Tolkien’s curse

By , 17 November 2006 8:22 pm

It had to happen I suppose, but it occurred sooner than I had expected. An early reader of Dark Foundations came over at church to compliment me on the book and then proceeded to tell me that in one section I had copied from Lord of the Rings. As it is impossible to describe the plot point he was referring to without spoiling a great deal, I will leave readers to guess the particular moment. Suffice it to say that consultation with my domestic editor (my wife) confirmed that there was only the most tenuous linkage with the Professor Tolkien’s epic trilogy.

But I am hardly surprised: writing a large-scale fantasy these days is like living at the foot of Mount Doom itself. Tolkien’s work casts such a wide and sombre shadow that you cannot escape it. So when you write your fantasy epic, stumble upon some attractive plotline and pursue it you almost inevitably find a little engraved stone. ‘J. R. R. Tolkien was here first’. So, the hero has a faithful friend, who sticks fast by him in battles? Be careful: it’s Frodo and Sam. You have a disinherited king looking for his throne? Been there, done that and got the banner of the House of Elendil. Flying monsters? The Nazgul. The quest with its companions? The weapon that must be destroyed? Done, all done! And it’s the details too; the deadly stairway, the gleaming city, the broken sword, the treacherous companion. It’s all there in Tolkien, and cursed is he who tries to repeat it. It’s a pain, trust me, and part of my exasperation at being accused of borrowing is that I spent long, long hours, trying to avoid simply that.

So what’s going on here? Ultimately the very strength of the Lord of the Rings is because Tolkien uses so many of the great archetypes of epic fiction. The problem for those who write in his wake, is that if we do go back to these archetypes, we are now accused of plagiarism. He took what was universal and made them his own. In my darker moments, I feel that Tolkien was like a boy who, reaching a banquet before everybody else, helped himself to most of the best things on the table, leaving the rest of us with mere scraps. When I try to approach many of the great fantasy themes with a view to appropriating them, I seem to hear a little voice with an Oxford accent that whispers ‘Thief! We hates you. It’s my precious!’

8 Responses to “Tolkien’s curse”

  1. GR 'Scott' says:

    As the Preacher said:
    Ecclesiastes 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

    –Thanks for the interesting blog entry!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Don’t worry, the book was fantastic – definetly one of the best I have ever read. :) The only part of Lord of the Rings I noticed was the reference to the eagles.

  3. Chris says:

    ” The only part of Lord of the Rings I noticed was the reference to the eagles.”

    Yes; that was a daring/foolish one line nod towards Tolkien that I couldn’t resist. It also tells readers that 11 millenia on, the Lord of the Rings (or at least the Hobbit) are still read.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Pipeweed, that was Tolkiens curse.

  5. theplainstate says:

    So many authers rip off Tolkien for all he is worth. Especially the authers that find themselves on the shelves of your local Christian book store. In my first review I aplauded your freshness, your un Tolkien ness. I think the same still holds true even after the Dark Foundations. It would be impossible to write a series like LATS without walking over some ground that seems Tolkienish.

  6. Jocelyn says:

    Hello
    My name is Jocelyn Dixon, Amanda Dixon’s sister. I haven’t read your books because I’m too into LOTR and read them over and over instead of reading something else, but I know alot about LOTR and I have studied Tolkien alot. I don’t know about your books being a copied version of LOTR, I’m sure they’re not. I believe that Tolkien wrote the LOTR somewhat as an allegory to the Bible. I know he said he didn’t like allegories but you cannot write a book and not include things that have had a impact on your life. The church was a part of Tolkien’s and, I think, some of the Bible history influenced him, especially in the Silmarillion.
    So I heard you were a Tolkien fan and wrote the LASS in the tradition so I would assume even if you didn‘t mean to, it had affect on your writing. I am also writing a novel and hope to have it published next year. I have been writing/editing it for over a year now. Does the wait ever seem shorter?? It’s a novel over 80,000 words and I already had the 2nd one in the writing with 40,000 words.

    Can you give me any advice on publishing or how I would go about this?? I am taking a journalist course for high school and will be trying to figure it all out.

    Sincerely,
    Jocelyn

  7. Chris says:

    Hi Jocelyn,

    An an interesting comment. As to how much Tolkien has influenced me , well you really ought to read my books!

    On fantasy writing, I think Tolkien is a bad example to imitate as he spent literally decades on his books. Be yourself!

    On publishing, I have no real comments. I do not know what the secret is but you do need contacts. But being young and female helps!

    Best wishes

    Chris

  8. Benjamin says:

    I found Dark Foundations most impressive. Yes, that was a good use of the eagle. I also felt the eagle akin to something else rather Biblical. The Lord’s mercy has been referred to as being born “on eagle’s wings” (Exod. 19:14, Isaiah 40:31). The eagle, in Jewish and other cultures, represented strength and mastery…fitting that it should be an omen of victory.

    Also, an interesting fact that cultures bear such resemblances, but that is a thought for another conversation…Yes, I finished Dark Foundations last night and find myself replaying the images in my mind. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the envoy and baziliarch in Ynysmant. I found myself questioning through those chapters as to whether Merral would endanger his fate as King Saul in his final years…not that the Commander didn’t find the results nonetheless distasteful.

    All in all, a grand tale that promises a rather engaging third installment. I do hope Azeras explains the need to close the portholes while in the Nether Realms–otherwise, they’re bound to have someone in those 33 lads (sounds like Gideon) to break under that kind of colorless torment.

    God bless.
    -Benjamin

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