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Tag: J. R. R. Tolkien

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Tolkien’s Necklace of the Dwarves

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Tolkien’s Necklace of the Dwarves

The-Book-of-Lost-Tales-2-smallI was a voracious reader of fantasy in my teens and early twenties. Moorcock, Tolkien, Lieber, Kurtz, Feist, Eddings, Brooks, Donaldson, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, Thieves World, Heroes in Hell; I devoured series fantasy. And later I would delve into McKiernan, Cook, Howard, Jordan and others.

Now, in the past decade, I’ve made a couple of attempts to re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but given up each time (I can say the same thing about Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series). I like the stories and the events, but parts of them just read so sloooow. I’ve not run into that problem with Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series, or Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books. But I’m still a huge Tolkien fan, even though I don’t sit down and read through him any more.

I’m in a rather small minority that prefers The Silmarillion to his two better-known works. And that’s because I’m completely sold on Tolkien as a world builder and storyteller. That’s why he’s still a favorite.

From the story of the Silmarils up to the start of the Third Age, Tolkien set the standard for world building and epic history. I enjoy the vast creations of Robert Jordan, Steven Erickson, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings and many more, but Tolkien was unsurpassed.

One of my first Dungeons and Dragons characters was an elf named Gil Galad, wielding his spear, Aeglos. Fingolfin, the Sons of Feanor, Hurin, Turin, Melkor, Ancalagon, and Glaurung: The Silmarillion is just chock full of heroes, villains, lands, kingdoms and events.

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Northern Matter in Poul Anderson’s “Middle Ages” of The Broken Sword and in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

Northern Matter in Poul Anderson’s “Middle Ages” of The Broken Sword and in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

1971 cover art by Boris Vallejo
1971 cover art by Boris Vallejo

Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword originally was published in a different form in 1954, which is why I’m discussing it at this time and not later. It is important to note that in Anderson’s introduction to the 1971 edition, he refers to his earlier self, the writer of the 1954 version, as if that person were not himself but in fact a different writer with the very same name. Anderson’s 1971 introduction also specifically takes into account J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. Anderson asserts that, like Tolkien, he has mined the rich veins of the Northern fantasy tradition, but he claims that, unlike Tolkien, he has found riches of a slightly different hue, perhaps gems with deeper or gloomier lusters. He writes:

In our day J.R.R. Tolkien has restored the elves to something of what they formerly were, in his enchanting Ring cycle. However, he chose to make them not just beautiful and learned; they are wise, grave, honorable, kindly, embodiments of good will toward all things alive. In short, his elves belong more to the country of Gloriana than to that house in heathen Gotaland. Needless to say, there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it was necessary to Professor Tolkien’s purpose.

I was at first horribly confused by this reference to Gloriana, able to uncover at first only a post-dated work by Michael Moorcock of that title. Until I realized that Moorcock’s novel borrows from the very thing that must be Anderson’s reference – Gloriana, or the Queen of Faerie in Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (a work of whose ending I have not yet got to) who is herself an allegory of Queen Elizabeth.

What a very puzzling suggestion. Of course we know, from Tolkien’s own introduction to The Lord of the Rings, that Tolkien detests allegory, so this certainly isn’t the point of comparison that Anderson finds. So it must be Gloriana’s character, and in Spenser’s medieval reconstructionist tradition Gloriana must of necessity stand as the ideal form of every human virtue. But does this truly characterize Tolkien’s Elves? One may even become incensed when Anderson appears to make a slightly disingenuous comparison by claiming that he harks “further back” than Tolkien, to medieval Europe in which “cruelty, rapacity, and licentiousness ran free.” Um. Tolkien’s Elves lived in a vanished Earth Age, not in Spenser’s proto-Romanticist reimagined “Arthurian” England. If we’re talking in terms of scope, Tolkien’s setting might have more to do with Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age than even Anderson’s Middle Ages.

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Lin Carter and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

Lin Carter and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series

Beyond the Fields We KnowMany fantasy fans don’t realize how good they have it these days. Fantasy stories dominate the best seller lists, set box office records, and are some of the highest rated programs on television.

This hasn’t always been the case. In the years following the Second World War, fantasy in popular culture went into a decline. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this post, primarily because I don’t want to write a doctoral thesis. Once was enough.

What I’d like to address in this and following posts is the resurgence of fantasy in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically fantasy published by Ballantine Books in what became known as the Adult Fantasy Series.

The catalyst that led to the current fantasy boom was J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of course. Although initially published by Ace in editions not authorized by Tolkien, Ballantine Books ended up as the publisher of the authorized editions. The books were a tremendous success. Readers began clamoring for more fantasy.

Ian and Betty Ballantine followed up The Lord of the Rings with, in addition to some other work by Tolkien, the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, four novels by E. R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros, Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison, and The Mezentian Gate), A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, and The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place, the latter two by Peter S. Beagle. Considered precursors to the actual Adult Fantasy series itself, many of these books were later reprinted as part of the series with the unicorn head colophon.

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