Howard or Tolkien, Which of them Had The Greatest Impact On Modern Fantasy ?

BAYLOR

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When I think modern fantasy, the two names that come mind first are Robert E. Howard and J. R .R Tolkien. Howard gave us Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn , Solomon Kane ect. What we've come to know as heroic fantasy in the pulp tradition. Tolkien gave us The Hobbit , Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin . World building , what we've come to call epic fantasy .

Which of them, do you think, had the greatest influence on development modern as we know it ? If you had to chose which of them was the more significant, whom would you chose and why? What do you think modern fantasy would be like if either one or the other of them had never been? Or If neither of them had have ever been?
 

Extollager

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This is an old-fashioned topic, Baylor. I don't suppose Tolkien and Howard are linked very often these days, but it's funny to see Tolkien and LOTR being invoked to market Conan back around 1966.

Tolkien and Fantasy: Pre-1970 Paperbacks with Comparisons to Tolkien

Tolkien and Fantasy: Dale Nelson's Summation on Tolkien in pre-1970 blurbs

My sense is that Howardian swords-and-sorcery is just about played out as far as big publishers are concerned, i.e. that it's old-time REH fans and small-press folk who keep working in the genre. On the other hand, I attribute largely to the influence of Tolkien and to authors who were imitating him the proclivity of publishers to desire, and writers to supply, the endless swarm of "trilogies" and series books in sf as well as fantasy that we have today, and which I, though a devoted Tolkien fan, veteran of 13 readings of LOTR, etc., find really unattractive.

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/547783-which-books-dont-do-it-for-you-2.html#post1803160

I don't mean to be snide, but accurate, in saying that an imaginative 15-year-old can write a passable Howard imitation -- and many of us have -- but no one can match Tolkien, and the best fantasists are those who may be influenced by him but who have a lot of their own substance to bring to the typewriter. I think of Ursula Le Guin's first three Earthsea books, for example.

Much of what I've written is my impressions, so perhaps someone will correct me.

I think that, without Howard and, especially, Tolkien, modern fantasy as a publishing niche would not be the presence that it is -- for one thing, those Jackson movies wouldn't have been made, and they must do something to keep the field of fantasy publishing going.

That's mostly a quantitative observation. Qualitatively, Tolkien showed that the imaginative romance can still profoundly move modern readers and affect their very lives. I have no doubt that reading Tolkien affected my inner world for good, for life, ever since around 1966. I think many people felt differently about the natural world after they immersed in Tolkien; yes, I think he not only benefited from, but contributed significantly to, the development of a responsible mass movement for respecting and cherishing the natural world. See the book by Dickerson and Evans (far better than its cutesy title), Ents, Elves, and Eriador.

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/532928-tolkien-and-agrarianism.html

Howard accomplished nothing comparable to that. If he had never written anything, you could still get a lot of Howard-type excitement, at least at a young age, from the Barsoom books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and so on, though one grants that his mixture of violent heroes, Theosophical notions about race and so on, and monsters was his own.
 

hitmouse

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I pretty much agree with Extollager here.
Howard defined a narrow cliche which has been influential but which is not particularly deep. Clearly underlays aspects of Elric, Gor, Lankhmar etc. The fisrst and third examples are much cleverer than Howard ever was. I do not know whether there was any cross-fertilization between Howard and Burroughs. Similar kind of thing but I find Burroughs to be more interesting. Both are of a period when a lot of pulp stories of many genres featured heroes who could defeat evil types using their well honed muscles/sword/hammer/battle axe etc. It worked as a 1980s revival, possibly because it fit that decade in a number of guises. Really a bit tired now.
Tolkein is clearly more complex, and has had a more widespread and deeper influence, though it should be noted that many of the lower-end modern fantasies combine Tolkeinesque imagery and conceits with Conan-type action and morality.
 

Fried Egg

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I think unquestionably Tolkien had the bigger impact on the fantasy genre. But if one was to ask who had the more positive an impact, that would be harder to decide in my opinion.
 

AnyaKimlin

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To be honest neither of them influence me. I found them both as dull as ditchwater to read and tend to steer clear of their many derivatives. My personal influences are far and wide with Enid Blyton possibly leading the pack when it comes to fantasy. Even her adventure series had some lovely magical realism woven in with the way the boys communicated with various creatures.

George MacDonald I enjoyed, CS Lewis I enjoyed, Jim Butcher I enjoyed, Alannah Knight etc

Every writer has their own influences.
 

BAYLOR

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To be honest neither of them influence me. I found them both as dull as ditchwater to read and tend to steer clear of their many derivatives. My personal influences are far and wide with Enid Blyton possibly leading the pack when it comes to fantasy. Even her adventure series had some lovely magical realism woven in with the way the boys communicated with various creatures.

George MacDonald I enjoyed, CS Lewis I enjoyed, Jim Butcher I enjoyed, Alannah Knight etc

Every writer has their own influences.

Robert E Howard dull? How do you figure? Howard was a master story teller, Queen Of the Black Coast Sword and the Phoenix, Conan Hour of the Dragon. and many other characters and stories. He helped popularize the sword sorcery a genre. I don't think he can be so easily dismissed.
 

BAYLOR

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I think unquestionably Tolkien had the bigger impact on the fantasy genre. But if one was to ask who had the more positive an impact, that would be harder to decide in my opinion.

Without Howard, how popular would Tolkien be today?
 

AnyaKimlin

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Robert E Howard dull? How do you figure? Howard was a master story teller, Queen Of the Black Coast Sword and the Phoenix, Conan Hour of the Dragon. and many other characters and stories. He helped popularize the sword sorcery a genre. I don't think he can be so easily dismissed.

Of course I can. I did not say they were dull merely that I read "Queen of the Black Coast Sword" and was bored; the story did nothing for me and I felt very little connection to the characters. Just because a story sells well does not mean I am required to enjoy it. As a child I disliked Roald Dahl but loved Enid Blyton as a result the latter influences my work more. My daughter is the reverse.

Clearly many readers do not find either Howard or Tolkien dull. Personally, I think their legacy if anything has been destructive to the fantasy genre not constructive and I am pleased that in recent years their influences are more greatly diluted.

Every writer has their own influences.
 

BAYLOR

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Of course I can. I did not say they were dull merely that I read "Queen of the Black Coast Sword" and was bored; the story did nothing for me and I felt very little connection to the characters. Just because a story sells well does not mean I am required to enjoy it. As a child I disliked Roald Dahl but loved Enid Blyton as a result the latter influences my work more. My daughter is the reverse.

Clearly many readers do not find either Howard or Tolkien dull. Personally, I think their legacy if anything has been destructive to the fantasy genre not constructive and I am pleased that in recent years their influences are more greatly diluted.

Every writer has their own influences.

Ive never read Enid Blyton .

Apologies that is a very fair point, your not required to enjoy Howard ,on that we can agree. Every one has different tastes . Howard and Tolkien destructive the fantasy genre ? I just don't agree with assessment, and I think alot of others would not agree with you either . Robert E. Howard is one of two writers that got me interested in reading . So from that point there is a benefit to reading him , at least to me there was, and probably to many other people as well.

I do think in 100 years time both Howard and Tolkien will still be read and enjoyed. I don't see them ever fading away.
 
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AnyaKimlin

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It isn't their fault they have been destructive but I do see their legacy as one that stifled originality for a time. The fault is that of those that try to copy. When I tried to sell my epic (almost) fantasy I was given many complimentary comments by agents who wanted to see my work again but more than one suggested I rewrite it with an historical setting not because it is bad the way it is but because they would not know how to market it.

These days thank goodness whilst they may seem to be read widely, which is right they should be because they are classics, there are many, many other influences being used and seeping into the pool of fantasy being written. After all neither men invented the genre. Tolkien himself was inspired by men like George MacDonald and Lord Dunsany not to mention the many sagas and legends he studied.

Enid Blyton's Enchanted Wood (Faraway Tree series) is in my opinion a masterpiece of fantasy writing. She created worlds that were somehow improbable yet believable. Her Adventure series included elements of alternate worlds and magical realism, despite not being officially fantasy.

Also writing around the same time was E Nesbit with Five Children and It. Also I love James Hilton's Lost Horizon.
 

BAYLOR

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It isn't their fault they have been destructive but I do see their legacy as one that stifled originality for a time. The fault is that of those that try to copy. When I tried to sell my epic (almost) fantasy I was given many complimentary comments by agents who wanted to see my work again but more than one suggested I rewrite it with an historical setting not because it is bad the way it is but because they would not know how to market it.

These days thank goodness whilst they may seem to be read widely, which is right they should be because they are classics, there are many, many other influences being used and seeping into the pool of fantasy being written. After all neither men invented the genre. Tolkien himself was inspired by men like George MacDonald and Lord Dunsany not to mention the many sagas and legends he studied.

Enid Blyton's Enchanted Wood (Faraway Tree series) is in my opinion a masterpiece of fantasy writing. She created worlds that were somehow improbable yet believable. Her Adventure series included elements of alternate worlds and magical realism, despite not being officially fantasy.

Also writing around the same time was E Nesbit with Five Children and It. Also I love James Hilton's Lost Horizon.

Ive read Nesbit,found here to be quite good and Ive Hilton's Lost Horizon, also quite good .

True neither man did invent the genre , Ive read a number of the writers that inspired both men.
 
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Fried Egg

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Extollager said:
I don't mean to be snide, but accurate, in saying that an imaginative 15-year-old can write a passable Howard imitation -- and many of us have -- but no one can match Tolkien, and the best fantasists are those who may be influenced by him but who have a lot of their own substance to bring to the typewriter.
Many authors have written and published Conan stories but most of them are clearly inferior to the originals so I don't think he is as easily imitated as you seem to suggest.

And I would say while many authors have tried to imitate Howard stylistically, who actually wants to imitate Tolkien's (rather dry) style? It is not his style that people seek to ape but rather his world building, the way he injected a real sense of history and age into his settings.

And I think another branch of major influence (and every bit as important) on modern fantasy is via authors such as Lord Dunsany and Jack Vance that are quite apart from either Howard and Tolkien.
 

Extollager

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And I would say while many authors have tried to imitate Howard stylistically, who actually wants to imitate Tolkien's (rather dry) style?

The only "dry" passages that I can think of in fantasy by Tolkien, in work published in his lifetime, would be in some of the appendices, "Annals of the Kings and Rulers" or the discussion of the Shire calendrical system, where a dry style is appropriate. Since I doubt that these are the items you have in mind when you refer to Tolkien's "dry" style, could you define what you mean by "dry" and perhaps give examples?

Readers have observed that Tolkien's command of a variety of styles is one of his special strengths. One could compare and contrast the eerie atmosphere developing in Fellowship as the hobbits find themselves in a wilderness of willows and are subtly forced away from the direction they want to go, heading, instead, deeper into the Withywindle valley -- versus, say, the ride of the Rohirrim in a desperate bid to succor the besieged people of Minas Tirith.
 

Extollager

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Without Howard, how popular would Tolkien be today?

Oh, he'd scrape by. I don't know if you looked up the links I provided, but it was amusing to see Lancer Books, when they launched their Conan series in 1966, hoping to sell Howard by promising adventures more imaginative than The Lord of the Rings! By 1966, with the competing Ace Books
3_Ace_Tolkien.jpeg

and Ballantine Books selling like hotcakes, Tolkien was the subject of much media coverage. LotR was a "campus craze" in America and, to a lesser extent, Britain.

The Daily Apple: Apple #199: Was there Once a Tolkien Craze?

So if anyone piggybacked to popularity on anyone else's back, it was Howard getting a boost from Tolkien and not the reverse. Tolkien's staggering success showed publisher that mass-market fantasy books could sell. If anyone has an alternative idea about why Conan books had (almost*) not appeared till Tolkien was the rage, let him or her speak to the issue! Of course I am not saying that Howard's popularity was due entirely to some supposed affinity with Tolkien. He is far, far more akin to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his type of writer than to Tolkien. But as a publishing phenomenon, it is not plausible to argue that Tolkien owed anything to Howard.
ConanConquerorPB.gif

*There was an Ace double paperback with Howard's Conan the Conqueror (Hour of the Dragon) paired with a Leigh Brackett novel, but evidently this didn't sell well enough for Ace to want to reprint more Conan stuff -- from the Gnome Press editions, I suppose. The 1950s Gnome Press Conan books were aimed primarily at fans/collectors, and didn't attract much attention outside fan circles so far as I can tell. I've seen one or two of them in public libraries -- certainly The Coming of Conan in the Grants Pass, Oregon, public library.
ConanGnome.gif
 

Extollager

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By the way, as a tangent wasn't Howard getting away from Conan late in his life? It seems to me he was interested in developing the Breckinridge Elkins stories; as if he felt that Conan was pretty much played out.
 

Bick

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...who actually wants to imitate Tolkien's (rather dry) style?
I'd say just about every author of epic fantasy until the recent past when writers have been consciously moving away from him - most fantasy writers would sell their souls to be able to write with his style.

As to the original question - Tolkien has been by far and away the greater influence without a shadow of a doubt.
 

Fried Egg

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I'd say just about every author of epic fantasy until the recent past when writers have been consciously moving away from him - most fantasy writers would sell their souls to be able to write with his style.
I stand by my previous assertion that it is not his style as such that many sort to imitate but rather his craft for in-depth world building. It's my personal opinion of course, but of all the great fantasy writers I have read, Tolkien is one of the least memorable, stylistically speaking. His undeniably titanic legacy cannot be attributed to his writing style. But many writers have sought to imbue their worlds with as much depth and richness as he did with middle earth. Whatever you personally think of Tolkien stylistically, surely we can agree that his real impact has been in the realms of world building?

Whereas when one thinks of Howard and the sheer electricity one receives from the characters he brought to life. Tolkien didn't come close in this particular regard, again in my personal opinion. And I cannot think of anyone prior to Howard, even E.R.B., who came close to this.
 
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BAYLOR

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By the way, as a tangent wasn't Howard getting away from Conan late in his life? It seems to me he was interested in developing the Breckinridge Elkins stories; as if he felt that Conan was pretty much played out.

Had he lived , he likely would have abandoned fantasy altogether. But one could speculate that he would have come back to the genre in 1950's or 60's perhaps?
 

Bick

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Whatever you personally think of Tolkien stylistically, surely we can agree that his real impact has been in the realms of world building?
I wouldn't use the phrase 'his real impact' as that seems to imply other influences (such as style) are unreal or don't exist, but I would agree that the depth of his world building is probably the the area in which his influence has been greatest.

[In fact, his greatest influences on modern geekdom generally are probably his invention of orcs, and the springboard he provided for the invention of role playing games, particularly AD&D]
 
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AnyaKimlin

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I'd say just about every author of epic fantasy until the recent past when writers have been consciously moving away from him - most fantasy writers would sell their souls to be able to write with his style.

Good grief no - the worlds he created were amazing but the stories were in my opinion dire and the characters difficult to bond with. Everyone is different. However, if I want to sell my epic fantasy I need to sell my soul and ape Tolkien more closely.
 

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