Thursday, 10 June 2010

The problem with being a big Tolkien fan...

... is that every other piece of fantasy fiction I read ends up being measured against the man. I mean, my youth was spent immersed in the world that Tolkien created, every facet, character and myth, from The Silmarillion onwards. My ideal of fantasy fiction is grounded in his work.

So when I sit down to read any other writer's work, even the stuff that predates Tolkien such as Howard or Dunsany, I always end up comparing the story, characters and world to Middle-Earth. I tried the Wheel of Time, Shannara and Magician books. I tried Legend and A Song of Ice and Fire and Earthsea. I just can't shake that Tolkien yardstick mindset and that's really annoying, it's honestly something that holds me back from fully enjoying a book. I can sit down and read an entire series of fantasy books and really enjoy them, but I always come back to thinking 'that's not as good as Tolkien'.

Maybe it's not completely my fault. Tolkien did set a standard as far as the structure of fantasy stories is concerned (he may not have been fully original but as far as mass-market books go he is the forerunner) and many people tend to do similar things with their protagonists, ancient-evil-rising plots and vast, detailed world building. I just don't find many post-Tolkien fantasy works as original, rich or fascinating as Middle-Earth.

If anyone, anyone at all, can recommend me a book that may change my mind then please, please do so. I have to get out of this Tolkien-only mindset as it clouds my judgement and appreciation of other works. I have shelves filled with fantasy fiction and it's a shame that I have put them up there without fully enjoying them. I've yet to find a book that I can enjoy and return to with any kind of enthusiasm.

'Hello. My name is Jonathan Hicks, and I'm a Tolkien addict.'
'Hi, Jonathan!'


  1. His later books have been a bit choppy, in my opinion, but China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar are good fantasy books which have barely a hint of Tolkien to them. The Scar is the better of the two, but it's worth reading the other one first, as they share a setting, although they're not part of a sequence.

  2. I'm going to do my usual trick and recommend Joe Abercrombie. His First Law Trilogy and the stand-alone follow-up Best Served Cold are marvellously brutal and cynical; he takes the old cliches and completely upends them for his own purposes.

    I too like Tolkien very much but I limit myself to once every ten years or so (next reading coming up very soon) - it's interesting to note how I identify with different characters on each reading.

    And in my reading generally, I don't limit myself to one genre, so I can't say that I am a massive fan of fantasy, merely a massive fan of literature in general.

  3. @Kelvin - I've got a copy of The Scar but I've never got around to reading it. I'll source a copy of Perdido if it reads better that way. Thanks for the nod!

    @Daddy - I've not tried any Abercrombie. I'll be sure to look him up. It's only the fantasy genre where I have trouble. My other love is science fiction and I can read all kinds of different books in that regard, even if they are similar, and my other tastes are just as varied. It's just fantasy where I keep hitting the Tolkien brick wall.

  4. I'm not sure about changing your mind, because in general I agree with you. I also use Tolkien as my fantasy baseline. I wrote my book because no one was doing the fantasy I wanted to read, which is basically D&D/Tolkien but done seriously. If you like, check out my blog and see if my story might appeal to you. BTW, I assume you have read Sword of Shannara and the Iron Tower trilogy?