Anyone who knows me knows how I love Tolkien’s work. It was dear Frodo who drew me into books and writing. So, as an avid fan of his work, why would I say that Tolkien ruined fantasy? It’s simple.
There is one inexplicable truth in writing that will always plague us: very few authors are capable of being truly original. Yes, I said it. Tolkien was one of the few authors to truly brave the depths of the unknown. He created such a complex world, the likes of which has not been seen before or since, along with numerous fantastical species and at least fifteen new languages. His work became such a sensation that has left its mark on every generation of writers since. Therein lies the problem. Every time a new sensation comes along, every up and coming writer must take a stab at replicating it.
Let’s look at Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series for a moment. A young man (Frodo) who is a bit of an outcast in society suddenly finds a mysterious artifact (the One Ring) and learns that he has a great destiny to save the world. So, he sets out on a perilous journey with his elderly mentor (Gandalf) and sidekicks (Merry, Pippin, and Sam). After many trials and much mortal peril, our young hero saves the world and defeat the evil king (Sauron). Hurray! World saved, job done.
In the early 2000’s, The Inheritance Cycle was published by up and coming novelist Christopher Paolini. It took middle schoolers nationwide by storm. A young man (Eragon) who is a bit of an outcast in society suddenly finds a mysterious artifact (a dragon egg) and learns that he has a great destiny to save the world. So, he sets out on a perilous journey with his mentor (Brom) and sidekicks (the dragon Saphira and the smoking hot elf maiden Arya). After many trials and much mortal peril, our young hero saves the world and defeats the evil king (Galbatorix). Hurray! But wait! Brom is actually Eragon’s father and Eragon’s smitten with Arya! Romance and intrigue abound!
Really? Because last I checked there was an elf maiden in the Lord of the Rings too (Arwen). But she’s in love with Aragorn, not Frodo. So surely that means they’re different. Wait a second…Aragorn…Eragon…Arwen…Arya. (You know it’s bad when spell check keeps trying to change Eragon to Aragorn. Even my computer thinks it’s too close.) And thus, Christopher Paolini tops the long list of Lord of the Rings rip offs. Well done young novelist! Bravo! You officially have zero creativity and will probably never be able to be taken seriously again.
Ok, ok. Surely not everyone’s that stupid.
Enter The Sword of Shannara, published back in 1977 by one Terry Brooks. A young man (Shea) suddenly finds out he has a great destiny to save the world. He sets out on a perilous journey with his sidekicks (Flick and Menion). They are pursed by the Skull Bearers who have a striking resemblance to certain Ring Wraiths. The heroes defeat their foes and save the world. Hurray! Are you starting to see the pattern here?
Then there is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, a whopping 15 books of utter unoriginality. Ok, let’s just stop there. Really guys? No good story can last that long. Just stop over compensating for your distinct lack of talent. I could go through all the plot similarities again but you get the point. Poor outcast hero saves the world yada yada.
This brings us back to how Tolkien ruined the fantasy genre. You have better odds of winning the lottery than finding a truly original fantasy book written any time in the past century. I know. It breaks my heart too.
If you need any more proof, go visit GoodReads’ list of Most Obvious Tolkien Imitators. It is downright depressing.