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  1. #1
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    What makes Tolkien's mythology stand out from the rest of fantasy?

    Since Tolkien (and before) there have been countless attempts at creating a new fantasy world for the author to make his own. Some have grown successful (A Song of Ice and Fire,) others have fared worse (Julien McKenna's 'Dangerous Waters.) Yet even so, the Professor's incomplete legendarium is still (in consensus) the top dog out of all of these.

    So what do you think? Objectivley, how is Tolkien's works far more famed than his colleagues', and aspiring authors who have strived for the same success in their own attempt at mythology.

  2. #2
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    To me the most interesting part of Tolkien's mythology is that it actually is mirrored from real life mythologies, and the reason why I like it, is the way Tolkien describes it, the valar, maiar, ents, dwarves, etc. It isn't gritty, grim, dark (well, Melkor and his lackeys maybe), "seriously realistic" - it is epical. Valar and maiar aren't just gods and spirits of [insert noun], neither they are simple humans with super powers (not even wizards of Tolkien can be said to be "simple humans" despite their appearance), they are well thought-out.

    It's actually pretty hard to explain why I (or anyone else out there) prefer Tolkien's mythos over others. Tolkien was "just" a good novelist and he had thought almost every detail of his world out. Maybe that's the reason.

    Do note that this was just my rambling, and my opinion.

    ALSO: Maybe one of the reasons why Tolkien is better (in some's opinion) than modern-day writers, is that the modern writes are afraid of (accused?) plagiarism of Tolkien's world and therefore they try to make their settings different - sometimes in a too forced way. And if their setting is different, it might be just too odd/vague/tricky.
    Last edited by Dweorg; Dec 21 2012 at 04:01 AM.
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  3. #3
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    I believe it is because no other author has developed the depth of story that Tokien did. He created an entire mythos, complete with history that spans ages. As a result Middle-earth is closer to being a 'real place' than any other fantasy world.

    As pointed out by Dweorg, it is also engaging because it does mirror the real world. We draw comfortable comparisons to what we see around us and what we learn from history.

    Lastly, I think the way Tolkien uses words is excellent. So many passages are worded 'exactly right' and resonate to the reader. I envision Eowyn facing the Witch King. I feel the humor and pathos faced by the characters and can identify with them. The way Tolkien uses words can often send shivers down my spine because I can connect to them. The Professor was a master with using words just the right way. He was not a professor of English literature for no reason and his own writing demonstrates that.

    The combination of the above created a unique literary body of work that I doubt will be equalled any time soon if ever.
    Last edited by Dunford; Dec 21 2012 at 03:27 PM. Reason: In response to Boraxxe comment

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dunford View Post
    snip... We envision Eowyn facing the Lich King. ...snip
    I don't.
    "Just like Mary Shelly, Just like Frankenstein, Break your chains, And count your change, And try to walk the line"

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boraxxe View Post
    I don't.
    OK, then what do YOU think makes Tolkien's literature stand out from the rest? What is your response to the post topic other than pointing out that you do not envision that particular section from the books when you read them?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dunford View Post
    OK, then what do YOU think makes Tolkien's literature stand out from the rest? What is your response to the post topic other than pointing out that you do not envision that particular section from the books when you read them?
    I was just pointing out that I don't spell "witch" with an "L".
    "Just like Mary Shelly, Just like Frankenstein, Break your chains, And count your change, And try to walk the line"

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dweorg View Post
    It isn't gritty, grim, dark
    Oh, it can be. Turin's fate in particular was grim, and many of the other tales in the Sil are dark and doom-laden. The thing is, though, that Tolkien doesn't dwell on the gory details; it isn't 'gritty' in a modern style.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Radhruin_EU View Post
    Oh, it can be. Turin's fate in particular was grim, and many of the other tales in the Sil are dark and doom-laden. The thing is, though, that Tolkien doesn't dwell on the gory details; it isn't 'gritty' in a modern style.
    Poor wording on behalf of mine! But you said exactly what I meant. Tolkien doesn't wallow in gritty details
    "'Nonetheless they will have need of wood', said Aulë and he went on with his smith-work."

  9. #9
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    There are a few reasons why I think it stands out.

    One is Tolkien's languages. Because of his background as a philologist, he had these wonderful languages at his disposal. And let's face it - Middle-earth without Elvish just wouldn't be Middle-earth. Oh, and also Dwarvish. And the Black Speech. And the Rohirric language..... you get the point.

    Another is his depth. Whenever Tolkien made a mistake in writing, he would not just fix that mistake. For example, if he spelled Gandalf as "Gandalf" in one place and accidentally spelled it "Gandalph" in another (he doesn't do this, by the way), he would not just pick one and fix the other. He would come up with a whole backstory as to why the people in this other area spell it with a ph instead of an f. This very simple aspect leads to an amazing amount of depth and realism in his stories.

    Like others said, the fact that his mythology is so expansive is a big part of it. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by themselves paint a pretty incredible world, but add The Silmarillion onto that and...... dang.

    Another thing is the internal consistency and drive of the text, especially in The Lord of the Rings. In Harry Potter, for example, you get all these random useless side-plots (like Hermione and the house-elves). Try to find something like that in The Lord of the Rings. The entirety of the book has significance on the central plot. That's incredibly rare, especially in a book that size.

    Finally, I think he is so successful because he knew what he was doing. He couldn't just write a great story, he understood why it was great. If you ever get a chance and haven't already, you absolutely MUST read his essay "On Fairy Stories." (You can find it here, but I don't know how accurate the transcription is from the printed text.) He knew exactly what he was trying to do when he wrote The Lord of the Rings; it's so much more than what most authors do when they try to convince the reader to "suspend disbelief." You HAVE to read this essay. Slowly. And more than once. I've read it probably a half-dozen times and I still haven't got all of it figured out right in my brain.

    There are some stories, of course, that achieve many of these different elements, some perhaps better than Tolkien's. However, there is no other author that fulfills all of them as well as Tolkien does, and until there is, he will remain the undisputed master.
    Last edited by Arathaert; Dec 21 2012 at 01:33 PM.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boraxxe View Post
    I was just pointing out that I don't spell "witch" with an "L".
    Oh bravo Boraxxe! I was at first perplexed at your short, seemingly curt response. I thought, "That does not seem like boraxxe's usual MO. I had completely missed Dunford's mistake in saying Lich King. I read it as Witch King. I aplaud your attention to detail.
    Many or all of the reasons listed here are why Prof. T's works are so much more widely read and well received. For me certainly the good Professor's expertise w/ language makes him an outstanding communicator. His deep understanding of mythology, greco-roman, norse, fertile crescent, egyption etc. as well as the biblical creation account renders him supremely suited to craft a new mythology.
    If I try to say more I fear I will start rambling. Too late?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duathrandir View Post
    Oh bravo Boraxxe! I was at first perplexed at your short, seemingly curt response. I thought, "That does not seem like boraxxe's usual MO. I had completely missed Dunford's mistake in saying Lich King. I read it as Witch King. I aplaud your attention to detail.
    Many or all of the reasons listed here are why Prof. T's works are so much more widely read and well received. For me certainly the good Professor's expertise w/ language makes him an outstanding communicator. His deep understanding of mythology, greco-roman, norse, fertile crescent, egyption etc. as well as the biblical creation account renders him supremely suited to craft a new mythology.
    If I try to say more I fear I will start rambling. Too late?
    Naw, yer not rambling.
    To give my take on the OPs question;
    The first time I picked up LOTR I was mesmerized.
    I stopped when I realized there was an earlier story that I had not read. I put down The Fellowship and ran out and got a copy of The Hobbit.
    What happened when I first read those books still happens today, although it will never be the same as the first time.
    Perusing those pages takes me away. This is the epitome of "escapist" literature.
    A cup of coffee, or cocoa, snuggled under a blanket, late at night with one light over my shoulder and off I go into Eriador.
    A few other authors can do this for me, but none like Tolkien. There is no "suspension of disbelief". I go there.
    Last edited by Boraxxe; Dec 21 2012 at 02:18 PM.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boraxxe View Post
    Perusing those pages takes me away. This is the epitome of "escapist" literature.
    A cup of coffee, or cocoa, snuggled under a blanket, late at night with one light over my shoulder and off I go into Eriador.
    A few other authors can do this for me, but none like Tolkien. There is no "suspension of disbelief". I go there.
    YOU HAVE TO READ THAT ESSAY!! lol sorry for the shouting, but it's true. You just do. It's not too long and well worth it. You'll like it, I promise.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arathaert View Post
    YOU HAVE TO READ THAT ESSAY!! lol sorry for the shouting, but it's true. You just do. It's not too long and well worth it. You'll like it, I promise.
    Oh, I have read that essay, some years ago. Thanks for posting the link so others can enjoy it.
    "Just like Mary Shelly, Just like Frankenstein, Break your chains, And count your change, And try to walk the line"

  14. #14
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    Oh curse this wretched forum!

    I wrote out a nice long post which, I think, made some decent points on this subject. Then the forum logged me out when I hit submit.

    Sigh. Maybe I'll have the fortitude to try again later.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fionnuala View Post
    Oh curse this wretched forum!

    I wrote out a nice long post which, I think, made some decent points on this subject. Then the forum logged me out when I hit submit.

    Sigh. Maybe I'll have the fortitude to try again later.
    Ack! Dontcha hate it when that happens?
    I decided a while back that If I was going to post more than a few lines I would first enter it into some other media (Word or the like) and then paste it into the forum.
    "Just like Mary Shelly, Just like Frankenstein, Break your chains, And count your change, And try to walk the line"

  16. #16
    For me it's the languages, how the original language of the Elves grew into versions like Quenya and Sindarin and it all makes consistent sense and has rules. Some authors just create names in their languages out of jibberish, not JRRT. Second it's the history, which influenced the languages and vice versa.
    [FONT=Trebuchet MS]"You can't fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy" - J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter # 81


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  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Arathaert View Post
    Another thing is the internal consistency and drive of the text, especially in The Lord of the Rings. In Harry Potter, for example, you get all these random useless side-plots (like Hermione and the house-elves). Try to find something like that in The Lord of the Rings. The entirety of the book has significance on the central plot. That's incredibly rare, especially in a book that size.
    If you can find it, there is an essay by Richard C. West entitled "The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings" in A Tolkien Compass which you may find an interesting read. West's 'inspiration' for his analysis was a similar analysis of Beowulf done by John Leyerle who was one of Tolkien's Oxford grad students.

  18. #18
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    (Let's try this again...)

    Personally, I think that any writer could attain the kind of detail and internal consistency and masterful technique that Tolkien employs. Those things are not really difficult, just time consuming. And I don't think they are what gives Middle-earth its heart and its real vibrancy. (As wonderful as each of those things are.)

    Middle-earth is one of a small handful of imaginary worlds that inspires fanatic devotion because of how real and powerful and good it seems to a large number of readers. It wasn't Tolkien's writing skill that achieved this and it wasn't his obsessive attention to detail. It was, I believe, his passion for his own project that we feel when we become immersed in Middle-earth.

    It is often said (including by Tolkien himself), that the man was a Hobbit at heart. And while that is true, I do not think it is going far enough. Tolkien identified strongly with Hobbits, but at the same time I believe he strongly identified with each and every one of the races that exist in his world. He comments in a letter about how the character of Faramir speaks, at one point, with his own voice, because it was Tolkien who first dreamt of Numenor. We also know how closely Tolkien felt akin to Beren (and thus to Aragorn) and his great love. The Elves may seem to be above such connections, remote and proud as they can be, but Tolkien drew from himself for them as well, for it is in them, often enough, that we can see the clearest signs of Tolkien's deep religious convictions. The Dwarves... well, I don't know enough about Dwarves to comment. But I would be shocked if the Dwarves did not drawn on something within Tolkien for their nature.

    I would suggest that even the Orcs represent a part of Tolkien. For Tolkien was a witness of and a participant in the horrors of the Great War. Tolkien knew what moral corruption men can be driven to and I think the Orcs are a representation of this terrible truth. That we might all become that monster. We might all be so twisted and corrupted that our humanity is all but lost. (Never truly lost. Tolkien himself said that the Orcs could be redeemed, however unlikely.) And that is the terrible fear, the terrible enemy that LOTR confronts. It came from inside Tolkien himself.

    That is why Middle-earth is so real and so compelling. All of it came from inside Tolkien, a most remarkable man. Every race reflects a part of his nature and personality. Every place comes from somewhere or something that he loved. Every story is about real truths of the human experience that Tolkien knew intimately. That is why he called himself, and can truly be said to be, a sub-creator. Just as he believed that this world of ours and everything in it was, in the beginning, created in God's image, so too was Middle-earth created in Tolkien's image.

    We love it because Tolkien truly loved it, the way a father loves his child. That love, that passion can be felt in every word he painstakingly wrote. And we, the fans of Tolkien and of Middle-earth, can't help responding to that love which lends his creation true life and true substance.

    At least, that is how I feel about it.

    (And copy before hitting submit...)
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  19. #19
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    I first read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was really little (like really, really little). And I used to be completely convinced that Middle Earth was real and Tolkien had somehow stumbled upon and wrote down its stories. It just HAD to be real because there was a very detailed history about events that were not in the book. There were entire languages. No other book I had read at that time (or since) has that level of detail. It seems more than a book (or series of books).

    Of course now that I'm older I know it's not real. It's just the work of a genius. But I think part of me still wishes it was real. And, to me, THAT is what makes it stand out.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ioralor View Post
    I first read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was really little (like really, really little). And I used to be completely convinced that Middle Earth was real and Tolkien had somehow stumbled upon and wrote down its stories. It just HAD to be real because there was a very detailed history about events that were not in the book. There were entire languages. No other book I had read at that time (or since) has that level of detail. It seems more than a book (or series of books).

    Of course now that I'm older I know it's not real. It's just the work of a genius. But I think part of me still wishes it was real. And, to me, THAT is what makes it stand out.
    You have stepped into a troublesome puddle.
    You say that now that you're older you know that it's not real.
    You have been fooled, or deceived.
    I can see that world.
    All of the folks that have posted in this thread can see that world.
    We can't take our cell phones there and take pictures. Cell phones don't function there.
    But that world exists just as assuredly as your cell phone exists.
    Smile and know that we all enjoy the secret world of Eriador, and Rohan, and Gondor. It is ours to lose if we choose.
    I choose not to.
    "Just like Mary Shelly, Just like Frankenstein, Break your chains, And count your change, And try to walk the line"

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ioralor View Post
    I first read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was really little (like really, really little). And I used to be completely convinced that Middle Earth was real and Tolkien had somehow stumbled upon and wrote down its stories. It just HAD to be real because there was a very detailed history about events that were not in the book. There were entire languages. No other book I had read at that time (or since) has that level of detail. It seems more than a book (or series of books).

    Of course now that I'm older I know it's not real. It's just the work of a genius. But I think part of me still wishes it was real. And, to me, THAT is what makes it stand out.
    There is a line from the movie The Santa Clause that I always enjoy. Neil, the psychologist, is talking to Scott Calvin's (Santa Claus) son (whose name I forget) to try and rationalize that Santa is not real. The boy says something like, "Why do you think that Santa is not real? You have never seen a million dollars but you believe that it is real. You don't have to see something to know it is real."

    I understand what you are saying, but as Boraxxe noted, Middle-earth is as real as you choose to make it. It exists in the hearts and minds of those that love it. I can 'see' the hills of the Shire, the mighty mallorn trees of Lothlorien and other Middle-earth locations anytime I close my eyes and choose to see them.

  22. #22
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    Thank you for all the replies, guys and gals. Very insightful :-)

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    Personally, I don't consider the Professor's work to be fantasy, in modern usage. I consider it to be the mythological equivalent, if England had it, to the Norse Elder Edda and other similar legendary mythological histories. In his own words, the Professor sought to create an historical mythology 'fairy' story set to England that other Germanic peoples had been known to have. I consider this work of literature to be equivalent to Homer's Iliad, not 'fantasy'. Others have their own opinions.
    "No sadder words of tongue or pen are the words: 'Might have been'." -- John Greenleaf Whittier
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    Indeed, in a world and life full of change, the only constant is human nature (A is A, after all :P).
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by cdq1958 View Post
    Personally, I don't consider the Professor's work to be fantasy, in modern usage.
    Sorry, what? It's constructed mythology, therefore it's fantasy by any sensible definition. It isn't from any historical source and it's not only strongly Christianised (being monotheistic) but somewhat bland compared to a 'real' mythology, in which the gods show human motivations. It's fantasy written to have the 'air' of myth and legend but only after a fashion as it pulls up short of the point at which it would have actively clashed with Tolkien's own religious beliefs.

    Others have their own opinions.
    Yeah, ones that avoid making such arbitrary distinctions

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    I've read very few fantasy literature, though I have books at home (The Wheels of Time, Discworld, Harry Potter, a Song of Ice and Fire and others I can't remember atm) I could not finish them while I keep coming back to Middle-earth. I think it's the approach, The Professor wrote his books as if he's just learning about Middle-earth himself or as if he's discovering it along with his readers. I agree LOTR has an element of realism in it, like when I read it I wasn't trying to understand somebody else's imaginary world being described. it's this ancient world seen by other people's eyes and The Professor is our tour guide. it's a journey I don't mind taking over and over again, that's why I play this game

 

 
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