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

KGeo777

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There was a writer (I wish I can remember the name) who said fantasy ruled literature for thousands of years until the 20th Century (I assume he was thinking of Hemingway and co.) and it would come back around to normal again.
Tolkien and Howard benefited from this prediction. One one hand, there was always an interest in heroic adventure (Howard)--and there was always an interest in the mysteries of Nature (Tolkien). The hero in Howard is a warrior and the hero in Tolkien is a wizard (I think Gandalf is more famous than Frodo and friends--he is the most pro-active character--at least how the public judges it--he fights the monster). Even then, Gandalf is often depicted as a Charlton Heston Moses figure in illustration. Aragorn gets little attention.

What would Conan do in Middle Earth?
Go to the nearest inn.
 

hitmouse

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There was a writer (I wish I can remember the name) who said fantasy ruled literature for thousands of years until the 20th Century (I assume he was thinking of Hemingway and co.) and it would come back around to normal again.
Tolkien and Howard benefited from this prediction. One one hand, there was always an interest in heroic adventure (Howard)--and there was always an interest in the mysteries of Nature (Tolkien). The hero in Howard is a warrior and the hero in Tolkien is a wizard (I think Gandalf is more famous than Frodo and friends--he is the most pro-active character--at least how the public judges it--he fights the monster). Even then, Gandalf is often depicted as a Charlton Heston Moses figure in illustration. Aragorn gets little attention.

What would Conan do in Middle Earth?
Go to the nearest inn.
I would argue that they are both heroic adventure, just different styles.

Aragorn gets loads of attention as the swashbuckling, super-capable backwoodsman-lost prince romantic lead.
 

KGeo777

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I would argue that they are both heroic adventure, just different styles.

Aragorn gets loads of attention as the swashbuckling, super-capable backwoodsman-lost prince romantic lead.

I didn't mean to say there wasn't any (especially given how big that work is). But I think with the Hobbit included, it's generally seen as Gandalf's show in Tolkien. I don't think Aragorn is cited much--Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the ring obsessed creature--they get all the attention.
He's not the main attraction. Unlike in a Howard story (with the exception of something like Tower of the Elephant--where Conan is not fighting the supernatural alien element--he's assisting it--to go back to its own realm).
 

Fried Egg

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I think we all know, deep down, that Tolkien has been far more influential than Howard. Really, it is almost churlish to compare the two, with Howard selling mainly short stories to magazines to get by and Tolkien writing more as a labour of love, for his own pleasure.

But when I consider the impact Tolkien made on Modern fantasy (say 70's onwards) I see the tendency towards long, sprawling epic fantasies with excessive world building. I do not see this as a good thing and it has largely put me off reading modern fantasy. The modern fantasy I do like is certainly not in this tradition (as I see it), although not necessarily in Howards either.

So, I would not dispute Tolkien's dominance on the field but I would certainly dispute the merit of that influence. Maybe it's not fair to blame him for other people taking it too far, and I suppose that is the public's fault and the type of books they choose to buy so who am I to complain?
 

Vince W

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who am I to complain?
Hello, this is the interwebs calling. That's our bag. ;)

I would have to agree that Tolkien's type of world building has been taken to extremes now to the point where authors cannot even finish stories. Howard painted with very vivid broad strokes but publishers can't sell sub 300 page books anymore it seems.
 

Summerwood

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I think we all know, deep down, that Tolkien has been far more influential than Howard. Really, it is almost churlish to compare the two, with Howard selling mainly short stories to magazines to get by and Tolkien writing more as a labour of love, for his own pleasure.

But when I consider the impact Tolkien made on Modern fantasy (say 70's onwards) I see the tendency towards long, sprawling epic fantasies with excessive world building. I do not see this as a good thing and it has largely put me off reading modern fantasy. The modern fantasy I do like is certainly not in this tradition (as I see it), although not necessarily in Howards either.

So, I would not dispute Tolkien's dominance on the field but I would certainly dispute the merit of that influence. Maybe it's not fair to blame him for other people taking it too far, and I suppose that is the public's fault and the type of books they choose to buy so who am I to complain?
I like a lot of modern fantasy but, I agree that the amount of world-building is either done too excessively not well enough. Tolkien did an amazing job in world-building. I love how a lot of writers crap on him spending a page describing a flower and meadow or something like that. The description is key but to the point of exhaustion can kill interest and make or break your story.
 

hitmouse

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I like a lot of modern fantasy but, I agree that the amount of world-building is either done too excessively not well enough. Tolkien did an amazing job in world-building. I love how a lot of writers crap on him spending a page describing a flower and meadow or something like that.
Where does Tolkein do that?
 

Randy M.

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I think that was Summerwood's point, Hitmouse. I've been bemused by the comments I've seen online from readers claiming Tolkein is too flowery (*cough*).

Seriously, a lot of posters at various sites have commented on how he was far too descriptive. To me, he hit the right note for making the world a character in his books, but some readers want wall-to-wall action and magic, and seem immune to the atmosphere I felt he created and sustained.
 

BAYLOR

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I think we all know, deep down, that Tolkien has been far more influential than Howard. Really, it is almost churlish to compare the two, with Howard selling mainly short stories to magazines to get by and Tolkien writing more as a labour of love, for his own pleasure.

But when I consider the impact Tolkien made on Modern fantasy (say 70's onwards) I see the tendency towards long, sprawling epic fantasies with excessive world building. I do not see this as a good thing and it has largely put me off reading modern fantasy. The modern fantasy I do like is certainly not in this tradition (as I see it), although not necessarily in Howards either.

So, I would not dispute Tolkien's dominance on the field but I would certainly dispute the merit of that influence. Maybe it's not fair to blame him for other people taking it too far, and I suppose that is the public's fault and the type of books they choose to buy so who am I to complain?

Fair enough .
 

psikeyhackr

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I think we all know, deep down, that Tolkien has been far more influential than Howard. Really, it is almost churlish to compare the two, with Howard selling mainly short stories to magazines to get by and Tolkien writing more as a labour of love, for his own pleasure.

If we regard super hero movies as modern fantasy and the amount of money they rake in then Howard could get the win.

I don't watch comic book movies though.
 

BAYLOR

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If we regard super hero movies as modern fantasy and the amount of money they rake in then Howard could get the win.

I don't watch comic book movies though.

I tend to skip most of those.
 

The Big Peat

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If we regard super hero movies as modern fantasy and the amount of money they rake in then Howard could get the win.

I don't watch comic book movies though.

I'm curious to the logic here, as I can't say I see how that stems from Howard and not Tolkien.


Re the whole "Tolkien is to blame for very long series" - honestly, I think this should be on publishing and people as much as anything. The economics of publishing swung from shorts making sense to big books making sense, and a series works as a brand, and we know brands are popular in all fields. It's not like fantasy is unique for long running series.

Honestly, I am increasingly running to the view that a lot of what we lay on Tolkien was the logical path of development for the genre and seen in others' works to some extent, and Tolkien simply became the face of it and the exact model when he hit a level of commercial and cultural success out of anyone's wildest dreams.

The one thing I see in Tolkien that I don't think I see in just about any of the other writers of his time is a really sincere whole-hearted belief in good, healing, and a better world. I'm not saying that's the entire reason he took off, but I reckon it had a large amount to do with it. And while there's been plenty of authors in the genre before and since who wanted to take a very different look at it, by and large the ones that have achieved the most have trod closest in that path. GRR Martin feels like the one big exception but then

a) There's a lot of conventional heroism and struggling for good in the books (Jon Snow, Jaime's redemption, etc.etc.)
b) When the TV series finished in a somewhat sour mood, the kickback was enormous and more or less destroyed the show's legacy, and while I think the writing could have carried off that sour mood a lot better, I guess it probably had something to do with it...
 

psikeyhackr

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I'm curious to the logic here, as I can't say I see how that stems from Howard and not Tolkien.

A true superman has to have a love interest.
Lois Lane, Lana Lang.

Ever read Howard's Queen of the Black Coast?

Was Gandalf Tolkien's superman?
 

The Big Peat

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A true superman has to have a love interest.
Lois Lane, Lana Lang.

Ever read Howard's Queen of the Black Coast?

Was Gandalf Tolkien's superman?

I'm not sure Howard's mostly-woman-of-the-week approach has more affinity to the long lasting and important role played by love interests in superhero comics than the mostly behind the scenes approach of Arwen and Rosie Cotton, and Beren and Luthien would be the best love story with the most meaningful love interest either wrote. And in any case, if we're talking influence rather than affinity, I doubt either is particularly involved with that decision.
 

BAYLOR

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I'm not sure Howard's mostly-woman-of-the-week approach has more affinity to the long lasting and important role played by love interests in superhero comics than the mostly behind the scenes approach of Arwen and Rosie Cotton, and Beren and Luthien would be the best love story with the most meaningful love interest either wrote. And in any case, if we're talking influence rather than affinity, I doubt either is particularly involved with that decision.

Howard is pure escape. :D
 

BAYLOR

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A true superman has to have a love interest.
Lois Lane, Lana Lang.

Ever read Howard's Queen of the Black Coast?

Was Gandalf Tolkien's superman?

Ive read Queen of the Black Coast several times, I'ts one Howards best stories. Poul Anderson novel Conan the Liberator which is a great fantasy novae in int own right , is prequel to events of Queen of the Black Coast.
 

The Big Peat

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Just circling back on this as I've been doing some academic research on this... out of a list of 67 authors from the UK and North America writing predominantly in the 20th century, 21 listed Tolkien as an influence and 15 R.E. Howard.

Which feels closer than one might expect.

The answer to that to a certain extent is that personal influence isn't the only influence. Epic fantasy authors like Erikson and Esslemont, Feist, Eddings, might poo poo the notion that Tolkien influenced them, but he influenced the art form they chose to use. Erikson might list Howard as an influence over Tolkien, but when he is also listing Donaldson, Le Guin and Robin Hobb, he's receiving Tolkien influence through all of them.

But of course the more you play that game, the more Howard grows too. There's 14 authors on the list counting Fritz Leiber as an influence. Sure, some of them such as Erikson, Ian Esslemont, Bill King count Howard as an influence too (okay, that's all of them). But you get a group of authors like Patricia McKillip, Tim Powers, Tanith Lee, Feist and Tad Williams (and plenty more) who now show a Howard influence, some of them that you mightn't expect it from.

I am beginning to suspect the answer to Tolkien's overbearing influence though lies primarily with fans than with the actual creatives. Yes, he is hugely influential there, but not overbearingly so. We are the people who go "ahh! it looks like Tolkien". But as we should all know, when you go looking for something, you find it.

Anyway, I'd like to do more research on this before declaring anything definitive, but in terms of actual authorly influence rather than dominating cultural and commercial mindsets, I suspect it's actually a fight worth talking about, insofar as this is a fight. Cultural and commercial remains decisively with Tolkien of course; in terms of shaping terrain, Howard is like a storm that caused some trees to crash over a while back, and Tolkien is the trees you can still actually touch. Both great, but the one you can see commands primacy.

I also suspect that by now, finding a fantasy author - certainly in the trad field, but really just any field - who doesn't have influences that are at some point indebted to both would be more unusual than finding one who has both.


Also in terms of what Howard brought to the table, I think everytime you see someone marry horror influences to action, or to the historic you see a bit of what Howard wrought - the marriage of pulp action to Lovecraftian (and Poe-esque and Dunsanian) horror and Burroughs/Haggard lost worlds, with a lot of historical novel additions. Which is perhaps why Howard seems to be a bigger influence on the start of Urban Fantasy than Tolkien.

I think also it's unsurprising Howard appeals to more cynical authors. I saw someone refer to Howard as believing in the world as never changing; he one hundred per cent didn't. He lived in Texas at the time of an oil boom that radically and violently reshaped his home, while having to constantly move due to concealing the nature of his mother's illness. He lived a transient life marked by much melancholy. Conan is in part his revenge story, his tale of how the barbaric values of the frontier were greater than the civilised values of the oil boom, but also an elegy for a dying world. Middle Earth gets restored; Conan's world is to be changed, even if it not in his lifetime, and most of his great deeds bring no lasting good to himself. He is a natural influence for any author equally pessimistic about the coming world, or skeptical of the good of civilisation. Not unlike Tolkien there.
 

Vince W

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One aspect about their relative influences is simply time. Howard died in 1936. If he had been a little more stable and lived longer he might have had a greater influence with more output. Tolkien’s output wasn’t much greater overall but the fact that he lived to 1973 gave him more time to achieve a rather legendary status among his readers. He became part of the mythos he created. Howard did as well, to some degree, but that was the work of others.
 

Extollager

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I am beginning to suspect the answer to Tolkien's overbearing influence though lies primarily with fans than with the actual creatives. Yes, he is hugely influential there, but not overbearingly so. We are the people who go "ahh! it looks like Tolkien". But as we should all know, when you go looking for something, you find it.
Thanks for a nice sercon posting! : )

Tolkien influences people to read more fantasy, but I suspect a lot of writers, fan or pro, never try seriously to write like him. How many of these authors are philologists, poets, scholars like he was? I have loved Tolkien's work since I was 11 but I have never tried to "imitate" it. He's way too great for that.

Contrastingly, Howard is extremely imitable. Gobs of us teenage fans of the Lancer paperbacks wrote our own sword-and-sorcery barbarian stories and I'll bet a lot of those imitations were not ridiculously poor as such. My character was named Koroth. He appeared in a fanzine called Endeavor.
 

BAYLOR

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One aspect about their relative influences is simply time. Howard died in 1936. If he had been a little more stable and lived longer he might have had a greater influence with more output. Tolkien’s output wasn’t much greater overall but the fact that he lived to 1973 gave him more time to achieve a rather legendary status among his readers. He became part of the mythos he created. Howard did as well, to some degree, but that was the work of others.

If the school teacher REH dating had stayed in his life , he would had had someone who might have been able to help through the death of mother and his other issues . I think he might well have lived for many more years and wrote more. But, I suspect that he had lived, he would largely abandoned fantasy and horror in favor of Western detective stories historical fiction . At the time of his death , he was heading that way. But, I also think around the 1950's he's come back to fantasy and science fiction and in a big way and, he would be even better it because writing would matured considerably by that time. But. we'll never know for sure. :(
 

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