Friday, July 23, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 1

Anyone who knows me or who has read this blog for a while knows I'm a nutcase for lists. I like to make lists of things to do, things I like, things I need to remember, etc. I guess it fills some kind of basic emotional need for me, a way of bringing order to the chaos.

So I'm starting another list.

This is the first post in a series of 100 in which I will be looking back at numerous books, mostly fiction, which have had a big influence upon myself as a fiction writer. As the title suggests, most of these books will be works of fantasy, though not all. Also, I will attempt to put up a new post daily, but the reality is that that's likely to become cumbersome, to I'll just try to put up a new post whenever possible with a goal of being finished with this list by the end of the year. These posts are not meant to be overly literary, critical or academic, but more of a down-to-earth look at when, how and why these particular works affected my own writing.

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm starting with one of the most obvious fantasy novels, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Hobbit: 70th Anniversary EditionOriginally published in 1937, The Hobbit has probably had more influence, directly or indirectly, over the last century's fantasy fiction than any other single book. Some might argue that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has had more influence, but without The Hobbit there likely would never have been a Lord of the Rings. Also, even fantasy authors who are not fans of Tolkien (Michael Moorcock comes to mind), likely would have to admit Tolkien and his hobbits have been hugely important and influential upon modern fantasy fiction.

Growing up as a kid in small towns back in the 1970s, there wasn't a lot of fantasy fiction to be found in the local book stores. Even the libraries didn't have much to offer. Fortunately, at least Tolkien's The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings were relatively easy to find.

That was it for me. No Conan stories. No endless epic fantasies. Nothing. Nada. At least not until the late 1970s when Terry Brooks came along and one of my local book stores began carrying the Thieves' World series of anthologies edited by Robert Aspirin.

But Tolkien was it. The only fantasy fiction I had available to me. I'd started reading with comic books, then moved on to longer works appropriate for kids, such as the Black Beauty and Black Stallion novels and the collection of Alfred Hitchcock Three Investigators series, but eventually I discovered Tolkien.

Growing up in a small town, there weren't a lot of kids who were readers. Most were into sports of one sort or another. I liked sports, at least some of them, but reading was my big thing. Among the few reading kids I did know (you remember them if you're old enough, the nerdy kids with thick glasses and haircuts that had been made with a bowl), Tolkien was the lone author everyone said I had to try.

So, I did. I decided to start with The Hobbit for two reasons. One, it was a stand-alone story, so if I didn't like it I didn't have to worry about not finishing a longer series. Two, everyone was telling me The Hobbit was basically a prologue to the Lord of the Rings and I wouldn't understand what was going on with Sam and Frodo unless I knew about what had happened with Bilbo.

Of course I read The Hobbit and loved it. I've read it several times since.

Nowadays, being older and more widely read, I'm a little more critical of The Hobbit and Tolkien in general. Don't get me wrong. I still love Tolkien's writing, but it doesn't call out to me the way it did when I was a child.

When I was a kid, discovering Tolkien was one of the greatest times of my life. It opened up new doors and possibilities to me. Tolkien combined decent story telling, interesting characters, the intriguing notion of the alien and unique, and cool stuff. Like swords and armor and dragons and monsters and quests and ...

I could go on. But The Hobbit, for me, brought much of the vitality and adventure of comic books to life on a broader, grander scale than any comic book (at the time, anyway) could ever have dreamed of accomplishing. Tolkien's prose went beyond comics in that his words allowed my mind to create its own images of each character and of events. It was like having my own personal movie in my head, but better because my mind could include senses beyond that of the mere visual.

It was freedom.

So, that's what I have to thank Tolkien's The Hobbit for, for freeing my mind, for allowing me to dream of possibilities.

'Nuff said. At least for now.

Next up: The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks


Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't read The Hobbit until after I'd read Lord of the rings. I'd say Rings was probably more of an influence on me, but my influences come more from S & S and S & P than high fantasy. The hobbit was a very fine book, though.

von Darkmoor said...

Great idea this list of yours, Ty! Someday I too might try my hand it...or at least an abbreviated version of it, say, like 12 titles :)

Very interesting reading (skimming?) through the first 15 thus far.

gonfrix said...

another refernces for me..