Many authors become masters of a particular genre of fiction. But very few can claim to have had such an effect that they virtually have created the genre for themselves. One such author is J R R Tolkein. From his prolific imagination was created not only Middle Earth; the stage for his giant fantasy The Lord of the Rings, but also a whole genre of fantasy fiction which has since become known as "sword and sorcery".
Before Tolkein's work was published, fantasy was set in what was very near to the present for the authors. Also, the genre was very close to horror, and authors such as Lovell and Bram Stoker moved easily between the two. The the great American writer Edgar Allen Poe had recently brought out a work of what we would today call horror stories, but he had entitled it Tales of Mystery and Imagination, suggesting that he thought of it as fantasy.
Tolkein's distinctive contribution was to create a pseudo-medieval world and to populate it with wise wizards, bold knights, and a massive cast of other characters, including dwarfs, elves, and most of the other creatures of our folk memory. He also created his own contribution, the hobbit. Hobbits were small people, who had distinctive hairy feet. They were characterised by honest common sense and rather complex social lives. In all his works, it is evidently the hobbits with whom Tolkein sympathises the most.
What made Tolkein's work so compelling was that it was a perfectly realised work of fantasy. Every detail in his stories rings true. This is because Tolkein spent so much time working and thinking about Middle Earth that the actual part which we have on paper is only a fraction of his research. His later books show clearly to what extent he had created this entire world, complete with detailed maps and even the languages of the major protagonists.
However, although Middle Earth is a towering work of fantasy, it has roots in reality. The Middle Earth of Tolkein is close to his own native Oxfordshire, both in the landscapeof the Shire, and above all in the reactions and behaviour of its characters. The ethos is that of pre-war England, possibly because Tolkein could conceive of no other mode of behaviour, but more probably because his book can be read on many levels, and in only the most basic of the levels is the great struggle between light and darkness completely.
It must be remembered that Tolkein was writing in a time when one Great War had just finished, and another was about to begin. In his book, he stresses the bravery, and endurance of the small people without whom victory is impossible. This was the lesson that Tolkein felt had to be learned from the horrors of the Great War - the desicions which shape the destiny of nations are taken by an elite group, but they are implemented by the common people of the country.
Though his book brought him world-wide fame, Tolkein continued to live modestly at Oxford University, where he worked. He was a close friend of another great writer of his day, C.S. Lewis, who also taught there. However, while Lewis was more relaxed about his fame, Tolkein never really got used to it, and he was quite embarrassed by the admiration of the many tourists who came to see him.
1. How to make fantasy seem real.
2. A new best-seller.
3. Fantasy before Tolkein
4. The Master of Middle Earth.
5. A quiet man.
6. The real Middle Earth.
7. A new fantasy creature.
8. The experience of war.