just as he ignored the popular mainstream entertainments of his own time. Tolkien didn’t despise pulp. He loved the works of E. R. Eddison, a very pulpy but extremely talented fantasy author from the 30’s. But Tolkien insisted on a real philosophical and theological message in his works. He strongly believed in the primacy of storytelling as a means of communicating truth. He viewed fantasy as a way of reconnecting to the myths of earlier eras, which, in his mind, held messages that modern society had forgotten about.

The Gor books were, well, let’s just say as a teen I ate them up. They had great story lines… yeah, that was it!

Major Tolkien Fan here. I have read most of his works, including his essays and letters and I have read many of his Bios.

I think **Struan ** has come the closest.

Modern Fantasy owes much to Tolkien, but few are even close to his exacting and time consuming standard. The Professor created a unique piece of work that will be as timeless as Shakespeare’s plays or Dante’s poems.
I know many find his stories slow and ponderous but you cannot please all.
His maps, languages and cosmology where never seen before in fantasy and I at least feel no one has match the depth of his world.

To the Op, the Professor would probably not approve of the more blatant sexuality of modern fantasy, but I doubt he would say anything in public. In his letters he might make a few polite dismissals of the modern fantasies, but he would not rail against them.


I always thought that Robert E Howard’s Hyboria, the setting for Conan, was a pretty rich milieu comparable to Middle Earth. In some ways I like it more - definitely as a teenager. I still enjoy reading the books and the comics, SSOC in particular, just for the pulp aspects. I wish someone would do a decent hardcore Conan series, but it would have to be on HBO to do it justice.