Difference between Tolkien and the 'modern Fantasy' authors?

Discussion in 'J R R Tolkien' started by rai, Dec 2, 2007.

  1.  
    rai

    rai New Member

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    Let me say I think Tolkien is the king of fantasy authors. I think he laid the groundwork and the credit he gets he is due. To me he's like Melville or any other great from the past.

    I'm wondering what makes Tolkien better than the newer authors (not to say the new authors are bad, but I'm not going to collect 10 different versions of another book like I do with TLOTR) I'm not going to re-read GRRM (for example) 5x (and counting) like I do with TLOTR etc... It's like every 5 years or so I re-read TLOTR.

    I wonder if it's something different now for example GRRM needs 5000 pages while TLOTR and the Hobbit were about 1500 pages total. I think maybe Jordan's Wheel will be over 10,000 pages.

    I'm not saying all fantasy is long, but it seems like there is a lot of long fantasy out now. Tolkien didn't write 20+ books like todays authors. I know Stephen King is a different class but he's got like 40+ books.

    I wonder if it's much more formula or more of a buisness today than it was in the past or if the past times were similar and just some guys like Tolkien stand out.

    Maybe it's his books were a landmark like Herbert's Dune or some other books that people relate to and judge other books by.
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    Karn Maeshalanadae

    Karn Maeshalanadae Why?

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    I have to say, I disagree about that. While Tolkein was a decent author-well enough to get published, and good story ideas-he was a little too stuffy and conservative about certain things.

    First off, modern authors are more recognizing the fact that female characters can exist below the neck-indeed, that female characters can exist AT ALL.

    Second, modern authors tend to paint characters better...I could barely get through LotR due to the fact that there wasn't much in the way of character description, at least, from what I got from it.

    Tolkein deserves credit where it's due him, but modern authors tend to do a bit better, I think...especially David Eddings.
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    paranoid marvin

    paranoid marvin Run VT Erroll!

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    I think that one of the few faults with LOTR is that it's too short
    This is one of Tolkein's regrets too

    As for number of books relased , it seems to me that whereas many authors spend a relatively short amount of time on each novel , LOTR was the accomplishment of a many , many years - which I guess also helps to explain why LOTR is better than many other modern day fantasy
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    Urien

    Urien New Member

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    "Tolkein deserves credit where it's due him, but modern authors tend to do a bit better, I think...especially David Eddings." Manarion.

    David Eddings, better than Tolkien? A controversial point. Tolkien's characterisation is probably his weakest aspect, they tend to be ciphers passing through a tale, a little like in the old sagas from which Tolkien drew inspiration. But for me the sense of wonder, the believability of Middle Earth, the language, the evocative naming, and the central drive of the story more than make up for it.
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Interesting that you should say this and then give David Eddings as an example of a writer who does characterization well. My main problem with Eddings is that no matter how old, wise, or experienced he sets his characters up to be, they always sound to me like adolescents. This strikes one false note after the other. In LOTR, on the other hand, Tolkien reveals his characters through their actions. I may not know what they are thinking at any given moment, but to me their words and deeds are truthful (to who they are) and admirably consistent. He was also writing in a different era, when writers expected their adult readers to be able to pick up subtle clues to character. It's considerably more flattering to the reader's intelligence. (This is not so true of The Hobbit which was written for children.)

    But to answer the original question. There are stories that a writer may (possibly) approach with great excitement and enthusiasm but the connection to the world and characters is essentially on a mental level. There are other stories where the writer makes a deeper and more emotional connection: whatever his or her intentions are in the beginning, the tale becomes something that he or she has to write, not for any outside considerations like deadlines or reader expectations, but in response to some passionate inner impulse.

    I think that most modern fantasy writers fall into the former category, and Tolkien into the latter. People respond to these different kinds of writing depending on what they are looking for when they pick up a book. But since Tolkien's way is rarer these days, if you want that kind of experience as a reader, you have to return to the books where you found it before.
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    rai

    rai New Member

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    sometime less is more. Like Saruman for example probably wasn't described in super detail but I think I have a good picture of him from his actions.

    Now Tolkien could be long winded such as Tom Bombadil's songs. To me that makes it feel like he's not in a rush like he just wants us to slow down and relax for a bit like not everything has to be part of the plot.
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    rai

    rai New Member

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    I agree with what you are saying. I mean if I was a writer would I rather make my deadline and fill my contract quick and get onto the next pay check. But then you have some writers like J D Sallinger (or maybe Tolkien etc..) who may write very few but they go down in history.

    It's hard to say but being prolific doesn't mean being bad. For example Dune is a classic yet Herbert wrote dozens of books. I don't know what made Dune stand out from his other works. Did he spend more time on it than his other works?. Stephen King does a good job even though he writes a lot. King works is not on the level of TLOTR but he's got 40+ books and I have read 20+ of them and liked 90% of them.
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    Wiglaf

    Wiglaf New Member

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    I thought Tolkien was a modern writer. Of course, the last fantasy novel that I read was the Saga of the Volsungs from circa AD 1200. (I'll accept 1200AD, but please no CE and BCE; I'll see to it that you get sacked) Compared to many older works, his characters seem much more human. Also, I look at Tolkien's work as if it was ancient myth. Would you critique King Arthur as being silly because randomly grabbing the sword from the stone for Kay was unlikely? Other stories I critique as stories; Tolkien is more like a primordial source.
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    power to the J

    power to the J New Member

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    Obviously, there are lots of popular works of fantasy that are obvious Tolkien knock-offs, but lots of fantasy does not, so I don't think he laid down any 'groundwork.' Also, what he wrote was not utterly original, since he took lots of ideas from ancient mythologies.

    This is obviously your own opinion, and it is something that I strongly disagree with. Tolkien's style was flawed and featured too much BS when if he would've got to the story instead of telling me the history of some family that I never hear about again, I would've enjoyed it much more. I agree with the person who said that Eddings is better than Tolkien, and I will even go so far as to say that Robert Jordan is better as well.

    True, but read chapter one of The Fellowship of the Ring and then chapter one of A Game of Thrones, and see if you can honestly tell me that LOTR moves faster. While reading LOTR, I often find myself skimming and ishing that the story would just get going already. I've never thought that while reading ASoIaF. LOTR would've been way better if 10% of it was cut. There are too many details that aren't needed, and certain elements introduced that end up coming to nothing. Also, LotR is simpler than WoT or ASoIaF. LotR has a simple plot when compared to the other two, and both of the ladder are far more epic and complex.

    Why does that seem to matter to you so much? It isn't like just because a story takes a lot of words to tell it needs to be slow. For all of the shortness you praise LotR for, it is slow moving and something of a chore to read. Also, Stephen King's works, while related, are not all about the same thing, or even telling the same story. He has DT, which is 7 books, and is another example of "modern fantasy" that is of a much higher quality than LotR (for same reasons as mentioned above).

    I don't know how much fantasy you read, because there is lots of it that are not about things from LotR, and just because many of the popular fantasy sagas today are knock offs, (I agree with you on that much, I guess) that doesn't mean that ALL fantasy is.

    Books are constantly compared to LotR, but I don't know why. Like I've said, I feel that today's fantasy is far better than Tolkien's, and I think that people just don't think of fantasy as anything but rip-offs.

    Anyway, that's my two cents.
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    Well, I can tell that you and I are never going to agree on this question, so I'm not going to say much on the subject, because I have the feeling that it would degenerate into an ad hominem argument.... but I really don't see how you can criticise LotR for being too slow and introducing irrelevant details (Like what, by the way? I'd be interested to know which "elements introduced that end up coming to nothing" you refer to are), and then praise WoT for being epic, when it degenerates into a floundering morass of discussion on skirt lengths, braid-pulling and concepts hacked wholesale from just about everything published previously....

    Possibly because the book is so good that it's used as a yardstick to measure every other heroic fantasy by?
    I mean it's been a runaway best seller for over fifty years, consistently tops polls on "Favourite Fantasy Novels", continually gains new readers, young and old, and is one of the few fantasy novels that can be read and re-read with pleasure. If Jordan's writing enjoys the same level of popularity in 2057 as Tolkien's does now, I'll eat my hat.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
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    Overread

    Overread Direwolf of the chrons

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    I think the comparisons also stem from the fact that when a reviewer makes a comparison, they want to know that the reader will be able to understand the comparison - tolkien is known by nearly all and read by many - even before the films added to its popularity - so a refrence to it is known to be understood by the average reader.
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Thats not Tolkien fault for living in totally different time and world.

    If GRRM and other modern fantasy writers lived in Tolkien's days they would be the same about female characters and other things that seem outdated to modern readers.

    Everyone is shaped by the world they live in. You cant judge someone like Tolkien from a modern perspective with things like that.

    You can dislike his writing but not blame him for things that he learned from his time.
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    Overread

    Overread Direwolf of the chrons

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    Remember also that the world of Middle Earth was heavily based on the ancient mythology and history of England and middle earth was meant to represent this history,
    I think I am right in stating that Tolkien wanted to make middle earth a form of mythology for ancient england, because much of it had been lost through changes in the monarcy (1066) and the onset of christianity
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Some guy in this thread said Tolkien isnt original cause he was inspired by ancient myths.

    Like thats something bad. Being inspired by different myths is a good thing usually it doesnt make you a copycat. Like Tolkien was the first one doing that.

    Copycat i would call all these knock offs of Tolkien and many other famous authors and their works.


    I havent read Tolkien yet but seeing people making up excuses why he is so bad is alittle....
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I have to agree here with Pyan about Tolkien (don't know about WoT, because Jordan's earlier writing so put me off the man's work I simply couldn't bring myself to attempt them; if he couldn't do justice to Howard, he most certainly couldn't top Tolkien....). I'm extremely curious about what those "unnecessary" elements in LotR are. Tolkien was an almost painfully meticulous writer who revised and rethought and recast time and time again, each time adding to the richness of his vision. He didn't throw in things gratuitously, but always with a purpose. This is one of the things that makes his work so richly textured, and why Middle-earth has long been a standard for historical, cultural, and emotional depth (and subtlety) in fantasy.

    While I wouldn't say all modern fantasy is a "rip-off" of Tolkien, I'd say a huge amount of it has been influenced by him in one way or another. He is to fantasy what Lovecraft and Poe are to the horror field, and the analogy isn't a surprising one, as all three were extremely painstaking in what they wrote.

    Part of the problem, it seems to me after many such discussions with people (especially younger readers -- say, below 30) is that there's a huge trend to see even fiction writing as simply the conveying of information, in the sense of plot, rather than even being aware of the richness of the experience of reading, seeing (and feeling) the textures, sounds, colors, tones, nuances, and subtleties which add so much more to any piece of writing (or painting, or music, or sculpting, etc.) than just "telling a story plainly and simply". This latter trend in fantasy (as in most twentieth-century writing) seems to have been a combination of following the modernists' (often) leanness of prose (especially as influenced by Hemingway's "Kill your darlings") and the sensationalism of the nineteenth century's penny dreadfuls and the twentieth century's pulps... and it hasn't been improved by the influence of the "whizz-bang" approach to filmmaking since Star Wars, either (which seems a resurgence of an earlier approach to any kind of genre filmmaking)....

    There is a piece in one of Lovecraft's early editorials that seems very germane here:

    I would venture to say that it is not only our preceptors, but many modern readers, who rob themselves of the richness of verbal magic to be found in such writers as Tolkien, Eddison, Mirrlees, Dunsany, and Peake.....
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    power to the J

    power to the J New Member

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    Yeah I think that it's pointless for us to get into an argument over this. I like Jordan more than Tolkien, you like Tolkien more than Jordan.
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    This is exactly right, jd - and, alas, is promulgated in our own Critiques section, where at least half the comments and criticisms seem to be on the lines of "Cut out the descriptive bits...they slow down the story. Don't dump information on the reader. Don't use adjectives. Don't use adverbs...."

    Far too often, what's left reads like a synopsis of a story that could have been much more. Try reading Dune, or Lord Valentine's Castle or Gormenghast........
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    Kissmequick

    Kissmequick loony

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    Yep I have to agree too. Ofc in the critiques section they're right in that if you don't cut it down you probably won't get it published. But I like to read as much for the beauty of the prose as for the plot, which is why I'm a grumpy old woman who prefers older books to what is being published now. *sighs*
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    And avoid adjectives as if they were the Black Plague.... Yes, I know. While there is a certain amount of wisdom in this view, it is far too overstated. The point is to have a judicious mixture of the two (in most fiction), where it doesn't feel as if it grinds to a screeching halt, or as if it's simply a sketch or notes toward the writing of a story.

    Nor is either view off the mark in all instances. Some of Georges Simenon, for instance, is extremely terse and "lightly pencilled in"... yet his work is also often very good. Hemingway himself had a certain cadence and rhythm to his prose, and chose his words very carefully so that they would carry more associations and weight than simply "cutting out all the pretty bits". On the other hand, some writers, such as Joyce or Ballard, went the opposite direction (at least in some works), creating verbal bits of impressionistic (or surrealistic, in the case of Ballard) painting, which evoke emotion and wonder and many other emotions by the sheer power of their imagery and the music of their prose. So either extreme can work... but any prose style must be chosen by the type of tale, the subject matter, the internal logic of the story itself, or the writing is going to be unsuitable and awkward for that tale, leaving it feeling completely flat and amateurish....
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    Marky Lazer

    Marky Lazer New Member

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    I guess all the "irrelevant details" shape Middle-Earth into a real world instead of some silly place where fairytale creatures hop around.

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