• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

The generic "Tolkien Rebrand"

Yora

Maester
I think that might be the real lineage. From Tolkien to Dungeons & Dragons and from there to anywhere else.
 

Insolent Lad

Maester
In many respects, Tolkien followed the lead of artist/writer/publisher/try-anything-creative William Morris who similarly created semi-medieval fantasy worlds that drew from Scandinavian mythology. And Eddison's Zimiavia (or the 'Mercury' of The Worm Ouroborus) predates Tolkien's published work. At least for myself, writers such as these (and plenty other old-timers) are a bigger influence than Tolkien (whose work is so connected to who we was that I would not attempt to emulate it).
 
Tolkien isn’t the father of fantasy, all fiction is fantasy if you get down to it, he’s the father of Epic Fantasy. The genre simply did not exist before Tolkien, and The Hobbit wouldn’t really qualify, it only becoming “epic” if you include it with LoTR. Now, people like myself will short hand epic fantasy with just fantasy, because that’s what I’m talking about, and much of the time I only add qualifiers when discussing other forms of fantasy.

What is really weird to me is when people conflate D&D with Tolkien... D&D owes heavily to Tolkien, but it’s just funny when people start blaming Tolkien for what D&D created from his inspiration.
 
Last edited:
My retort:

I was unaware that Tolkien had a wizard acting like a private detective in Chicago.

Or:

That's cool. I was unaware that Tolkien had magic users that snorted gun powder and got super powers.

Or:

I was unaware Tolkien had people swallowing metal to spiderman through a city.

In longer less dismissive form:

Perhaps we should really research fantasy to see what is not like Tolkien and start from there.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
This could turn into a discussion of whether The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Nibelunglied, etc are epic fantasies :)
 
This could turn into a discussion of whether The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Nibelunglied, etc are epic fantasies :)
They are. But they are so old they become "mythology." The difference is probably that at least some people that at one point believed in it (or so historians think) and therefore mythology.

I also think there is some history that during the 1800s what we typically think of in terms of fantasy was more like Narnia and stuff for kids and so "adults" changed the genre to make it more "adult."

But if A Christmas Carol ain't supernatural fantasy I don't know what is.
 

Yora

Maester
The Indian epics are still part of the religion of millions of people. And they are also big adventure tales full of dynastic wars and fights with great monsters and demons.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
So recently I got into a couple of discussions with some friends about reading, and the subject of fantasy was brought up - one of them said that, to paraphrase, "fantasy is just Tolkien" - and a few days later at my local book club the same subject was brought up and it was all "no, we can't do fantasy next its all derivative of Tolkien" or "Oh you mean Lord of The Rings?" - I found this really confusing.

Obviously these people haven't read much of the genre: I think that modern fantasy is doing all it can to distance itself from Tolkien and most of his influence lies before the 90s where epic fantasy got a massive boon. Your thoughts? I want to know what shapes this misconception.

Next time they say that, bring up Witcher.

Now, it is true that Tolkien defined modern fantasy - specifically, he is responsible for usage of "alternate worlds" in fantasy, complete with histories and things, as opposed to pre-Tolkien fantasy which was more specifically escapist (e.g. Narnia). But even though Tolkien may have created epic fantasy as a genre, epic fantasy as such does not need to be derivative of Tolkien.
 

Yora

Maester
Curiously, Middle-Earth is actually supposed to be prehistoric Earth. Just like Robert Howard's Hyborian Age and Smith's Hyperborea. I believe Sword of Shannara is also set in future Earth.

Now I am really curious what the first fantasy setting was that wasn't Earth at a different time.
 

Insolent Lad

Maester
Now I am really curious what the first fantasy setting was that wasn't Earth at a different time.

George MacDonald's 'Lilith' with its portal to another world may not have been the first but it was certainly a pioneer of the concept. But like most such it has ties to our world.
 

Yora

Maester
And that's still in the same multiverse as Earth, then.

The oldest works I could find that have no connection to Earth are Black Company and Legend from 1984.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
And that's still in the same multiverse as Earth, then.

The oldest works I could find that have no connection to Earth are Black Company and Legend from 1984.

Forgotten Beasts of Eld--early 70s.

I'd argue for Elric of Melnibone, which goes back to the early 60s, though I guess one incarnation of the Eternal Champion exists in our universe.

Also, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. Those go back to I think the 1940s, or at least the early 50s.

Gormenghast--1950.
 

Yora

Maester
Fafhrd and Gray Mouser have one story on Earth. And Earth exists in the multiverse of Elric.
It's weird that this seems to have been such a common standard with popular fantasy until the 90s or so.
 
Tolkien had a process, and it seems to me that following a similar process shouldn't automatically be dismissed as derivative.

So, creating secondary worlds with rich histories, humanistic non-human races, and so forth may be a process; but doing this doesn't mean everything is owed to Tolkien.

So maybe he was first, although I doubt it. A long time ago, creating tales of far-away lands, with fantastic elements to them, was almost as good as creating a secondary world. Technically, they may have existed on the same planet; but they were so foreign, alien, and so distant, a lot of fantastical elements (or merely fictional elements) were added.

Tolkien may have been first with one sort of fantasy. But I'm not sure "first" is always a great claim. If you want to build something like a bicycle, the result is going to be something like a bicycle, regardless of whether you are the first to have created a bicycle. Tolkien has certainly given us a lot to work with, heh, and there are writers who are eager to hew more closely to his creations. But otherwise, just because you use a secondary world and fantasy races doesn't mean you are derivative in any way. If Tolkien had never existed, someone else would have done what he did, re: the sort of process he used.*

*Edit: i.e., someone would have come along and thought, "Hmmm, what if I create this entirely fantastical world unconnected with Earth...?"
 

pmmg

Istar
I would just echo FifthView on this. I dare say, if Tolkien has not come along, the grand quest against an evil dark lord with elves and pixies and goblins would still have found its way into print. Maybe not Orcs and the one ring, but some things are hard to escape.

Though it is true, Fantasy has many more forms than epic quests and dark lords.
 
I think the discussion about whether Tolkien was the first or not isn't very relevant and hard to answer. It's a discussion on what you mean with first more than anything else. There are very few things in either science or art which are completely new and not derived from anything else. And most things which seem completely new at first glance are simply based on less well known things. The new-ness is that someone took several ideas, combined them and took it to extremes. In the case of Tolkien, he took the fleshing out of a fantasy world to its extreme and wrote stories for adults in this separate world.

In doing this, he defined epic fantasy for several decades and gave it many of its tropes and processes. The reason a lot of world builders feel the need to include creating a language can be traced back to Tolkien. The same goes for the standard fantasy races. Most people fall back on some version of Tolkien's elves, dwarves, halflings and so on. The generic medieval europe feeling setting is probably partially due to Tolkien as well, though that's probably also just what many writers from the western world grew up with.

I think epic fantasy as a (sub) genre is growing up the past 2 decades and you're getting more diverse worlds and story lines. If you go back to the 90's then this criticism was partially valid, but not anymore.
 

Hexasi

Scribe
I think the discussion about whether Tolkien was the first or not isn't very relevant and hard to answer. It's a discussion on what you mean with first more than anything else. There are very few things in either science or art which are completely new and not derived from anything else. And most things which seem completely new at first glance are simply based on less well known things. The new-ness is that someone took several ideas, combined them and took it to extremes. In the case of Tolkien, he took the fleshing out of a fantasy world to its extreme and wrote stories for adults in this separate world.

In doing this, he defined epic fantasy for several decades and gave it many of its tropes and processes. The reason a lot of world builders feel the need to include creating a language can be traced back to Tolkien. The same goes for the standard fantasy races. Most people fall back on some version of Tolkien's elves, dwarves, halflings and so on. The generic medieval europe feeling setting is probably partially due to Tolkien as well, though that's probably also just what many writers from the western world grew up with.

I think epic fantasy as a (sub) genre is growing up the past 2 decades and you're getting more diverse worlds and story lines. If you go back to the 90's then this criticism was partially valid, but not anymore.
Aye. Again, before epic fantasy got really popular in the 90s I think most fantasy could be criticised this way but we have so many new things on the market now.
 

Peat

Sage
People who find fantasy derivative of Tolkien basically enjoy wallowing in ignorance, and their lies debase our genre and should be fought. To let the "Fantasy is all just Tolkien" line go undersells the many authors whose talk with Tolkien is rather minimal like Gaiman, Pratchett, Pullman, Holdstock and so on, and ignores the many contemporaries and influences who also played a big part in shaping the genre but go ignored like Leiber, Anderson, Dunsany and so on. Even the works considered most like Tolkien are teeming with influences from that score, and have differences by the ton.

He's undoubtedly major, he undoubtedly laid down a template for a predominant form of fantasy - although a lot of the template was already there in others works like Eddison - but the real achievement was to be the first major commercial success of the genre, so they framed everything around him to keep making the moneys.
 
Top