I finished Return of the King today. One thing I have to credit J R R Tolkein for is the fact that he makes sure everyone is happy by the end of his books. We know for sure that this is the end, and we know exactly what each main character is doing beyond the final pages.
That’s not what I want to talk about today.
I was texting my best friend and she mentioned in passing how Lord of the Rings could possibly be the foundation of all succeeding fantasy novels, and to an extent I agree. For example, as I’ve now started reading the Game of Thrones series again I’m noticing some similarities between the worlds, and this is a level of high fantasy I cannot comprehend.
The fantasy world is more complex than one might think. There’s low fantasy, which is when elements of fantasy are integrated into the real world (like a Harry Potter sort of thing) and then there’s high fantasy, where a whole new setting is created to support the fantasy elements. J R R Tolkein created what is known as Middle Earth, and although he wasn’t the first fantasy author, his books made the genre explode with popularity thanks to the adult interest in an area originally only explored by children.
The term high fantasy wasn’t coined until the 1970s, and fantasy was not mainstream when The Hobbit was written, let alone Lord of the Rings. What makes this interesting is that although it was the sequels that became the most popular, the interest was in a world that had been established long ago.
It’s very easy and very difficult to create a fantasy world now. You have very few limits and most authors will firmly grasp that opportunity to the point where things seem unrealistic even in the magical world. However there are still only so many tropes, the best ideas may have already been taken and now it’s a well established genre, there’s more competition. This competition now almost separates Lord of the Rings from newer more contemporary novels as it was written so long ago (way before I was born anyway, although that’s not saying much), so it’s easier to view it as the ‘father’ of fantasy.
So is it the basis of fantasy? In a way, yes. If it wasn’t for this series fantasy would still be a genre for children, a region unexplored and not used to its full potential due to the naïvety and innocence of children, however there’s more history to fantasy than beyond Lord of the Rings, and so much has changed since then.
I see Lord of the Rings as a turning point, or a crossroads.
What do you think?