“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Probably, the first words that introduced most of us into J.R.R Tolkien’s work. That is, as you know for sure, the first sentence of The Hobbit. The Lord of The Rings has not only defined the High Fantasy genre, or literature, Tolkien’s work has influenced Popular Culture itself.
No need to wonder why LOTR movie adaptations had such an impressive grossing after all, being one of the most popular and best selling series of all time (just check the 5 best selling fantasy novels of all time). If that was not enough, a film about Tolkien’s life will be released this very same year and let’s not forget Amazon’s LOTR tv adaptation (see here).
Who is J.R.R Tolkien?
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an English writer, best known for his fantasy novels The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Poet, academic and one of the main reasons the Fantasy is the way that it is nowadays. He became a legend being alive, he died in 1973, as it could be no other way: 1 ring for Sauron, 9 for Men 7, for Dwarves, 3 for Elves. Epic.
For those who want to know more about J.R.R Tolkien, an upcoming biographical film directed by Dome Karukowsky will be released on May 10, 2019, casting Nicholas Hoult as J. R. R. Tolkien. Also, his latest novel, The Fall of Gondolin, was posthumously published as a stand-alone novel, check it here.
If you want to know if you would be an orc, an elf or another race in Lotr, just check this: Which race would you be in the Lord of The Rings world?
How Tolkien changed fantasy
We can’t say that Tolkien created the fantasy genre, such an honor must be granted to George MacDonald. But we can assure that Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy. It was his novel, The Lord of The Rings, that changed the fantasy genre and became as we know it. Also, it had one of the most iconic items in the Fantasy genre.
Tolkien is the father of the high fantasy genre, which main characteristics are having a hero ( or a character that will eventually become a hero) as the main character and setting the story in a fictional world. High fantasy stories usually narrate how the main character grows, leans and eventually defeats the evil forces. He was an author that was ahead of his time, and therefore he set the basic rules of the modern fantasy genre.
As you will have noticed, such characteristics are more than discernible in Tolkien’s main work. Both The Hobbit and Lord of The Ring’s tell the story of a hobbit, Bilbo and Frodo respectively, who will experience a journey until they defeat the forces of evil. The Lord of The Rings was published in 1954, and since then tons of writers have been inspired and written their own high Fantasy works.
Other high fantasy novels
Other examples of high fantasy series are A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicle, Mistborn or Discworld. As you will have noticed, all these novels are defined by the same structure having a hero (or heroes) who defeat the evil forces. Yes, even Rincewind(Discworld) meets those standards.
Also, Tolkien set such a world full of creative fantasy creatures that somehow became like the standard world of fantasy. That is, even though Tolkien didn’t create orcs or elves, it is actually his reworked version which stands as the archetypic idea of how such creatures would look and behave. Just think about every modern fantasy story you know, orcs and elves will for sure be stereotyped the way Tolkien depicted such races. Speaking of races, here is a post about racism in literature.
How the author “Tolkienized” fantasy
In this sense, the author Brandon Sanderson (writer of Mistborn or Skyward among other novels) posted on his blog how Tolkien, being ahead of his time, set the pillars of modern fantasy. Having the rest of the writers to “copy” his universe:
But they (other writers) didn’t do what Tolkien did. They didn’t create a new world, with its own mythology, its own society, its own technology, its own races and creatures. This wasn’t their fault—they just weren’t ready to jump to that level. So instead they applied their considerable creativity toward copying Tolkien. Instead of creating true high fantasy, everyone created more low fantasy—but they used Tolkien’s world as a base instead of our own. The result was a kind of tainting of the entire genre, a ‘Tolkienizing.’ Fantasy didn’t mean ‘the genre where the author creates his or her own unique setting.’ It meant ‘the genre where the books include elves, dwarfs, wizards, and quests.’
Authors inspired by J.R.R Tolkien
Virtually any fantasy writer since the 60s has been, them being aware or not, inspired by Tolkien’s work. As stated before, The Lord of The Rings just made the fantasy genre evolve. Here are some notorious authors who have stated they have been inspired by Tolkien:
“I revere Lord of the Rings, I reread it every few years, it had an enormous effect on me as a kid. In some sense, when I started this saga I was replying to Tolkien, but even more to his modern imitators.” George R.R Martin.
“Now it might seem like I’m picking on Tolkien a little bit here. But again I say: I mock because I love. I grew up reading Tolkien, and I mean that quite literally. I read the lord of the rings at least once a year through all my teenage years.
To his credit, Tolkien gave us one of the best traditions of our genre, that of elaborate, realistic worldbuilding.” Patrick Rothfuss.
Tolkien’s influence in culture
This author’s work influenced pop culture itself, here are some examples of how Tolkien influenced culture:
Games and video games
Dungeons and Dragons
The distinguished RPG table board Dungeons and Dragons was widely influenced by Tolkien’s work. As you know in this board game every player controls a fantasy character set in a medieval world full of orcs, elves, and magical creatures. The influence of LOTR in this game was so that Tolkien enterprises made the creators change the names of some of the creatures included in this board game such as The Hobbits (changed to Halflings) or Ents (to Treants) due to copyright reasons.
Funnily, this D&D influenced other fantasy series such as The Legend of Drizzt or Dragonlance.
Warcraft is a videogame series developed by Blizzard. In the first videogame of this franchise, Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans, where these races are portrayed the way Tolkien had set them. In its following sequels, new races are added such as Elves or Dwarfs.
Warhammer is a popular medieval fantasy board game played with miniature models. Different armies exist in this universe such as Orcs, Elves, Dwarfs, Demons and of course humans.
What Tolkien book should I start with?
If you don’t know how to start reading Tolkien’s work, here is a basic reading order:
- The Hobbit.
- The Fellowship of the Ring.
- The Two Towers.
- The Return of the King.
These novels are the must-read. In case you want to read more, you can read The Silmarillion but be warned it’s a bit more of an advanced lecture.
Are J.R.R Tolkien stories public domain?
No, Tolkien’s stories have not entered public domain yet. Since his work was published in 1973, that means his work won’t enter the public domain until 2060.
Hope you enjoyed this article and learned more about how this writer defined the Fantasy Genre as it is known these days.
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