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Posts tagged ‘Tolkien’

Getting Started in Fantasy Reading


“Fantasy: A general term for any kind of fictional work that is not primarily devoted to a realistic representation of the known world. This category includes several literary genres describing imagined worlds in which magical powers and other impossibilities are accepted.” – The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

When I tell people I write contemporary fantasy, sometimes they say, “wow, cool” and sometimes they say, “I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was little, but know little about the genre.”

There are so many types, styles, flavors an sub-genres in fantasy, the wealth of material out there to read is often hard to explain to those wanting to know more. I agree with Terry Pratchett when he says that  “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong.” However, here are a few links and ideas that are a bit more specific.

Wikipedia has a decent article on fantasy that works as a starting point. (Click on the graphic to read it.) The main article branches off into a series of additional links for sub-genres, books, and authors.

When people want to know more about the types of fantasies, I often send them to sites like Focus on Fantasy for a quick overview and Top 50 SciFi & Fantasy Novels blogs where they can sample some of the viewpoints and commentary out there.

bestfantasyI like Best Fantasy Books because it introduces newcomers to fantasy by listing books in various groupings and then, for each book, showing others that are similar to it. If you look at this site, you’ll find stand-alone books, books in a series, influential books, and a cool list called “Fantasy That Blows Your Mind.”

To keep up with recent books and new titles, you can subscribe to Amazon’s list via RSS. This puts it on your browser where you can click on it easily and see the names of the titles. You’ll find recent fantasy book reviews on Fantasy Book Critic. This site also displays an excellent blogroll that will send you off on an exploration of fantasy blogs, most of which links you to more blogs.

earthseaOnce you find a favorite author and genre, s/he will often be another source via comments, interviews and viewpoints in a personal blog or web site.  Fantasy is so diverse, that it’s really hard to nail it down and say that any one book of series is representative of the genre. Personally, I like contemporary fantasy the best because it overlaps are known world as J. K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter series. Rowling, though, is apples and oranges different from, say, Tolkien, or Erin Morgenstern’s recent The Night Circus or Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic Earthsea series.

Kindle, Nook and other e-readers make it easy to sample a variety of fantasy books at a lower cost before adding your newly discovered favorites to your bookshelf in hardcover or paperback. You can even find some of the older fantasies available on Project Gutenberg and other sites as free downloads. Happy exploring!


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, including “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” and the upcoming “The Seeker” (March 2013).



Briefly Noted: Cor Blok’s LOTR paintings collected in ‘A Tolkien Tapestry’

Dutch artist Cor Blok was fascinated with J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings when it was published and subsquently created a series of 140 paintings that he hoped might accompany an illustrated version of the epic. Tolkien met Blok, liked his work, and even purchased some of the paintings.

Now, Pieter Collier  from the Tolkien library has tracked down these paintings and worked with Blok to create A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to accompany The Lord of the  Rings (HarperCollins, September 2011). While the illustrated version Tolkien and Blok hoped to see never materialized, this new book provides LOTR fans with a strong dose of the magic such volume might have contained.

According to Collier, “The approximately 100 full-colour paintings in this new book are presented in story order so that the reader can enjoy them as the artist intended. If one looks at the art works one by one you can easily tell the complete tale of The Lord of the Rings. So all the paintings are accompanied by extracts from The Lord of the Rings and the artist also provides an extensive introduction illuminating the creation of the series and notes to accompany some of the major compositions.”

From the Publisher’s Description: This brand new full-colour art book reveals in sumptuous detail more than 100 paintings based on The Lord of the Rings by acclaimed Dutch artist, Cor Blok, many of which appear here for the first time. Fifty years ago, shortly after The Lord of the Rings was first published, Cor Blok read the work and was completely captivated by its invention and epic storytelling. The breadth of imagination and powerful imagery inspired the young Dutch artist, and this spark of enthusiasm, coupled with his desire to create art that resembled a historical artefact in its own right, led to the creation of more than 100 paintings. Following an exhibition at the Hague in 1961, JRR Tolkien’s publisher, Rayner Unwin, sent him five pictures. Tolkien was so taken with them that he met and corresponded with the artist and even bought some paintings for himself. The series bears comparison with the Bayeux Tapestry, in which each tells an epic and complex story in deceptively simple style, but beneath this simplicity lies a compelling and powerful language of form that becomes more effective as the sequence of paintings unfolds.

Some of Cor Blok’s paintings from this book will also appear in the official 2012 Tolkien Calendar from the Tolkien Library. His work was also featured in previous Tolkien Calendars. A Tolkien Tapestry can be purchased directly from Amazon.UK and through associated sellers at Amazon.US. Blok, who was born in 1934, is a retired professor of art history. He lives in Amsterdam where he is at work on a graphic novel.

In an interview about the paintings. Blok was asked what it was like to meet the author. “Nothing very exciting,” he said. “Unknown young artist visits Famous Author, that kind of thing, though the Famous Author behaved amiably enough.”


contemporary fantasy with a sharp edge


The Magic of Harry Potter

from Sarabande’s Journey:

J. R. R. Tolkien is credited with bringing epic fantasy back into the lives of mainstream readers. We can also claim that J. K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter books not only fired up the reading public’s love of contemporary fantasy, but introduced the concept of books to people who seldom read novels at all.

Fourteen years after her U. K. publisher (Bloomsbury) released the first, tentative thousand copies of  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (renamed in the U.S.), her fans continue to wait for word, any word, that there might be another Harry Potter novel. In 2007, the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold a record 8.3 million copies in the United States in the first 24 hours.

Any other author would have been told not to use the word “hallows” in a book title since the term wasn’t in the public’s consciousness. But Potter fans lined up and bought the book while debates raged on about what “hallows” might be.

The popularity of  Rowling’s books has been called a “black swan event.” Developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and explained in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, the theory examines rare events that could never have been predicted or planned and that even in hindsight, usually cannot be duplicated. Taleb himself considered Harry Potter, as a publishing event, a black swan.

Journalist Will Hutton believes Rowling’s success transcends the quality of the books themselves. “Rowling is repeating the Da Vinci Code effect – but much more shrewdly,” he writes. “In the creative industries success always begets more success, but in an era of globalisation the success can be very big indeed, as both Rowling and Dan Brown can testify.”

Hutton, and others, think globalization and the viral phenomenon of ideas, books, movies songs suddenly becoming popular seemingly everywhere is more responsible for Harry Potter’s popularity than the quality of Rowling’s books.

Is Harry Potter’s Success Simply Books Going Viral Around the Globe?

U.K. cover

Based on Hutton’s theory of why a Da Vinci Code Effect book does so well we could, let us say, create a look-alike universe without television, cell phones, satellites providing news in real time, and the Internet, and then display the Harry Potter books (one person at a time) to 8.3 million readers. Hutton would say that Rowling’s sales in that universe would be a fraction of what they are here. He may be right.

But that still leaves us with the question of: “If the outside influence of millions of people saying the books are great is what caused each reader to pick up a Harry Potter book, what caused them to enjoy it so thoroughly and read and re-read it so passionately?”

While peer influence is a powerful thing, reading is a solitary act. Top ten songs are easy to share in a way that further leads to their enjoyment and popularity. People listen to them together in cars and break rooms and parties and hear them in large groups at concerts. While the Harry Potter movies were shared by theater audiences in real time, the books were not. Each reader had to choose to sit in a chair, curl up in a hammock, or prop up in bed and read the book by himself and herself. Like all reading, Harry Potter represented an investment in time.

Many have said that in addition to Rowling’s creative and imaginative mix of characters, themes, and settings, the books’ success comes in part through their believable account of a rather geeky (yet lovable) underdog becoming so empowered, he was able to effectively battle against the adult, experienced and highly skilled bad wizards in the book. Noticeably, the good adult wizards teaching magic at Hogwarts had very little to do with the triumph of good over evil in each book.

In a world where most of the news is bad and most of the global issues seem impossible to solve, the prospective readers of the Harry Potter books found a wonderful antidote in Rowling’s books to the negativity, hopelessness and alienation prevalent in so many people’s lives and world views. Rowling’s stories are inspirational: even the most hard-hearted and logical adult can read them with a sense of wonderment and empowerment.

Far from being escapist reading that captures readers’ imaginations while they are reading, the Harry Potter books—through some we-don’t-really-understand-it mix of Rowling’s genius and a black swan publishing event—continue to delight and inspire readers after they finish the books.

In Fantasy, Magic is a Positive Symbol for What You Can Do in the Everyday World

While J. K. Rowling’s Voldemort is just as nasty as the bad guys found it occult horror books, the Harry Potter series illustrates one important difference between fantasy and other so-called paranormal books. In fantasy, magic is viewed as normal and a capability that the book’s protagonist can become allied with and even learn. This is the case even when there are Voldemort-type characters who are using the magic for evil reasons. In occult horror books, the magic, whether its seen as a typical component of the location or not, is something that is nonetheless alien and evil and to be feared. In supernatural horror stories and most mainstream fiction, the occult is considered abnormal, evil and threatening.

In fantasy, magic is seen as normal, as a talent both good guys and bad guys can utilize, and as something to be embraced. In many respects, the acceptance of and learned proficiency with magic represents a character’s personal transformation either figuratively or literally. Transformation is an important theme in fantasy. As such, we view it in fantasy fiction as symbolic of the non-magical transformations we can seek out an attain in our non-magical real world.

This is part of the empowerment one feels, I think, when they read Rowling’s books. The books stimulate the readers’ imagination, and they begin to feel the first inklings of wonderment about the prospects for their own success in becoming the best people they can be. They may still have a “Heart of Darkness,” as Joseph Conrad suggested in his novella published in 1902, but they can transcend it.

The Harry Potter books weren’t written as guides for living or as recipes for personal success. However, the magic (real and figurative) that readers discover in them and then internalize is a large part of their power.


a contemporary fantasy of the dark moon

Briefly Noted: Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays.

Authors and readers of epic fantasy who see Tolkien as the avatar of imagined worlds, will find an in-depth look at the master of the genre in Tolkien scholar Jason Fisher’s recently released Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays. (McFarland, July 22, 2011). In this 240-page volume Fisher and other experts analyze Tolkien’s abundance of source materials. You can find an excerpt from the book here.

In addition to his own contributions, Fisher has drawn together essays from Tom Shippey, Nicholas Birns, E. L. Risden, Kristine Larsen, Judy Ann Ford, John D. Rateliff, Mark T. Hooker, Diana Pavlac Gilyer, Josh B. long, Thomas Honegger, and Miryam Libran-Moreno.

When asked in an interview about the popularity of Tolkien, Fisher said that “One reason Tolkien has been so popular is that his works contain ‘elements in solution’ of so many other works, authors, folktales, legends, and myths, that there is something immediately welcoming and familiar about his works, even when it is buried well beneath the surface. We feel as if we’ve been here before somehow, or in some other life. In a very real sense, we have. This, of course, does nothing to diminish Tolkien’s imagination or craftsmanship. If anything, it gives us that much greater reason to appreciate them.”

Verlyn Flieger, author of Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World calls Fisher’s book “The most exhaustive examination yet published of demonstrable, probable, and conjectural sources for Tolkien’s legendarium.”

This book is for the most serious of Tolkien fans and students of literary criticism. Tolkien, of course, might be turning over in his grave because he thought his work should be attracting our attention rather than how he did it and what might have influenced him. Nonetheless, the J. R. R. Tolkien Copyright Trust allowed Fisher to include some previously unpublished materials.

You can read more from Fisher on his blog Lingwë – Musings of a Fish, focusing on “J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, the Inklings, J.K. Rowling, and fantasy literature in general; language, linguistics, and philology; comparative mythology and folklore — and more.”


Sharp-edged contemporary fantasy on Kindle