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Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 10:08 AM
It seems to me that writers who read Tolkien's work always copy it. Does reading The Lord of the Rings make a person a better fantasy writer, or does it make them only copy the story, often-times without even knowing that they're doing it? I actually didn't read Tolkien's works until after I had my first fantasy novel published, and it still got decent reviews.

Euan H.
08-10-2005, 10:52 AM
How do you tell who has read it and who hasn't? :)

Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 11:17 AM
How do you tell who has read it and who hasn't? :)


By all the crappy (erm... poor-quality) fantasy books we see published that obviously rip off Tolkien. I don't know how many times I've seen sentences such as, "The elves came over the sea," "The man kissed the elf princess," etc., you get the picture.

Phoenix Fury
08-10-2005, 11:32 AM
Sigh. Does anyone know why there has been such an epidemic of Tolkien-bashing lately? It seems more trendy than angst-ridden vampire novels...

Of course no one is under any obligation to love Tolkien's work if he/she doesn't want to (I happen to love his work and find it brilliant--and much deeper than many of the supposedly more complex "modern" writers, though that of course is simply my opinion). But love it or hate it, the simple truth is that not one of us is reading, writing, or attempting to be published in a genre known as "fantasy" today without Tolkien's work. Previous to Tolkien, tales of fantasy were essentially considered children's stories, lightweight fare little better than trash novels. Even science fiction, thanks to the work of H.G. Wells and others, enjoyed at least a marginal reputation; fantasy, by contrast, was not even on the radar screen.

All that changed after LOTR. For the first time adults could take works of fantasy seriously; for the first time a work of real weight had been produced that involved such fanciful creations as immortal elves, gruff dwarves, and talking treelike creatures. Naturally mythology, fables and the like influenced Tolkien heavily; but the point is that Tolkien's main goal, besides developing a world around a new set of languages he had created, was to establish a new and uniquely British mythology, rather than one taken from the continent. He wanted to establish a fantasy background all England's own--and I would argue that he succeeded in doing so, in large part. That later writers drew and continue to draw upon that background is hardly a weakness in them, any more than Shakespeare's use of old plots for his plays (which he did in nearly every case, by the way) was a weakness in him. It is rather a strength, an understanding of how an established history and legacy can allow writers and readers alike to first identify with, then build upon what has come before.

It is perhaps for this reason that the constant whining about "getting away from Tolkien" gets on my nerves, especially from writers like Michael Moorcock who ought to know better--as if Moorcock would even be a blip on the radar screen without the territory Tolkien had established for him decades before! (And for those who think Moorcock "redefined the genre" with his writing, take a look at Elric's sword and tell me if it doesn't remind you of a certain circular object which has a life of its own and drains both will and goodness from the user as time goes on...sound familiar?) The point is not that one should be intentionally derivative and spend time writing about magic BRACELETS which need to be cast into CHASMS of Doom. As much as writers need to build upon the work of others, they also need to stake out a portion of their own ground. But endless handwringing over whether or not this or that artifact, character or plot twist resembles Tolkien seems to me to be pointless and counterproductive--because if we do spend our time agonizing over avoiding any shadow of Tolkien in our work, are we not ultimately obsessing with exactly that person?

The point is this: of course a writer who wants to write fantasy should read Tolkien first, as well as other writers who have helped to define the genre. Then he/she should use what he/she can, discard the rest, and apply his/her own unique perspective to the whole. Just as with Shakespeare, Tolkien, and thousands of other writers who read, learned from, and built upon the work of those before them, this will lead not to slavish imitation but work grounded in its genre yet still capable of standing on its own, rather than writing so hysterically desperate to avoid even a shadow of J.R.R.T. that it ends up being precisely what his work wasn't--forced, stilted, and, to be frank, not very readable.

P.F.

Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 11:43 AM
Phoenix Fury's argument was solid. But I don't think you really have to read Tolkien to write fantasy. I know of plenty of fantasy fans who dislike Tolkien's work and look for more modern-day fantasy, particularly those that do not resemble Tolkien.

Tolkien was original, is the point. Would LOTR have been so successful if he didn't have his own writing style, his own story, or original characters? To say that every fantasy writer should read Tolkien's work is wrong because, most likely, fans have read Tolkien and want to read his work for his own style, rather than his work coming from another author's mouth. I think that people should not copy Tolkien but rather follow his ways of an extremely original story. That said, it's not a requirement to read Tolkien to be a great fantasy writer.

Phoenix Fury
08-10-2005, 12:02 PM
Interesting. I guess I might amend my argument in this way: you don't have to read Tolkien to be an excellent fantasy writer, but you are limiting yourself by not doing so, and needlessly as far as I can tell. What harm would it do? If Tolkien is so overwhelmingly powerful that one can't read his work without becoming a slavish imitator of it, that would clearly put to rest any argument as to whether he was good or not :Hail:. Fortunately for Four Elements and others, I doubt very much this is a realistic concern. Reading the work is then very valuable at best and harmless at worst.

Then what harm do you do in not reading the work? Three things, in my view: first, you don't fully understand the genre in which you're writing, and thus may not be able to speak to its adherents effectively. Maybe you don't care about this in the abstract, but in practical terms I can tell you that if people don't want to buy your fantasy novel because, well, it isn't fantasy in any even vague definition of the word, you will have an awfully short shelf life...literally. Second, you are unable to see both the things which Tolkien undeniably did well--world-building and language creation at the least--and the things he could have done better, if you are inclined to believe he could have (some people don't like the pacing of his work, for instance, or the scope of some of his characters), and thus you have essentially left out essential research for your own project. For heaven's sake, how would you even know if you were being imitative or not if you didn't know what work had existed in the first place? And finally, you really are ignoring the work which made our genre viable in the first place, commercially, academically, and artistically. It seems to me this is kind of like getting a doctorate in English while studiously ignoring Milton, Shakespeare, Melville, Austen, Woolf, and authors of similar stature--would you really be qualified to teach English if you avoided reading these authors, even if they weren't your cup of tea personally?

So practically, artistically, and historically it seems to me to be detrimental to avoid Tolkien at all costs if you are a fantasy writer. I absolutely agree that slavish imitation is a bad thing, and new authors ought to avoid the practice; they should be original and innovative to the extent they can be. But originality and innovation do not require ignorance of history, and I would argue that knowledge of the past and dedication to the future are not mutually exclusive ideas. As I mentioned before, it sure seemed to work for the Bard.

P.F.

Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 12:11 PM
Yes, Phoenix Fury, I partly agree with what you said. However, one thing to point out as I tried to before is that a person often copies the writing of a book they love without actually realizing they're doing it, and that may be why we see so many Tolkien rip-offs. It is probably true, however, that Tolkien DOES have a huge influence on a lot of the readers, and writers often copy a lot of ideas in his books because of that. So reading LOTR would most likely have both positive and negative effects.

Sharon Mock
08-10-2005, 12:32 PM
Refusing to read Tolkien won't protect you from his influence. PseudoTolkienian fantasy -- what is, in certain circles, unkindly called "extruded fantasy product" -- permeates popular culture. I doubt it's possible to be a fantasist and not come in contact with it. If not from books, then from Dungeons and Dragons, or Everquest, or the like.

Likewise, it's more than possible to read and respect Tolkien and still not want to write Tolkienian fantasy. And there's more than one strain of fantasy running in the genre.

I doubt you'll get better fantasy out of somebody who hasn't read Tolkien, simply because that person is likely to think that tired old tropes are actually fresh new ideas.

(Heretical statement of the night: If you can't stomach Tolkien's writing style, the movies are an acceptable substitute. They're not the books, but thematically they're reasonably close. But do try reading the books first.)

Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 12:37 PM
Well, technically, I've received most of my influence as a fantasy writer from Fantasy Role-Playing Games. While some might argue that without Tolkien, RPGs wouldn't exist, Fantasy RPGs are often very original, unlike most fantasy novels. Plus readers aren't going to call you a rip-off to RPGs as they would with Tolkien.

alaskamatt17
08-10-2005, 12:46 PM
I was Tolkien fanatic as a kid. I still love LotR, but not the way I used to. I read everything related to Middle Earth except the Silmarillion (my library didn't have it). I watched the cartoons, played Lord of the Rings board games, and even collected the obscure card game, Middle Earth: the Wizards. When the Peter Jackson movies came out, I had to see them, and I loved them.

And yet, I write science fiction. I'll admit, Tolkien has had a profound influence on me. Every now and then I'll find my characters' speech falling into meter like the riders of Rohan and I'll have to stop myself.

I agree that too many derivative works have been written, but that does not detract from the original value of his writing. Many writers could learn a great deal from him, especially in the venue of worldbuilding. His prose also shines.

He really opened up a new genre of possibilities for writers. Even if you don't intend to copy him, reading his works is worthwhile for the diction alone.

Jamesaritchie
08-10-2005, 01:02 PM
It seems to me that writers who read Tolkien's work always copy it. Does reading The Lord of the Rings make a person a better fantasy writer, or does it make them only copy the story, often-times without even knowing that they're doing it? I actually didn't read Tolkien's works until after I had my first fantasy novel published, and it still got decent reviews.

Well, 99.99% of all the fantasy writers I know have read Tolkien, including all the better ones who write nothng like him.

Not reading what's already been done usually means you're more likely to repeat it. The only way not to repeat what's already been done is to know what's already been done, and the only way to do this is to read as widely as possible.

Copying Tolkien doesn't come about because a writer reads Tolkien, but most often because a writer lacks imagination.

And sometimes because of market forces. If enough readers want Tolkien clones, then publishers are going to be looking for Tolkien clones until the bubble bursts.

But mostly Tolkien is copied because copying is easy, and being both original and good is very, very tough.

mistri
08-10-2005, 02:45 PM
Jamesaritchie is right.

You're assuming that everyone who reads Tolkien copies him, and that all those who haven't write original fiction. It's simply not that clear cut. As others have argued, Tolkien is so influential that an unimaginative writer could well 'copy' him without reading a single word of the books. Likewise, a great many fantasy writers will have read LOTR, for example (if not most writers), and yet you'll find a portion of them have written original works. I actually think that it's good to read the classics - to know where the genre has come from and what cliches to avoid. I'd much rather have read LOTR than not.

Saanen
08-10-2005, 06:07 PM
As others have argued, Tolkien is so influential that an unimaginative writer could well 'copy' him without reading a single word of the books.

I'm a living example, although not, I hope, unimaginative (at least not now). When I was in high school I tried to read LotR but didn't like it and didn't get far. Yet I was writing fantasy already, and when I think back on what I was writing it was awful fake-Tolkien stuff, very little of which I could have gotten from reading The Hobbit (which was and still is a book I enjoy). I finally read the trilogy just before the movies came out--I was around 32 I think at that point, with several completed novels under my belt--and I'd come across every single idea in the books before. I had the strange feeling, in fact, that I was reading a Tolkien-derived book rather than the original.

I blame D&D in large part. I played it all the time in middle school and all those fantasy cliches got ingrained in my head. There are imaginative RPGs out there, and a good GM can make up very original campaigns, but in the end all RPGs are faint echoes of what a really good book can be.

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing much, the local term for "geek" in my area is "gurp."

Medievalist
08-10-2005, 07:10 PM
It seems to me this is kind of like getting a doctorate in English while studiously ignoring Milton, Shakespeare, Melville, Austen, Woolf, and authors of similar stature--would you really be qualified to teach English if you avoided reading these authors, even if they weren't your cup of tea personally?


Urk. That happens rather frequently though.

loquax
08-10-2005, 07:12 PM
So the conclusion is:

All the Tolkien rip-offs were actually not influenced by Tolkien, as they did not read his work.

Doesn't that lessen Tolkien's achievement? That anyone could have come up with it, and he was lucky to be first? I'm pretty sure that most Tolkien clones did read his work... it would make a lot more sense, right?

Medievalist
08-10-2005, 07:15 PM
It is probably true, however, that Tolkien DOES have a huge influence on a lot of the readers, and writers often copy a lot of ideas in his books because of that. So reading LOTR would most likely have both positive and negative effects.

There's another possibility as well; many writers are using the same materials for inspiration that Tolkien used. Tolkien used, almost exclusively, medieval Germanic myths and texts, for inspiration.

Many writers uses those same sources. There are also so-called International Tales, that is, tales with essentially the same elements from completely unrelated languages and cultures, tales that can easily be shown to exist long before the printing press.

Nateskate
08-10-2005, 07:52 PM
There's another possibility as well; many writers are using the same materials for inspiration that Tolkien used. Tolkien used, almost exclusively, medieval Germanic myths and texts, for inspiration.

Many writers uses those same sources. There are also so-called International Tales, that is, tales with essentially the same elements from completely unrelated languages and cultures, tales that can easily be shown to exist long before the printing press.

Excellent point. I'm rather just a wannabe author at this point, and so that detracts from my point. But I started my story before I read Tolkien, or saw either movie. So, all of the core issues in my story had nothing to do with his stories. However, when I dug deep into Tolkien, I found some of my concepts were in his stories. I didn't steal them, but I have studied some of the works he studied.

So, when I went through some of his stories, I knew where he drew some of his inspiration from.

Phoenix Fury
08-10-2005, 07:57 PM
Urk. That happens rather frequently though.

Disturbing...but probably true in many cases, I'm afraid...

P.F.

Phoenix Fury
08-10-2005, 08:01 PM
I blame D&D in large part. I played it all the time in middle school and all those fantasy cliches got ingrained in my head. There are imaginative RPGs out there, and a good GM can make up very original campaigns, but in the end all RPGs are faint echoes of what a really good book can be.

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing much, the local term for "geek" in my area is "gurp."

Keep in mind that a great deal of D&D is pulled wholesale from a variety of fantasy sources, Tolkien chief among them (the descriptions of elves, dwarves, "halflings," wizards, etc.). D&D helped soldify those conventions, but many of them are taken directly from Tolkien's work to begin with.

P.F.

Nateskate
08-10-2005, 08:06 PM
As far as the origional post, if you look at most blues guitarists, they trace their licks back to two guitarists, or three. Carlos Santana, Claptain, David Gilmore, Stevie Ray Vaughn. They all were inspired by Freddie King and Albert King


In fact, if you look at the Early Beatles, they copped most of their licks from Elvis' guitarist and Chuck Berry.

Likewise, Tolkien pretty much threw every Fantasy idea into his story. I love the concept of Arda, so you don't have to put your story in a planet in outer space. But in his stories, you'll find every major theme from Oedipus, to Noah's flood. You'll find every major theme of Mythology.

However, in order to appreciated it, you must understand his whole purpose. That was to create a "mythology" of England. Now, if you comprehend that Norse and Greek and Roman, and perhaps Persian lore, have similar stories, then you tend to accept they either drew from each other or from the same root sources, and then they changed names and places.

So, his transposition of other mythologies into an English model, is simply transferring Old Legends and Myths into his story.

Like I said, Claptain, Gilmore, SRV, and Santana are guitarists, and may have had similar roots, but they made it their own, and that is what made them great.

There's a difference between being inspired by Tolkien, and ripping off Tolkien. There were Elf stories way before Tolkien. And there will be Elf stories for ages to come. That doesn't mean every Elf story will be a ripoff.

Tirjasdyn
08-10-2005, 08:06 PM
By all the crappy (erm... poor-quality) fantasy books we see published that obviously rip off Tolkien. I don't know how many times I've seen sentences such as, "The elves came over the sea," "The man kissed the elf princess," etc., you get the picture.

Actually if you had read Tolkien you'd know that the man never kissess the elf princess.

Tirjasdyn
08-10-2005, 08:09 PM
It is perhaps for this reason that the constant whining about "getting away from Tolkien" gets on my nerves, especially from writers like Michael Moorcock who ought to know better--as if Moorcock would even be a blip on the radar screen without the territory Tolkien had established for him decades before! (And for those who think Moorcock "redefined the genre" with his writing, take a look at Elric's sword and tell me if it doesn't remind you of a certain circular object which has a life of its own and drains both will and goodness from the user as time goes on...sound familiar?) The point is not that one should be intentionally derivative and spend time writing about magic BRACELETS which need to be cast into CHASMS of Doom. As much as writers need to build upon the work of others, they also need to stake out a portion of their own ground. But endless handwringing over whether or not this or that artifact, character or plot twist resembles Tolkien seems to me to be pointless and counterproductive--because if we do spend our time agonizing over avoiding any shadow of Tolkien in our work, are we not ultimately obsessing with exactly that person?

I love Moorcock but he rehashes is own plot over 100 times through out his novels. Sometimes word for word. He tells the same story over and over. He really shouldn't talk.

If you would like quicky examples read the first few pages of each of the following:

Jerry Cornealius, Elric and Dreamthief's daughter.

Tirjasdyn
08-10-2005, 08:15 PM
Well, technically, I've received most of my influence as a fantasy writer from Fantasy Role-Playing Games. While some might argue that without Tolkien, RPGs wouldn't exist, Fantasy RPGs are often very original, unlike most fantasy novels. Plus readers aren't going to call you a rip-off to RPGs as they would with Tolkien.

Not that there is only DnD but it was largely based off Tolkien, some cases almost exclusivly. Only the names have been changed (like Balrog) when the Tolkien estate sued TSR/Wizards.


Actually as a role player myself, I'd say you have been heavily influenced by Tolkien. More so than by just reading the novels.

Jamesaritchie
08-10-2005, 08:52 PM
The trouble with imitators is that they have so much to imitate. You don't have to read Tolkien to imitate Tolkien. All you have to do is read about 95% of the epic fantasy out there, or watch about 99% of the fantasy on TV. Even documentaries and shows on the History Channel have been influenced by the popularity of Tolkien.


And since the LOTR movies, there's a whole new batch of imitators hitting the slush piles.

The same thing is happening with Harry Potter. Between the books and the movies, slush piles are being inundated by imitations.

I don't think imitation is automatically wrong. I believe imitation is how we all learn to write. But we're supposed to imitate style, pace, and flow, not content. It's imitation without adding something new, something different, something original that bothers me.

Imitation is a regular cycle in publishing. When any writer, or pretty much any genre, gets hot enough, imitation floods publishers, and publishers buy far more imitative novels than they should. The public buys such novels for a time, and then stops, and that genre goes downhill quickly.

I don't think using the same mythos as Tolkien is an excuse. Using the same mythos in the same way is imitating Tolkien.

But simply put, Tolkien is everywhere, and many of those who aren't imitating Tolkien because they've never read him are merely imitating imitators of Tolkien.

Reading Tolkien doens't mean a writer will imitate him, and not reading Tolkien doesn't mean a writer won't imitate him. We nearly all imitate in the beginning, and the real question is whether or not we can outgrow it.

Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 10:36 PM
I'm pretty sure that most Tolkien clones did read his work... it would make a lot more sense, right?

Exactly. There are a lot of fantasy books that call monsters "orcs", for example. Do the authors of these books expect people to believe that they came up with the word orcs on their own?

Four_Elements
08-10-2005, 10:48 PM
My question is: how could books like The Lord of the Rings possibly be good if they cause writers to commit plagiarism, to not care about the quality of their fantasy novels?

I think that we are all being brainwashed by the writing of the Oxford professor.

Medievalist
08-10-2005, 11:01 PM
Exactly. There are a lot of fantasy books that call monsters "orcs", for example. Do the authors of these books expect people to believe that they came up with the word orcs on their own?

Tolkien didn't invent the word, really, so they might go back to the same sources Tolkien used.

orcnéas and orc(th)yrs are used in Old English for, well, sort of demonic corpses, and for orc-giants.

Orc is used for a giant-man hating pig in Old Irish.

Oh, and I'm fine with people who don't like Tolkien's fiction or poetry, but I'm less than patient with those who think to impugn his scholarship. The closer I examine his scholarship, the more impressed I am.

MadScientistMatt
08-10-2005, 11:53 PM
My question is: how could books like The Lord of the Rings possibly be good if they cause writers to commit plagiarism, to not care about the quality of their fantasy novels?

For the same reason that international crime rings would rather counterfeit US dollars and Euros than bother making phony Zimbabwean money.

Nateskate
08-11-2005, 01:54 AM
The concept of 1st age, 2nd age, 3rd age, comes from Tolkien (I believe). So a novel that starts, "In the 5th age, when the..." is at least building on the concept.

But where did Tolkien get this? Some of this may come from Archaeology, "The Bronze age," "the Iron age"...etc. And in a sense, he merely gives us a sense that sometime in antiquity, Middle Earth existed.

Or it could have come from the historical sense of catastrophic events that changed the shape of the known world, which is used by religions as well. "The pre-deluvian age- or pre-Noah age", or "The age of the Patriarchs- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," You have this breakdown of time-frames, and the AD-BC thing as well.

Medievalist
08-11-2005, 02:01 AM
The concept of 1st age, 2nd age, 3rd age, comes from Tolkien (I believe).

No, it's standard in various mythologies; he would have been exposed first via Classical literature in his early teens, then he would have seen it in Germanic literature, and scholarship thereof.

dawinsor
08-11-2005, 02:14 AM
Among the reviews of Lord of the Rings at Amazon is one that accuses Tolkien of ripping off D&D games. That gave me a good laugh.

Medievalist
08-11-2005, 02:22 AM
Among the reviews of Lord of the Rings at Amazon is one that accuses Tolkien of ripping off D&D games. That gave me a good laugh.

Whenever I teach Beowulf in the undergradate English lit to 1660 survey, I have at least one student who comes up to tell me that part of it was copied from The Hobbit. It's usually someone who skips class a lot ;).

Christine N.
08-11-2005, 03:35 AM
Bwahahahahaha! I love that. Ugh. I see the same thing happening with JK Rowling. Read any other book with the word "boggart" in it, and all the little Amazonlings write about how it ripped off HP.

Please, people, figure out what you're talking about before you stick your feet in your mouths. That's like saying that Jo invented the hippogriff.

alaskamatt17
08-11-2005, 04:10 AM
Some of my fellow Ender's Game fans on IMDB are worried that something similar might happen when the EG movie is released. People might see the battleroom and think that it's a ripoff of quidditch, even though Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Game in '80s.

Selene LuPaine
08-11-2005, 06:00 AM
Man I didn't know they were making a movie about Ender's Game. That's an awesome book to read. I've only started reading Lord of the Rings, one series that is a bit of a rip off from LOTR is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. But even so, its also a great read, and I think even better than LOTR in parts.

WVWriterGirl
08-11-2005, 07:55 AM
I have tried really reading LOTR many times, and found the prose too...I don't know, ponderous(?) to read; it wasn't until I found it on audio disc that I was able to actually finish the series. Once I got through it, I found I really enjoyed it, more than I thought I would.

Now, I'm not a particular fan of Tolkien's prose, but I have enormous respect for the man's ability to build a beautiful, real world peopled with characters I can (usually) get behind. Geez, I have a tattoo using Tolkien's language on my back that roughly translates, if one could (a) read the writing and then (b) translate it to English, "The pen is mightier than the sword."

I do not hope to imitate Tolkien, but I do strive to emulate his style, depth and scope. If nothing else, reading (or listening to) the books was a learning experience that gave me a little bit of insight into the mind of a master.

WVWG

Euan H.
08-11-2005, 09:57 AM
Whenever I teach Beowulf in the undergradate English lit to 1660 survey, I have at least one student who comes up to tell me that part of it was copied from The Hobbit. It's usually someone who skips class a lot ;).
Heh. When my brother was much smaller, he was a rabid Star Wars fan. When he found out that the German army had 'stormtroopers' in WWII, he asked my mum if they'd taken the name from Star Wars.

Lenora Rose
08-12-2005, 01:01 AM
Well, technically, I've received most of my influence as a fantasy writer from Fantasy Role-Playing Games. While some might argue that without Tolkien, RPGs wouldn't exist, Fantasy RPGs are often very original, unlike most fantasy novels. Plus readers aren't going to call you a rip-off to RPGs as they would with Tolkien.



Actually, I've seen a fair number of books that were a much closer imitation of the kinds of plots you get with D&D or Dragonlance than I have direct Tolkien rip-offs. The books where "You can hear the dice rolling," for instance. A lot of Tolkien imitators, in fact, can be seen to be imitating him through the lense of RPGs.

RPGs too are more dangerous as sources of inspiration. Games are collaborative, and there should be no one main character (Though sometimes there is for a session or two, it should trade off lest anyone feel neglected), whereas, even in novels with a group of companions, there is, or should be, one obvious lead. RPGs often wander, even when following a module with a plot, and tend towards plot-coupon-ry, which works well for that format but becomes deadly dangerous in some novels. And players are invariably absorbed in some minutiae of their characters' lives that is cool in game but would make a reader yawn.

That said, done well, it is good practice for good background and on how to turn a character from a list of statistics and spells into something three dimensional and breathing - although done badly, again, the character issues can cripple a writer (For instance, characters becoming more powerful or learning new abilities at arbitrary points, rather than growing like real people.)

But even after that, I'd say that no RPG I've played, good or bad system, good or bad world, has come close to covering the sheer scope of ground included in the whole fantasy genre. If you think they have, I'd like to see your counter-argument, using The Fall of the Kings and Tooth and Claw as examples.




So the conclusion is:

All the Tolkien rip-offs were actually not influenced by Tolkien, as they did not read his work.

Doesn't that lessen Tolkien's achievement? That anyone could have come up with it, and he was lucky to be first? I'm pretty sure that most Tolkien clones did read his work... it would make a lot more sense, right?



This is such a gross misinterpretation of the points others have made, and made in clear language, that I have to assume you're *trying* to offend.

I think it's unfair to blame Tolkien for (example)Terry Brooks's decision to imitate him, and unfair to blame Terry Brooks or any other imitative author for the fact that a significant percentage of readers have decided to buy imitation Tolkien. These are market forces.

Publishers know that giving readers what they want is a way to stay in business - so they'll buy imitation Tolkien for those who want it, and other kinds of fantasy for those looking for that instead. Both have a market. Why begrudge those books that have a different market from yours? They're not in direct competition with you.

I suspect Tolkien had no intention of being an influence to anyone, imitator, RPG, or otherwise. But if he ever imagined it, he's no doubt happier to have influenced, say, Patricia McKillip, whose use of language certainly recalls Lord of the Rings at least in her early years, but whose Riddle-Master trilogy is very much its own thing in terms of plot and character and setting, or Guy Gavriel Kay, whose respect for Tolkien comes out as tales of a similar scope and grandeur, and by a shameless imitation of Tolkien's depth of background research on mythology, epic, and history. Or Lisa Goldstein, whose quiet, restrained stories don't look like anything Tolkien would ever have done, but who has admitted he was one reason she turned to fantasy at all.

batgirl
08-12-2005, 02:32 AM
Incidentally, and apropos of nothing much, the local term for "geek" in my area is "gurp."

Doesn't GURPS stand for Generic Universal Role-Playing System? Is there a connection?

LloydBrown
08-12-2005, 03:03 AM
Doesn't GURPS stand for Generic Universal Role-Playing System? Is there a connection?

It is indeed. Steve Jackson's ever-popular setting-less rules, although it represents only 3% of the RPG market. As a game store owner, I developed the opinion that many people buy GURPS for the strong source material rather than the rules.

brinkett
08-12-2005, 03:03 AM
RPGs too are more dangerous as sources of inspiration. Games are collaborative, and there should be no one main character

Depends. There are deep single-player computer RPGs. But I know you were referring to PnP when you made the statement.

LloydBrown
08-12-2005, 03:09 AM
Actually if you had read Tolkien you'd know that the man never kissess the elf princess.

Um, Beren and Luthien? Aragorn & Arwen? Tuor & Idril? That's just the marriages. There could have been more smooching going on that Tolkien didn't mention.

Saanen
08-12-2005, 05:28 AM
Doesn't GURPS stand for Generic Universal Role-Playing System? Is there a connection?

Yes, and yes. :) The word gurp just sounds so perfect to describe a geek to my mind, too, even better than the Japanese otaku because you can make that "ur" sound so derisive if you want--and yet since the word is derived from the game, anyone who uses the word is technically being gurpy by default. Perfect.

HConn
08-12-2005, 07:34 AM
I actually didn't read Tolkien's works until after I had my first fantasy novel published, and it still got decent reviews.

Four Elements, please tell me the name of your novel. I
want to read it.


My question is: how could books like The Lord of the Rings possibly be good if they cause writers to commit plagiarism, to not care about the quality of their fantasy novels?

This is naked foolishness. It's threads like this one that
drove me away from AW in the first place.

HConn
08-12-2005, 07:37 AM
As a game store owner, I developed the opinion that many people buy GURPS for the strong source material rather than the rules.

That's what I did, but that's because the rule system was a disaster.

Seriously, their horror source materials (to pick one excellent example) were top-notch, but the rules were ridiculously complicated.

Titus Raylake
08-12-2005, 01:09 PM
how could books like The Lord of the Rings possibly be good if they cause writers to commit plagiarism, to not care about the quality of their fantasy novels?

I don't think Tolkien wrote LOTR with the thought, "I'm going to make writers copy my work!" Don't you think that writers have a choice whether to copy something or not?

Tolkien is, by far, one of the most intelligent and educated people to ever write a novel :).

loquax
08-12-2005, 03:55 PM
This is such a gross misinterpretation of the points others have made, and made in clear language, that I have to assume you're *trying* to offend. Sorry to offend - what I put was a condensation of:
Not reading what's already been done usually means you're more likely to repeat it. The only way not to repeat what's already been done is to know what's already been done, and the only way to do this is to read as widely as possible.

Copying Tolkien doesn't come about because a writer reads Tolkien, but most often because a writer lacks imagination.All I'm saying is that although this may be true in lots of writing, it can't be for Tolkien clones; unless you want to say that his ideas were easy to come up with, and that the only amazing quality he had was the luck of being first.

Lenora Rose
08-12-2005, 09:32 PM
All I'm saying is that although this may be true in lots of writing, it can't be for Tolkien clones; unless you want to say that his ideas were easy to come up with, and that the only amazing quality he had was the luck of being first.

Again, a gross and obvious misinterpretation.

Most of the people who are accused of imitating Tolkien (except for Terry Brooks) are accused because:
- they have tall fair elves who are immortal and therefore either are deeply wise. however, they're disdainful of humanity or "Just don't think like us". And usually are vanishing off to the west.
- They have dwarves who work underground and keep to themselves, but are damn good axe-fighters.
- They have orcs who are bad bad bad guys - and rude and crude and dirty with it.
- They have a big bad trying to control and/or destroy the world.
- A diverse group of companions gather.
- Some magic sword has to be found to defeat the enemy
and/or
- Some magic bauble of the enemy's houses his power and has to be destroyed.

Many of these can be derived from reading either Tolkien's source material (He didn't invent elves, not even the tall kind eh made popular.) or other imitators. Many of them can be derived from Role playing games.

They're also surface trappings. Some of them are even misinterpretations of what actually happens in Lord of the Rings (You'll note the sword is a symbol, not a magic item). The whole reason "Tolkien imitators" who use these things are so disdained is that when they copy, they don't usually copy the world-building, the layers of history, the richness of language. When copying the plot, they strip away the subtle layers and the echoes of myth and just scurry their people through the by-the-numbers plot points.

It's true there's an *initial* layer of imitators who copied him directly (Again, Terry Brooks' first series is the famous example). But we're, what, almost thirty years since then? And people imitated Brooks. And people thought their D&D game (Where the GM was consciously running them though a Tolkien rip-off, but the player who became a writer didn't know that), tweaked so one character (his) was obviously the leader, would make a great plot...

There are writers starting now who haven't read much that was published more than ten years ago. It's very possible at this point for someone to skim off all the above surface trappings, and even some plot points (Eg, the great wizard somehow dying - leaving the companions to go on all on their own.) from all kinds of sources without touching the original.

And the whole reason the Tolkien clones are so bad in the first place isn't just because they copy him. It's that they imitate ONLY those surface trappings. I already noted, the ones who scorned to copy the elves and the ring and the dwarves, but sought to copy his ability to use language and to carry a story along, or to make a substantial world with multiple populations and cultures, who imitated the depths but used their own chosen surface trappings... those have come up with good and more importantly, *original* books.

And again, there's the whole thing of blaming Tolkien for what people who copy him do.

loquax
08-13-2005, 07:10 PM
Lenora, I really don't know what point of mine you are arguing against. I'm saying that Tolkien cloners have probably read Tolkien. It was a simple, logical reply to a previous statement. For peace's sake I'll take it that the majority of your post wasn't aimed at me, but the general public.

Birol
08-13-2005, 10:10 PM
Man I didn't know they were making a movie about Ender's Game. That's an awesome book to read. I've only started reading Lord of the Rings, one series that is a bit of a rip off from LOTR is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. But even so, its also a great read, and I think even better than LOTR in parts.

WoT seems to utilize religious mythologies much more than anything else.

Euan H.
08-15-2005, 09:20 AM
WoT seems to utilize religious mythologies much more than anything else.

WOT has lots of bits and pieces in it from all over the place. It's the exemplar of 'everything and the kitchen sink' school of fantasy writing. Lesse, Arthurian influences, the Messiah story, the Fremen from Dune, a Satan look-alike--along with Fallen Angels, a final battle (Armageddon=Tar ma whatsit), etc. ad nauseum.

brokenfingers
08-22-2005, 03:08 PM
Maybe it's me but I think the original question "Better fantasy novels from those who don't read LOTR?" was pretty lame.

Just because some writers choose not to use their own imagination and utilize another authors world, character types etc is no reflection on the original author - except as a testament to the power of the original author's imagination.

The question really should be "Better fantasy novels from those who don't seek to emulate Tolkien?"

Vomaxx
08-23-2005, 05:14 AM
Maybe it's me but I think the original question "Better fantasy novels from those who don't read LOTR?" was pretty lame.

Just because some writers choose not to use their own imagination and utilize another authors world, character types etc is no reflection on the original author - except as a testament to the power of the original author's imagination.

The question really should be "Better fantasy novels from those who don't seek to emulate Tolkien?"

Excellent point! Authors are always told to read great works; it would be strange if fantasy authors were to avoid one of the foremost masterpieces in their genre. (Even people who don't like it--and there seems to be a growing number of such grumps--have to acknowledge its enduring success.)

MadScientistMatt
08-23-2005, 05:12 PM
WOT has lots of bits and pieces in it from all over the place. It's the exemplar of 'everything and the kitchen sink' school of fantasy writing. Lesse, Arthurian influences, the Messiah story, the Fremen from Dune, a Satan look-alike--along with Fallen Angels, a final battle (Armageddon=Tar ma whatsit), etc. ad nauseum.

Not only that, but several of the names of his Forsaken seem to come directly from Hebrew. Samael, for example, is a name used either for Satan or for an angel of death. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other names he used for the Forsaken are identified with fallen angels in the Apocrypha or some books on demonology.

arodriguez
08-23-2005, 11:22 PM
The fact is that these guys are published writers, dont hate on them. besides, happens with movies all teh time!


if i knew i had to copy tolkien's works in order to be published, Id have a midget hero with a gay buddy who need to take a mysterious ankle bracelet and drop it off a cliff into whirlpool. just pay me. ill write other stories on the side to make me happy.

Rabe
09-03-2005, 11:18 AM
Sigh. Does anyone know why there has been such an epidemic of Tolkien-bashing lately? It seems more trendy than angst-ridden vampire novels...

The point is this: of course a writer who wants to write fantasy should read Tolkien first, as well as other writers who have helped to define the genre.
P.F.

Phoenix...

you put forth a really good argument, and that comes from a self-professed Tolkien hater. I would rather have triple root canal at the same time I'm having every joint in my body replaced than to have to read the novels again. My main problem with this is that I find it amusing that his 'gawds' in the story had developed the concept of mass production AGES before Henry Ford came along. The number of deus ex machina in LotR is fascinating in that you can count on there being at least one in every chapter. Not only that, but Tolkien didn't seem to know how to revise out all the boring, world building crap that should be in the author's head but not on the page.

Saying that, I'm a huge geekboy for the movies (and yes, I was also upset by some of the revisions that were included in the movies).

I will disagree, however, with the idea of every fantasy writer needs to read Tolkien. I will also disagree with the idea that Tolkien's stories were all that original. They followed the same mythological 'hero's journey' platform that almost all fantasy stories have done.

I also smiled when I read your assessment of Moorcock. I caught that my very own self when I read the Elric saga. I would also like to add Babylon 5 to that list. It's creator JMS (and no, I'm not going to try to write out the last name!) kept bashing Star Trek for being derivative while he was doing naught but retelling LotR in space for a whole five years!

But all this is my own respectful disagreement with you. Give me a moment and I'll switch over to join your side in defending the honor of Tolkien.

Rabe...

Rabe
09-03-2005, 11:33 AM
Again, a gross and obvious misinterpretation.

Most of the people who are accused of imitating Tolkien (except for Terry Brooks) are accused because:
It's true there's an *initial* layer of imitators who copied him directly (Again, Terry Brooks' first series is the famous example).

*sigh* I KNEW that any thread that had Tolkien bashing/praising would eventually uncover ugly Brooks bashing.

If you *want* to lay the blame for the very glossy imitation of Sword of Shannara being Tolkienesque, you have to lay the blame at Lester Del Rey's feet who did it as a means to put a fantasy on the best seller list and found that he could use Brooks's novel as a means of doing that the easiest.

But, when people bash Brooks they usually just point out surface similarities:

Allanon (the tall, imposing Druid) is equated to Gandalf
Flick and Shea are equated to Frodo and Samwise
etc, so on and so on.

Except it's all mostly gloss. When one reads the story and doesn't listen to those who are trying so hard to bash what Brooks accomplished (namely putting a 'fantasy' on the bestseller list) by writing a story set with the same tones as Tolkien used, one begins to find that the similarities are mostly gloss. Such as the icing on the frosting of the cake. That icing was put there by Del Rey.

But, I'm sure that most people who are ingrained to bash Brooks as nothing more than a Tolkien imitator are not going to be able to get past the gloss and will argue this.

Rabe...

Rabe
09-03-2005, 11:55 AM
It seems to me that writers who read Tolkien's work always copy it. Does reading The Lord of the Rings make a person a better fantasy writer, or does it make them only copy the story, often-times without even knowing that they're doing it? I actually didn't read Tolkien's works until after I had my first fantasy novel published, and it still got decent reviews.

Four...

I find one of the fallacies in your argument is the presumption that a fantasy story that has elements Tolkien used are automatically 'Tolkienesque'. When you see the influence of many other, older, works in LotR.

Off the top of my head? I see elements of Beowulf (which is itself based on older Celtic legends), Der Ring Des Nibelungen (which is itself based on older Tuetonic mythology), and elements of any 'hero journey' throughout the ages. There are elements of the fables of King Arthur and his knights, older Celtic mythology and older British, Gaulish, Roman, Celtic beliefs (the elves being divided into two camps at Rivendell and uhm...where was Galadriel located again? ;)) is reminiscent of the Sidhe and UnSidhe Courts of older british elvish myth. (not the fair and dark division of elves?) The One Ring is itself seemingly lifted directly from the Rhinegold myth of Tuetonic mythology, ents seem to come from the older beliefs of 'tree spirits' that abounded out of Northern European belief, 'hobbits' seem to refer back to some legends of the Picts, only without the warlike disposition - so a mixture of Picts and other smallish creatures of the Fey.

So it's quite possible that many fantasy authors who, like myself, are not huge fans of Tolkien are writing stories on older stories, myths, legends and source material. But what's really wrong about the 'tolkien imitator bashing' isn't so much that they're accusing everyone who uses the idea of a 'hero's journey through self-discovery' to be ripping off Tolkien but that they are cheapening all the sources that Tolkien used to craft his own stories.

Yeah, there are some direct homages to Tolkien. Elsewhere Brooks is mentioned as a direct rip-off of Tolkien. Not true, but he does admit to having a homage to Tolkien in the structure of his work and an admiration for what Tolkien did. Katherine Kerr lifted the 'no man shall destroy me' in one of her early novels (Was it daggerspell? Not the first one, I don't believe). JMS used the structure of LotR to create Babylon 5 in space and admits to his own 'homage' (which must translate to him as being 'ripping off whole plot sections). However, paying homage to what has come before does *not* equate automatically to a Tolkien rip-off.

BTW...a great many Tolkien rip-offs, such as the ones I've mentione above, are a damned sight better than those who are basing fantasy novels on role playing games, which usually lack the imagination, richness, depth and texture of a good fantasy, even ones paying respect to Tolkien. Not all stories, mind you - mostly the TSR published schleck - and I've often wondered just how much 'Sword of Shannara' was also inspired by a really wicked D&D campaign?

So the argument you post that writers who read Tolkien's work are only copying it is fallacious in that it completely seems to disregard the possibility of going back to the sources that Tolkien also used.

As for whether or not it makes one a better writer? Well, I really enjoyed Bab5, the Shannara novels, the Kerr novels and yes...even though he was slightly bashed elsewhere in the thread Moorcock's 'Elric' saga. I don't enjoy a lot of other work that tries to go out of it's way to not 'imitate' Tolkien.

What it should come down to, however, isn't so much whether an author is imitating another (and really, a lot of times the accusations are based on very little in the way of similarity) but whether or not the author is also telling a really good story.

Rabe...

Saanen
09-03-2005, 04:46 PM
What it should come down to, however, isn't so much whether an author is imitating another (and really, a lot of times the accusations are based on very little in the way of similarity) but whether or not the author is also telling a really good story.

Bingo! We all have influences whether we realize them consciously or not, and the English-speaking culture has absorbed Tolkien so thoroughly that failing to read the novels doesn't make an author "immune" to imitating them. Quite the opposite, in fact. But a really good writer can breathe new life into ANY story, and that's what we should all be striving to do.

Phoenix Fury
09-03-2005, 10:11 PM
Phoenix...

you put forth a really good argument, and that comes from a self-professed Tolkien hater. I would rather have triple root canal at the same time I'm having every joint in my body replaced than to have to read the novels again. My main problem with this is that I find it amusing that his 'gawds' in the story had developed the concept of mass production AGES before Henry Ford came along. The number of deus ex machina in LotR is fascinating in that you can count on there being at least one in every chapter. Not only that, but Tolkien didn't seem to know how to revise out all the boring, world building crap that should be in the author's head but not on the page.

Saying that, I'm a huge geekboy for the movies (and yes, I was also upset by some of the revisions that were included in the movies).

I will disagree, however, with the idea of every fantasy writer needs to read Tolkien. I will also disagree with the idea that Tolkien's stories were all that original. They followed the same mythological 'hero's journey' platform that almost all fantasy stories have done.

I also smiled when I read your assessment of Moorcock. I caught that my very own self when I read the Elric saga. I would also like to add Babylon 5 to that list. It's creator JMS (and no, I'm not going to try to write out the last name!) kept bashing Star Trek for being derivative while he was doing naught but retelling LotR in space for a whole five years!

But all this is my own respectful disagreement with you. Give me a moment and I'll switch over to join your side in defending the honor of Tolkien.

Rabe...


Well, thanks for the compliments, Rabe, I appreciate them. :) I think it's not so much that I'm defending Tolkien's honor (honestly, I think his place is secure regardless of what a couple of people on a writing message board believe about him anyway!), but rather trying to caution against throwing away all things Tolkien because they came from him, or all things in the past because they might poison our vision of the future. Some of the posters here have essentially argued that we should actually avoid reading Tolkien for fear his ideas will...I don't know, become ours in some bizarre science fiction way. I think this is not only untrue but potentially a dangerous way to look at writing in general.

First of all, I think it's impossible to avoid drawing on the work of those before us at this point in our history. We have over two thousand years of hundreds of milions of people writing on nearly every subject imaginable, and to think that we can now somehow avoid overlapping with that earlier work seems to me to be ludicrous at best. As you point out, Rabe, Tolkien himself drew heavily upon Nordic and other European mythologies, and he would have been the first to cheerfully acknowledge that he was doing so. What did not exist at Tolkien's time was a uniquely British mythology (even the King Arthur stuff was really an import from the Continent, and of course the British couldn't have that :Shrug: ) , and Tolkien set out to rectify that situation while simultaneously developing a world as backdrop for the new language he created. But Tolkien couldn't just regurgitate, say, Nordic mythology wholesale; he had to reorient it, adapt it for the British Isles, adjust it to match more modern concerns, war and ever-increasing technology and the like. LOTR was the result, and whether you like the work or not (and I disagree with you that he should have left out all of that "world-building crap:; I would argue that the world-building crap was fundamental to his project and something he couldn't dismiss, since modern fantasy did not exist as we understand it before him), you have to acknowledge that it has scope and grandeur.

But so what, you say. Worked for Tolkien, doesn't have to work for us. But the point here is like him or not, nearly every facet of current fantasy draws (and I'll argue in a minute, can't help but draw) upon LOTR either in its acceptance or rejection of the books, and this is what irritates me about Moorcock's self-absorbed musings--I actually like the Elric series, but the weakened prince who draws strength from defeating his enemies with a powerful but ultimately seductively evil sword doesn't even hit the shelves without the concept of the One Ring, or even a character like Gollum, simultaneously drawn to and deeply frightened of that same Ring. Does that make Moorcock's work bad or derivative? Of course not; even though I personally don't think Moorcock's work stands up to Tolkien's, I certainly think you can approach it on its own terms and enjoy it as its own work.

And really, the ultimate point is this: you don't have to do so while being obsessed with whether or not it imitates Tolkien. You don't have to set up imaginary contests between the characters to see whether Aragorn or Elric would win. You can understand that one work drew from the other and still enjoy or even prefer the later work, as surely as Elizabethan audiences knew of the Ur-Hamlet but preferred Shakespeare's "modern" version--for lots of reasons! But Shakespeare also read and knew of the Ur-Hamlet, and that is the argument I'm making. You should read Tolkien as a fantasy writer, because like it or not, you are harvesting the crops that he helped to sow, and avoiding him if anything makes it more likely that you will unwittingly draw upon what is already hardwired into our culture--self-doubting and unlikely heroes, powerful agents of evil, magical weapons of great power and danger, races with vastly different world views, etc.--and imitate Tolkien, even slavishly, without meaning to. That is precisely what Tolkien did NOT do. He knew his early mythology and drew upon and amplified it, rather than simply repeating it in more modern language. You can and should do the same.

Develop, amplify, build upon, reshape for a new generation. That ought be our project in 2005, IMHO--and I think it is exactly the same kind of project all writers have been engaged in for nearly two millenia.

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments.

P.F.

Rabe
09-03-2005, 11:22 PM
(and I disagree with you that he should have left out all of that "world-building crap:; I would argue that the world-building crap was fundamental to his project and something he couldn't dismiss, since modern fantasy did not exist as we understand it before him)


Now, another fine, excellent post full of information, informative and yet disagreeing respectfully while stating opinion. I love posts like this!

And, a great deal of it I'll agree with. I'm just going to take a little umbrage to this part here because it misquotes and takes out of context what I said!

I said all that 'world building crap that should have stayed in the author's head'.

I'll agree with you that the world building had to be done, and in many cases he does a great job of setting the civilizations apart while showing how they influence each other - all through the eyes of the hobbits, mainly. He created a rich, magical tapestry of cultures, sub-cultures, lands, races, creatures and what have you in order to create the world of Middle Earth and a lot of that *needed* to be done. The problem is that he didn't know where to stop. There are so many instances in the novels where he kept going on and on and on and on and on about little bits of history or lineage or information that is not only irrelevent to the story at hand but bogs it down and creates reader 'drag' as they have to wade through this to get back to the action.

(this is a common fault in Anne Rice's "Witching Hour" novel as well)

It's good for the author to know what the origin of Aragorn's people is, it's not good to bog down the story by detailing that to the reader. Such as it's good for me to know why one of my characters likes the singer 'Twilight' but it would be unnecessary for me to expound at length onto the reasons why. As authors we should know these things. We should know just about everything we can know about our characters so that when situations arise, the situation should be surprising, but not that the characters would do it. We have to have that information stored subconsciously, or consciously, in our minds so that we can breathe life into these characters/stories but at what time in any novel should I devote a paragraph or more to my character's underwear size? When it's relevant to the plot and at no other time.

Which is what a good deal of the side information that Tolkien put into the books does, it metaphorically tells us of the character's underwear size when it becomes completely irrelevant. That's the the 'world building crap' that I think should have stayed in the author's head and taken off the page.

I've freely admitted to not liking the novels of Tolkien, but don't turn me into a raving Tolkien basher when I actually respect the work he put into the novels and the research he did for it. After all, it has made Der Ring Des Nebulingin that much more accessible for new generations. Now, if only those who put on the scope of the opera would do the same.

BTW...I'll disagree with one other niggling little point. I would disagree with the 'two thousand year' mark for amplifying and embellishing the same stories. I'd say it goes back to the very forefront of storytelling.

One caveperson hears a story about a hunter taking down a deer. He goes back to his cave and to relieve the boredom of being scared by the whistling of the wind past the entrance, he tells the story to his own cavemates, only to make it more exciting, he changes the deer to a ferocious beast and embellishes the hunt to a deadly, bloody battle. The son then takes the story to the next day's berry gathering and it becomes three ferocious beasts, a hunter and an enchanted rock given to him by the Whistling Wind Goddess.

But otherwise I would agree that a person should at least be aware of the source, I just don't agree that a person actually needs to wade through the bog of Tolkien's work to actually be a better fantasy writer.

And I'll also agree that there is nothing wrong with taking the same tropes that Tolkien used (and really, fantasy all over) used and then calling it a Tolkien rip-off.

Rabe...

Phoenix Fury
09-04-2005, 02:52 AM
Now, another fine, excellent post full of information, informative and yet disagreeing respectfully while stating opinion. I love posts like this!

And, a great deal of it I'll agree with. I'm just going to take a little umbrage to this part here because it misquotes and takes out of context what I said!

I said all that 'world building crap that should have stayed in the author's head'.

I'll agree with you that the world building had to be done, and in many cases he does a great job of setting the civilizations apart while showing how they influence each other - all through the eyes of the hobbits, mainly. He created a rich, magical tapestry of cultures, sub-cultures, lands, races, creatures and what have you in order to create the world of Middle Earth and a lot of that *needed* to be done. The problem is that he didn't know where to stop. There are so many instances in the novels where he kept going on and on and on and on and on about little bits of history or lineage or information that is not only irrelevent to the story at hand but bogs it down and creates reader 'drag' as they have to wade through this to get back to the action.

(this is a common fault in Anne Rice's "Witching Hour" novel as well)

It's good for the author to know what the origin of Aragorn's people is, it's not good to bog down the story by detailing that to the reader. Such as it's good for me to know why one of my characters likes the singer 'Twilight' but it would be unnecessary for me to expound at length onto the reasons why. As authors we should know these things. We should know just about everything we can know about our characters so that when situations arise, the situation should be surprising, but not that the characters would do it. We have to have that information stored subconsciously, or consciously, in our minds so that we can breathe life into these characters/stories but at what time in any novel should I devote a paragraph or more to my character's underwear size? When it's relevant to the plot and at no other time.

Which is what a good deal of the side information that Tolkien put into the books does, it metaphorically tells us of the character's underwear size when it becomes completely irrelevant. That's the the 'world building crap' that I think should have stayed in the author's head and taken off the page.

I've freely admitted to not liking the novels of Tolkien, but don't turn me into a raving Tolkien basher when I actually respect the work he put into the novels and the research he did for it. After all, it has made Der Ring Des Nebulingin that much more accessible for new generations. Now, if only those who put on the scope of the opera would do the same.

BTW...I'll disagree with one other niggling little point. I would disagree with the 'two thousand year' mark for amplifying and embellishing the same stories. I'd say it goes back to the very forefront of storytelling.

One caveperson hears a story about a hunter taking down a deer. He goes back to his cave and to relieve the boredom of being scared by the whistling of the wind past the entrance, he tells the story to his own cavemates, only to make it more exciting, he changes the deer to a ferocious beast and embellishes the hunt to a deadly, bloody battle. The son then takes the story to the next day's berry gathering and it becomes three ferocious beasts, a hunter and an enchanted rock given to him by the Whistling Wind Goddess.

But otherwise I would agree that a person should at least be aware of the source, I just don't agree that a person actually needs to wade through the bog of Tolkien's work to actually be a better fantasy writer.

And I'll also agree that there is nothing wrong with taking the same tropes that Tolkien used (and really, fantasy all over) used and then calling it a Tolkien rip-off.

Rabe...

Interesting, but one quick clarification on my part. First, when I said that the "world building crap" was fundamental to Tolkien's project my point was that I thought it DID need to end up on the page. Keep in mind that Tolkien was establishing a much greater world than "modern" fantasy had ever attempted at that time, and thus showing the details...what the hobbits ate, what kind of tobacco they smoked, etc....was critical to making that world work for a heretofore unfamiliar audience. Moreover, there was a much greater world even "behind the scenes" than what Tolkien revealed, one which is fleshed out in The Silmarillion and other tales that were unpublished in his lifetime...that he restricted the extraordinary world of Middle-Earth to fewer pages than in one of Robert Jordan's unbelievably bloated books is, I think, a testament to how much discipline he really had. He wasn't expecting to have people who could write fantasy sourcebooks about his material; he had to give you as much of the world as he could in limited space, and (in my opinion, anyway) did so in a pretty extraordinary way.

I'll leave the Wagner opera reference alone...as I am able to leave Wagner operas alone too, thank God! (My Dad always used to refer to Wagner operas as a fat woman singing at the top of her lungs over an orchestra desperately trying to drown her out...but that was of course only his opinion, and so I apologize to all the Wagner afficionados out there...)

I accept your amendation of my history point, though I'm not sure that the "caveperson" ever had that much time to embellish stories, but perhaps so. In any case the point of building on what came before still remains, and as a final point I must say that I don't fully agree that "there is nothing wrong with taking the same tropes that Tolkien used and then calling it a Tolkien rip-off." I'd say instead that there is nothing wrong with building upon and amplifying what he did, and no reason to feel somehow dirty because you happened to use heroes with swords too. One way to avoid slavish imitation, of course, is to read what it is you might otherwise mistakenly slavishly imitate...because unbeknownst to you, it was found everywhere in our culture, language, and literature.

Bottom line: there is nothing harmful in reading Tolkien's work, and not to do so is in my opinion limiting your writing and appreciation for the larger fantasy genre. At least try reading it for yourself before accepting its characterization as a "bog"! (And no offense meant since I know you feel this way, Rabe! :) )

P.F.

Rabe
09-04-2005, 09:43 AM
Okay, so that last sentence in my last post really didn't come out right...

It should have been

I'll also agree that there is nothing wrong with taking the same tropes that Tolkien used and then not having it called a Tolkien rip-off!

Sheesh...you would think a writer's forum would be a bit more *clear* on what they mean! ;)

I'll still disagree, however, with the level of world building detail that went into the novels, because a great deal of it does nothing but distract from the story (and the new deus ex machina for the chapter!) The novels would probably be a lot better without a lot of that detail coming in. As it is, there are times when whole paragraphs can be skipped and there isn't a single break in the necessary prose of the novel. That's the kind of stuff that doesn't need to be there.

Of course, there are fantasy series that are using way too many words to tell the story. I've never read Robert Jordan so I can't comment, but Terry Goodkind's 'Sword of Truth' novels really needs to come to an end. Actually, they needed to come to an end after the second novel. Not keep going on and on and on. It's turned me off to think that there are at least three books that I've not read and the story is *still* going.

But I'll just go back to my original point in saying that just because people have a 'magical object' or elves, trolls, dwarves, etc in their novels - and a journey to rid the world of some evil - doesn't necessarily make the story a Tolkien rip-off, as Four Elements seemed to suggest.

As to whether or not everyone should read Tolkien. I will disagree to that as well, but I will say that people should make that decision for themselves. At least, it seems, there are those who argue against reading Tolkien seem to have read the novels, unlike the mass anti-Potter crowd, most of whom have never cracked the cover of a single book.

Rabe...

Monty
09-07-2005, 07:36 AM
Why can't people just say Lord of the rings? Instead of making me come to this post to figure it out?

Also I have a question here. How is mixing mythlogies in any way related to J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings?

As in review of my work Ian von Roth and the rings of Assiroth someone said I borrowed his style.

Egytian God's and a school of magic is I admitt R.K. Rowlings style and okay I borrowed from it a little. So what. But how does characters that do open battle with egytain gods, and gods from other myths have anything at all to do with Tolken?

thanks monty.

Also I have read Lord of the Rings twice, it doesn't even being to make one a better writter having read it. Don't try to copy it.

Phoenix Fury
09-07-2005, 08:02 PM
Why can't people just say Lord of the rings? Instead of making me come to this post to figure it out?

Also I have a question here. How is mixing mythlogies in any way related to J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings?

As in review of my work Ian von Roth and the rings of Assiroth someone said I borrowed his style.

Egytian God's and a school of magic is I admitt R.K. Rowlings style and okay I borrowed from it a little. So what. But how does characters that do open battle with egytain gods, and gods from other myths have anything at all to do with Tolken?

thanks monty.

Also I have read Lord of the Rings twice, it doesn't even being to make one a better writter having read it. Don't try to copy it.

What?

P.F.

Titus Raylake
09-07-2005, 11:52 PM
Why can't people just say Lord of the rings? Instead of making me come to this post to figure it out?

LOTR is the standard abbreviation for The Lord of the Rings. If you did not know that before, then you do now :).



Also I have a question here. How is mixing mythlogies in any way related to J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings?

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but at one part, the discussion was about Tolkien's influences and the books that he read. There has also been discussion here about the ideas that were started by mythology rather than Tolkien's work.

Vomaxx
09-08-2005, 06:56 AM
Egytian God's and a school of magic is I admitt R.K. Rowlings style and okay I borrowed from it a little. But how does characters that do open battle with egytain gods...

Also I have read Lord of the Rings twice, it doesn't even being to make one a better writter having read it.


:idea: No, I guess it doesn't.

Rabe
09-08-2005, 08:38 AM
Why can't people just say Lord of the rings? Instead of making me come to this post to figure it out?

If you didn't know what it was before, why did you even bother coming to the thread?



Also I have a question here. How is mixing mythlogies in any way related to J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings?

If you had read the thread, you would have seen where the defense of Tolkien's work, as well as those who are often referred to as 'imitators' is unfair because even LotR was inspired by several different mythologies, so thereby it's highly possible, so the argument is put forth, that other writers are *not* imitating Tolkien at all, but rather using the same source material and coming up with some of the same fantasy elements. Which, realistically speaking, are pretty common. I believe that no only myself, but a few others have mentioned some of the source material such as Beowulf, the Rhinegold mythology, etc.

It's not as if Tolkien took great pains to hide the mythologies he borrows from, aside from changing the 'race' of the characters in the 'finding of the ring' (turning the dark dwarf into Smeagol, and the Rhinemaidens into the form of Deagol) and adding a darker element, it's the beginning of Der Ring Des Nebulungen. (my spelling is probably atrocious tonight, please forgive, my mind is wrapped up in the five hour first day ordeal of making croissants).


As in review of my work Ian von Roth and the rings of Assiroth someone said I borrowed his style.

I would, partially tongue in cheek, then suggest you run screaming from that work and when you are able to gather together a stalwart band of companions, come back, take the evil thing and throw it into the fires of Mount Hibachi! Okay, a lot tongue in cheek! But I did say I'm not a fan of Tolkien's writing!


Egytian God's and a school of magic is I admitt R.K. Rowlings style and okay I borrowed from it a little. So what. But how does characters that do open battle with egytain gods, and gods from other myths have anything at all to do with Tolken?

Uhm...actually, nobody can answer this question without actually having read your work. As I have not, I will not try to answer this question.

But, I will state that <b>J.</b>K. Rowling didn't create the 'school of wizardry' concept, it is in itself borrowed - like much of her fiction - from classical sources and then thrown together into a wonderful stew of *achem* Young Adult fiction.

Rabe...

MadScientistMatt
09-08-2005, 04:53 PM
BTW...a great many Tolkien rip-offs, such as the ones I've mentione above, are a damned sight better than those who are basing fantasy novels on role playing games, which usually lack the imagination, richness, depth and texture of a good fantasy, even ones paying respect to Tolkien. Not all stories, mind you - mostly the TSR published schleck - and I've often wondered just how much 'Sword of Shannara' was also inspired by a really wicked D&D campaign?

Ugh, RPGs have probably inspired some of the worst fantasy novels to get published. One especially cringeworthy tendancy that makes it into the worst of books is when they slip in extremely unnecessary references to game mechanics. For example, sometimes they make clear references to D&D's class and level system and how it dictates what weapons and armor a character may use. At least I haven't seen one that directly mentions Armor Class or Hit Points.

Monty
09-09-2005, 12:13 AM
Ugh, RPGs have probably inspired some of the worst fantasy novels to get published. One especially cringeworthy tendancy that makes it into the worst of books is when they slip in extremely unnecessary references to game mechanics. For example, sometimes they make clear references to D&D's class and level system and how it dictates what weapons and armor a character may use. At least I haven't seen one that directly mentions Armor Class or Hit Points.

I have seen tons of fanasty novels out there that yuck! Are written with the hits points in the novels themselves.

Ignore the hit points quotes and the fact it's forgotten realms stories written for players of D&D and some not all of it is fairly good writting.

Please remember I use the word some here sparingly. LOL But the other reason I came to this thread is I love LOTR and Tolkeins work. A english professor becoming a best selling author of fanasty. And In my opinion the god of fanasty writters is not something that happens everyday.

Terry Brooks writes excellent works that need retelling. His current work High Druid and Straken are excellent examples of when D&D style writting works.

He left out the style created his own this time and describes the characters and there history quite well. But Terry Brooks is no J.R.R. Tolkein he never will be. No one is that good. monty.

Nateskate
09-16-2005, 08:56 PM
Lord of the Ring Lore is like Arthurian Lore. It was so popular that there were spin-offs. And so, there is this feeling like it is an overdone topic.

Someone with good writing skills who understands the formula can get away with making sequels to LOTR forever.

I think though, that if you read Tolkien's Letters, and the Silmarillion, you will find much more inspiration. In fact, when I read the Intro to "The Tolkien Reader" I got ideas or at least it confirmed ideas that I had.

From a sophistication perspective, LOTR was a compromise by Tolkien. The Hobbit was a bedtime story. The Silmarillion was a life's work. The Hobbit became a bestseller, and the Silmarillion was considered unmarketable. So, Tolkien split the difference with LOTR.

People might judge the Silmarillion by the first chapter, and stop reading it. The Creation account is flowery, and seems to be a redone mix of Biblical accounts mixed with ancient Greek and Norse mythology. However, the actual storyline that is in the rest of the book is perhaps the most sophisticated tale ever told. It is so sophisticated that it can barely be absorbed in one read. You have so many names with so many meanings, you'll find yourself flipping back and forth to the Index and Appendix sometimes every other page.

I had an idea, but you can't do this without being an established writer, which I am not yet. And even if that happens, my own projects may make this impossible. It is possible to take the Silmarillion and write something like "The Paraphrased Silmarillion", which would be akin to a Paraphrased Bible that makes it easier to read. Take some narrative and turn it into dialogue...etc.

Unfortunately, this tale was written in 90% descriptive narrative which is a hard read for some people. But I'm reading it a second time and I'm enjoying it more because I'm already familiar with the pieces.

Lenora Rose
09-20-2005, 09:20 AM
*sigh* I KNEW that any thread that had Tolkien bashing/praising would eventually uncover ugly Brooks bashing.

Pardon me, but I wasn't actually bashing Terry Brooks. I *Was* saying his first series was very obvious in borrowing the surface trappings of Tolkien. Later in the same post I also pointed out that most everyone who is accused of imitating Tolkien does imitate only the surface trappings. I thought it might be clear that this included Terry Brooks - obviously I wasn't. Sorry.

I also thought I made it clear that only the first series had that "problem". Terry Brooks is fully capable of writing his own books his own way.


If you *want* to lay the blame for the very glossy imitation of Sword of Shannara being Tolkienesque, you have to lay the blame at Lester Del Rey's feet

I'm not blaming anyone. But this could explain why the gloss (Good way to describe it!) is so thick on the first books, then goes away.



When one reads the story and doesn't listen to those who are trying so hard to bash what Brooks accomplished (namely putting a 'fantasy' on the bestseller list) by writing a story set with the same tones as Tolkien used, one begins to find that the similarities are mostly gloss.

Actually, I know a girl who read Terry Brooks first. Her reaction as she described it when reading Lord of the Rings was, "OH, so THIS is what Brooks was trying to do. This is Sword of Shannara, only better!" She was new to SF fandom and SF fan discussions at the time; she hadn't heard the idea that Brooks was a Tolkien imitator.

That being said, what I consider the essential core of Tolkien, and the reason for his appeal, has nothing to do with how many companions go on what quest, whether the tall secretive figure cries, "Fly, you fools!" as he falls down a cliff, whether there's a foretold King in the group or a fiesty woman who gets to kill a major villain. Yet I think if people actually managed to imitate Tolkien's core feel and sweep and skill without any of those surface trappings, that would not only make for a damn good read, it would be a better way of honouring Tolkien. And few people would ever think it was derivative.


On another topic:

Monty: I've been told there's one RPG-imitation book where a woman, when asked if she was okay, answered (Paraphrase):"If you divided my life source into thirty-seven equal parts, I would only have twelve of them left."

Pthom
09-21-2005, 11:26 PM
Because of the deceptions of the originator of this thread, we are closing it. We could have just deleted it, but there are responses here that may be valuable to others. However, to continue any of the topics discussed here, please choose another thread or begin a new one.

Thank you for understanding.