The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read open thread: responses in fiction

Offline life is busy enough, with few enough prospects for things letting up any time soon, that I am finally forced to admit it’s time for an open thread. So let’s go a little further afield this time, and talk about favorite (or otherwise interesting) responses to The Lord of the Rings in fiction.

Of course in a broad sense the very existence of fantasy as a publishing genre is a consequence of the success of The Lord of the Rings. And I’ve heard more than one writer say that all English-language fantasy has to, in some fashion, come to grips with Tolkien’s influence on the field. But I think it would be more interesting to talk specifically, about books or authors (though those of you who do write fantasy, I would be curious to hear your thoughts.)

Three things jump to my mind when I think of fiction that’s a clear response to LotR. First, the anthology After the King, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, which is subtitled “Stories in Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien.” I last read it almost seven years ago, and I’m taking it with me on this business trip to see what I think of it now. For instance, I would be pretty surprised if I didn’t still love my favorite of the anthology, Emma Bull’s fairy tale “Silver or Gold,” but I will make a conscious effort to look at it (and other stories) in relation to Tolkien, not just as a story. My memory of it doesn’t supply any obvious immediate connection.

Second, Guy Gavriel Kay’s first published novels, the Fionavar Tapestry. Kay assisted Christopher Tolkien with editing The Silmarillion, and I have always thought of Fionavar as his getting The Silmarillion out of his system [*], though large and important chunks of it also seem to be responses to LotR specifically—the women, the role of choice at crucial moments, probably more that don’t come to mind because I haven’t read it for a while.

[*] See also Sharon Shinn’s The Shape-Changer’s Wife, which feels to me like her getting The Last Unicorn out of her system but even even more so. There are probably additional examples to be found.

(Apropos of nothing but their awesomeness, check out the posters of the first-edition covers of the Fionavar Tapestry. I own The Darkest Road and the picture doesn’t do it justice.)

Finally, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. This comes to mind because the most recent, Unseen Academicals (which I haven’t had time to review yet; see our own Arachne Jericho’s review), has a thread in fairly close dialogue with LotR . . . in a way that’s not made explicit until 2/3 of the way through, so I leave it at that. But more generally Discworld’s roots as a parody of secondary-world fantasy tropes, and its later extrapolating those tropes into concrete worldbuilding, owe a fair amount to LotR. There’s Carrot the lost heir with the extremely non-magical but very sharp sword, female dwarves with beards (since non-dwarves can’t tell female and male dwarves apart), dragons, and a whole lot of stuff in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic that I barely remember.

Fionavar and Discworld are very different, to say the least: Fionavar is swimming in seriously mythic waters, while Discworld is much more interested in the day-to-day. But they’re both part of a conversation with Tolkien’s works, saying “this bit, fabulous; but what about this bit, if we look at it another way?” And as such, they help me think about Tolkien’s works, which is a nice bonus on top of their being good stories in their own right.

What fiction responses to Tolkien do you particularly like or did you find particularly useful?

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Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.


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