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Bond
June 9th, 2004, 02:35 AM
I love arguments that are based on unquantifiable premises. I for one find the comparison Gabe is making much more relevant than some ridiculous comparison between Jordan and Dumas.
It should have been clear that what was expressed was an opinion. If you consider the comparison between Jordan and Dumas ridiculous you're free to but I would contend that the kind of writing Jordan is producing today could be taken as a rough equivalent of what Dumas was producing for his time. If you have better candidates by all means mention them. I look forward to reading good rip roaring adventure stories with lots of derring do, political intrigue, plot twists and romantically medieval backdrop.


"Nothing new under the sun" leads me to believe you've missed Gabe's point totally. Esoteric and interesting fantasy is still being published today, and Gabe isn't anything to the contrary. Just lift your nose out of the latest Tolkien-clone and take a look around. You'll see.
Oh? Do tell, how is one to rightfully interpret these statements by Neologik then?

Thing is, I'm not sure that we can point fingers and blame novels for being 'derivative' of specific other novels; saying McKiernnan's series is a blatant ripoff of Tolkien is kind of silly when you step back and realize that epic fantasy itself is pretty much the House That Frodo Built.
and

Yet fantasy today tends to be rehashed and vastly UNORIGINAL.
Of course if I've misinterpreted Neologik's statements I'm sure he'll be most happy to correct me.

Curver
June 9th, 2004, 10:36 AM
Authors will always use conscious and unconscious influences. Whether or not something is a concoction of old and new is not the problem. Every book which makes it to the shelves should add to the fantasy genre. If it fails, be it by lack of courage, or the finantial influences, on the agents and publishers, then we are all poorer, and our image is proportionally jaded in the eyes of the wider book reading world. Sadly money seems to be the driving force in all arenas nowadays. Publishers want the trilogy and series over single books. Writers feel pressured by the need to create such things, and ultimately they fail. Watering down a strong book, or making weaker sequels, only quickens our demise.
A culture which seeks purely money from an author's first book will miss many excellent books and would-be authors. I doubt our future if this culture continues. I enjoy books which take me to places, with characters who interest me, and tell me things I didn't know. Surprise me, shock me.

JohnH
June 9th, 2004, 12:08 PM
***********************

neologik
June 9th, 2004, 12:21 PM
Yes, let's all hold hands and sing "We Are The World", because god forbid someone disagree or have an actual argument at the Happy Flower Forum.

Meanwhile, some of the grown-up people can probably manage to discuss without getting knickers in bunches.

Luke_B
June 9th, 2004, 06:02 PM
Sorry if my post seemed unnecessarily inflammatory, but this is an argument I have all the time. I agree, there's a lot of heat lightning being created here, but also a lot of interesting discussion. At the very least it gets beyond the kind of polite banalities that usually stultify these forums.

There can be no doubting that Tolkien’s oeuvre cast a long shadow over fantasy fiction. Neil Gaiman argues:


After Tolkien, [fantasy] became very, very stratified. Fantasy was now a commercial thing--Tolkien-esque.

Furthermore, Michael Swanwick argues:


The recent slew of interchangeable Fantasy trilogies has hit me in much the same way that discovering that the woods I used to play in as a child have been cut down to make way for shoddy housing developments did.

Lastly, China Miéville writes:


Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious - you can't ignore it, so don't even try.

Bond speaks of “classic time tested structures in [Tolkien’s] works” which automatically appealed to readers. I agree. Tolkien himself wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation'. It is this part of Tolkien that I dislike - his Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, and his belief in absolute morality. Today our bookshop shelves creak and sag under the weight of trilogies and series of books as thick as my phonebook, featuring the worst aspects of Tolkien’s writing -- faux-medieval milieus; bloated plot-lines; invincible heroes and heroines; naïve good/evil dichotomies; flat, cramped writing styles -– and none of his strengths. What I respect in Tolkien is the originality and breadth of his vision. Before Tolkien, there was no world building in fantasy, at least not on the scale and detail of Middle Earth. But, the only world building any of these modern epic fantasy writers seem to do is to read Tolkien.

For example, the similarities between The Eye of the World and The Lord of the Rings are obvious. According to part of the Wheel of Time FAQ (http://www.linuxmafia.com/jordan/3_sources/3.12_other-sf-dune.html):


The only direct influence we know Jordan has acknowledged is that that he wanted to make the beginning of TEOTW read somewhat like Lord of the Rings, in order to make readers feel at home.

From Dork Cynic Reviews (http://www.geocities.com/thesnarkhunt/dorkcynic/eyeoftheworld.html):


Jordan does indeed make the beginning of this novel hum with elements reminiscent of or lifted directly from The Fellowship of the Ring. For example, the bumpkin heroes come from a small, idyllic out-of-the way place with a unique work ethic and a uniquely wholesome atmosphere. Merry and Pippin are here replaced by Mat and Perrin. Black riders chase the company of heroes to a river ferry. Beast-men called "Trollocs" step up to the plate to pinch-hit in place of Orcs, but they're Orcs in every other way possible. One of the characters receives an unhealing wound from a weapon not unlike the "Morgul-Blade" that nearly finishes Frodo Baggins.

Given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why do readers keep seeking consolation in Tolkien-esque epic fantasy? I agree with Kafka, when he said "A book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us."

Davis Ashura
June 9th, 2004, 07:03 PM
Given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why do readers keep seeking consolation in Tolkien-esque epic fantasy?

Isn't the answer to this fairly simple? Publishers put out what they know will sell, and despite your horror, people seem to really like that stuff.
I disagree that Jordan is similar to Tolkien. The heroes came from a small place in the back of nowhere, but that, in of itself, means little. What of Egwene and Nynaeve? Which characters from LotR are they? Or Moiraine? Please don't tell me she is Gandalf. That's more than a stretch. She's a powerful guardian, trying to lead the hero to his appointed place with destiny. That's not something Tolkien invented since Merlin plays the same role for King Arthur. The poisonous dagger is reminiscent of the Morgul-Blade in the same way that the Sword That Was Broken is the same as Excalibur. These are archetypal and can only be explained in a limited way. The nature of what Rand must do and how he must do it is also vastly different then what Frodo did. Simply put, I think if you tried, you could find anything in fantasy, even in the ones you think are original and say that it's a derivation of something Tolkien did.
For me, derivation is a problem when the characters aren't just archetypes but near carbon copies of the original such as what I remember from McKiernan's Iron Tower and Sword of Shannara.
I also don't think that Terry Goodkind is derivative, at least not in his latter books. In the last few books, he's taken to turn his world into a textbook on Rationalism/Ayn Rand's philosophy. Any action that happens is incidental. I don't think I've ever seen that explored before. People may not like it, but it's not derivative.

Luke_B
June 9th, 2004, 07:16 PM
Isn't the answer to this fairly simple? Publishers put out what they know will sell.
I disagree that Jordan is similar to Tolkien. The heroes came from a small place in the back of nowhere, but that, in of itself, means little. What of Egwene and Nynaeve? Which characters from LotR are they? Or Moiraine? Please don't tell me she is Gandalf. That's more than a stretch. She's a powerful guardian, trying to lead the hero to his appointed place with destiny. That's not something Tolkien invented since Merlin plays the same role for King Arthur. The poisonous dagger is reminiscent of the Morgul-Blade in the same way that the Sword That Was Broken is the same as Excalibur. These are archetypal and can be explained in a limited way. The nature of what Rand must do and how he must do it is also vastly different then what Frodo did.
I also don't think that Terry Goodkind is derivative, at least not in his latter books. In the last few books, he's taken to turn his world into a textbook on Rationalism/Ayn Rand's philosophy. Any action that happens is incidental. I don't think I've ever seen that explored before. People may not like it, but it's not derivative.

That's an answer to a completely different question. I didn't ask why publisher keep publishing Tolkien-esque fantasies, I asked why people keep buying it?

Just because you can only take the Jordan/Tolkien comparison so far doesn't mean that Jordan's work is not derivative of Tolkien's. In fact, he admits as much himself, as I mentioned in my post. Certainly, many epic fantasy tropes existed before Tolkien. Nobody denies that. Again, I said as much in my post. It's the world building that makes Tolkien original. Just about all epic fantasy is influenced in some respect by Tolkien -- even the good stuff like Mieville and Swainston. It's a question of degree. Also Tolkien marks the point for the commercialisation of fantasy.

JRMurdock
June 9th, 2004, 07:28 PM
People keep buying 'it' because it's like an old blanket. It doesn't matter how much it smells, it's comfortable. Because people buy it, publishers publish it. That doesn't mean all fantasy can be lumped into the same boat. In fact Goodkind states on his website 'I'm not a world-builder' which would pull him away from the Tolkein-esque types.

And I'm sorry neologik, I refuse, Nay, I strenuously refuse to sing 'We are the world'.

Shehzad
June 9th, 2004, 09:21 PM
"We are the World!"

Bond
June 9th, 2004, 09:53 PM
It's the world building that makes Tolkien original. Just about all epic fantasy is influenced in some respect by Tolkien -- even the good stuff like Mieville and Swainston. It's a question of degree. Also Tolkien marks the point for the commercialisation of fantasy.

No doubt there is a lot of truth in what you write but I do believe that a lot of stuff is left unsaid and distorted whenever Tolkien is lionized.

Tolkien's world does seem more complete than his predecessors, but then the question should be asked of how was he able to achieve this? My observation is that he achieved this not so much through native creativity but rather by being a liberal borrower of established mythologies. I don't think one can deny that the world of Middle-Earth is structured around and riddled with Germanic myths and biblical references. Read enough adventure stories from the 19th century and one cannot also escape the striking similarities. If you consider the act of borrowing myths to create your own world original then yes Tolkien is original because he is the most significant example of it and others have followed him in that regard. Other than that from what I can see his most creative contribution is in the linguistics he employs.

In my view, however, Tolkien does not touch someone like Frank Baum in the realm of pure imagination. The land of Oz created by Baum was another fantasy land and it was created long before Tolkien so I think it makes for a good and interesting comparison. It suffers in comparison to Middle-Earth in that it is more flighty and less realistic. I would suggest, however, that it is that same flightiness that marks it as the more imaginative. There is a sense of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland no doubt but considering the exaggeration of that work "copying" it was certainly a more imaginatively daunting task. Baum from what I can see did not borrow as extensively from history, mythology and other established sources. Perhaps I'm unaware of other major influences on Baum's world and that skews my view, but that is how I see it as of now. Feel free to set me straight.

Considering this viewpoint then, please understand why I consider it annoyingly ironic when authors who come after Tolkien are accused of copying Tolkien. Tolkien set the major precedent.