I headed out into the woods this week and took along a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring . The weather was cool, the Texas sun mostly hidden, and the bugs not yet out of their winter slumber. Spring and Fall in the Lone Star state are the ideal times to get outside without melting or freezing or being devoured.
The first night it rained all night and on into mid-morning. The sun popped out long enough to warm things and bring a thick mist to the woods the next day. Turns out, reading about Frodo’s journey while hearing the patter of rain on your tent and breathing the earthy smell of the woods and the sweet fragrance of damp pine needles is a pretty unbeatable combination. Waking up surrounded in mist only added to the enchantment.
Reacquainting myself with this fantasy classic…no…seminal work…masterpiece? I’m not even sure how to describe it. The influence can’t be understated – and not just books. I fell down an internet hobbit hole recently chasing down songs and music which Tolkien’s work has inspired, but I’ve got a whole post on that topic I’ll hopefully get up at GeekDad next week. However, one thing kept nagging at me as I read.
I’m pretty sure if it were submitted somewhere today, it would be lost in a slush pile.
I’m not saying this because of any issues with how it might’ve aged – prose or simplistic themes or any other thing which may need updating – I’m saying that it wouldn’t make the cut regardless.
Who is the audience? Children? Teenagers? Adults? Where is the protagonists romantic interest and can a ring or a bromance really fill that void? Who the hell is Tom Bombadil guy we spend so much time with at the start? Why do we have so much word count getting to know the gossip about all the Hobbit families from the Shire to the Eastfarthing then leave them behind?
But re-reading it, I was enthralled. I know, at this point, the Lord of the Rings is ingrained in the collective fantasy consciousness. It’s really impossible to think of it objectively, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that a book like this now would never see the light of day.
Sure, plenty of High Fantasy in the LotR vein has been published since, but have there been any transformative fantasy books? Evolutions of the form that transcend and inspire even partly as much?
Looking at popular lists of fantasy works you see the same names repeated, over and over. Many have created influential works of their own. And while I don’t think we’ve stagnated, I’m not sure if a work of fantasy has been published that recasts that mold in any unique, seminal way. Are we all still writing about Middle Earth? Stuck between the Shire and Mordor?
The other thing which has definitely changed is publishing itself. We sell author personalities as much as the stories they tell. In many cases, it becomes impossible to objectively evaluate an author’s work apart from their image. By all reports, Tolkien was put off by the rabid fans his work inspired. Nowadays, instead of shying from such attention like Tolkien might, you hit the circuits of conventions, signings, and speaking engagements.
Despite the lack of social media and that constant barrage of branding and marketing when it was written, LotR stands on its own and I’m not sure anyone out there is looking for a replacement.
I know, I know. I’ve asked more questions than given answers. And this post is off the deep end of my normally light-hearted geekery and self-pub talks. If I had to guess though, I’d put money on that next evolution of fantasy being just as likely to be uncovered in the Wild West of the self-pub scene as on the shelf at B&N…as long as such shelves are still around.
Any thoughts on this fantasy fans? Answers to my annoyingly open-ended questions?