Successors to Tolkien

by Varda
I don't usually do this, but I went over to look at the fantasy fiction section in the bookshop the other day. So many "successors to Tolkien"!

I suppose Tolkien and these other authors are all writers of 'fantasy fiction' but then Great Danes and chihuahuas are all dogs.

A common thread running through a lot of these books is a desire to make fantasy fiction more 'realistic'. I myself don't see any reason to make fantasy realistic, that is a contradiction in terms. Nor did Tolkien. He did however want to make something that had truth in it, truth to human nature, to the physical world and even to language. And for his own delight as well as ours, he wanted to make something beautiful. Here truly are beauties that burn like ice. Few of his 'successors' grasp the moral power of beauty, of the environment and of people, whether immortal like the Elves or humble like the hobbits. Tolkien gives them all, from the highest to the lowest, this capacity for nobility and heroic endeavour, and for love.

Most fantasy fiction concerns a war between good and evil. But The Lord of The Rings is not really about that, but about the seduction of power. Sauron is a demiurge swallowed up in a black hole of longing for power, but we never encounter him in the book. What we do see is the effects he has on others, by way of the Ring, the Palantíri and his other servants, and his worker ants, the orcs.

There are no evil characters in The Lord Of The Rings, only corrupted ones. Saruman was 'once good' till seduced by Sauron, Grima until seduced by Saruman. Even Gollum was once just a hobbit, till the Ring made him a murderer. Tolkien never gives us the easy option of condemning a character as totally lost. Frodo tries very hard to redeem both Gollum and Grima, and even Saruman. In the end, they destroy themselves.

I admit I used to love fantasy fiction. I lapped up Conan The Barbarian, and was well into the sixtieth sequel of Dune before I noticed it had run out of steam (or sand, he he). But perhaps I have outgrown it. Every time I read LOTR I find some new insight, into the characters, into their astonishingly beautiful and haunting world, or into the moral scheme which governs it and is ours too so can teach us something of value.

Literary reviewers, please, no more 'successors to Tolkien'...