The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy

The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy

The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy

The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy

Synopsis

When J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings appeared in 1954, it was hailed by readers but dismissed by critics as juvenile escapism. For many years both critics and professors of literature refused to take Tolkien seriously, yet today they reluctantly admit that he was indeed a great writer. Jared Lobdell claims that the literary achievement of Tolkien in fact represents a new mainstream of literary development. The future of fiction lies in fantasy, he argues, and Tolkien is part of a vital organic growth with roots in the past. Professor Lobdell surveys the predecessors of and influences on Tolkien, from Rudyard Kipling to William Morris and Kenneth Grahame. He explores the web of elements - Celtic revival, medieval revival, and "feigned history" - that make up Tolkienian fantasy. And he looks closely at the heirs of the master, modern fantasists Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King (for the Dark Tower series), and J. K. Rowling.

Excerpt

This book is a series of reflections on the history of English literature in the past several centuries (but most particularly in the past two), reflections deriving from the phenomenon of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I am looking mostly at what went into The Lord of the Rings, and in the last chapter at what has come out of it. Tolkien wrote that he desired to create a mythology for England; we know that he also desired to write an adventure story in the Edwardian mode. The melding of these two desires, in the literary air of late Victorian England, produced something very like a new genre of literature—what I am here calling Tolkienian fantasy. This is not the proven history of the birth of that genre: it is rather my attempt to suggest how that birth came to be.

The reflections in the first eight chapters cover (Chapter 1) the critical problems involved with analyzing or even describing this new genre, (Chapter 2) the invention of mythology and tradition (and its links with genre), and (Chapters 3–7) the literary air of Victorian England, and how it came to be the way it was. Chapter 6 covers a road not taken by Tolkien, or, if you prefer, an eddy in the stream of the fantastic: I had originally intended to write a separate chapter on George MacDonald, then changed my mind, then changed my mind again when I perceived, after writing the first draft of the book, that the material on MacDonald in my original six chapters really belonged in a chapter of its own. So be it, and so it is. Chapter 8 deals with some passages along the road from Tolkienian fantasy to fantasy.

From these interconnected reflections, two things have become clear to me. First, though The Lord of the Rings is indeed an adven-

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