Musings

The Big Five (2 of 5)

August 30, 2008

This is the second of my series of five installments, wherein I detail my five favorite authors, and why each of them has continued to impress, entertain, and inspire me. This time around, I’ll be talking about J.R.R. Tolkien, probably best known for his novel The Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What can be said about the man who is popularly referred to as the “father of modern fantasy?” Tolkien was an Oxford English professor, and how much would I have given to be in one of his classes, knowing that behind this man’s eyes lurked a world so fantastic that it colored all of my childhood games, and made the greatest impression on me of any author during my formative years. My sister was given an illustrated copy of The Hobbit for Hannukah in the mid 80’s, and I read it countless times, poring over the pictures, particularly the ones of The Shire, the dwarves, and the sacking of Laketown by Smaug the dragon. I read the Lord of the Rings too, and even though it was only in later years when I reread them that I think I came to understand the full impact of what I consider an essentially flawless fantasy trilogy, even then it captured my imagination so completely that I can remember going into long, complex daydream sequences taking place in Middle Earth, usually at school, during math class.

There have been many, many, many, many imitators of Tolkien’s style. Go to your local Barnes and Noble, and you’ll find in the fantasy section dozens of books with dragons plastered on the covers. Some of them might even be half way decent, I don’t know. But it’s almost as though Tolkien ruined me for fantasy, because when you’ve read the authoritative, unquestioned master in a field, what use are these watered down impersonators? Obviously, I would recommend The Hobbit and the holy trilogy, to anyone, of any age. I care more about the fictional characters in these stories than I do a whole hell of a lot of living people, and I’m not joking in the slightest. I’d gladly sacrifice a whole busload of people I didn’t know if I thought Gandolf might be in trouble, and probably a few that I did. 

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy by director Peter Jackson I thought was incredibly impressive. I never thought that those movies could be converted successfully, but I had very few complaints. I eagerly anticipate the release of The Hobbit in a couple of years, now that Guillermo del Toro, another favorite director of mine, has signed on to the project. Still, as in many other cases, the books are better than the movies. The books are better than anything. Better than chocolate covered sex. Tolkien’s other works? There aren’t many. Christopher Tolkien, the master’s son, made sure that The Silmarillion, along with some other manuscripts, were published after his father’s death, but I don’t recommend them particularly. I’ve read The Silmarillion, of course, being the avid fan that I am, but it’s rough going. It reads like the Bible according to Tolkien, and I’m not entirely convinced that he wanted it published anyway. But even if all I ever read of Tolkien were the Hobbit and the Rings trilogy, that would be far more than was needed to cement his place as one of the Big Five. God Speed, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. If there is any justice in death, you are with the elves now, sailing across the western seas of your own creation.    

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