Saturday, February 16, 2013

30 Days of Genre - What Is Your Favorite Classic Genre Novel?

The Lord of the Rings

Is there anyone reading this blog that is particularly surprised? Ever since I consumed The Hobbit in one overnight sitting during the summer between my fourth and fifth grade years, and then went directly to reading The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King all over the course of the next week, I have always loved J.R.R. Tolkien's work. As soon as I got my hands on it, I devoured The Silmarillion (I distinctly remember reading it on a plane as we were flying over Mount Kilimanjaro). For Christmas, my parents got me The Tolkien Companion. I got a copy of David Day's Tolkien Bestiary and spent hours looking through the beautiful illustrations. I read the Tolkien Reader and Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. And so on and so forth. In short, I am something of a Tolkien fanatic.

But all of that is rooted in the three volumes that make up The Lord of the Rings. Although The Hobbit is what first set the spark in me, it by itself would not have set my imagination aflame. By itself, The Hobbit is a good quality young adult fantasy that would take its place alongside books by Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper. But The Lord of the Rings is something different. Something special. In it, Tolkien does almost everything wrong from a storytelling perspective, and yet the resulting product is beautifully grand in a way that other books can only hope to be. He starts the book with a long party scene. He then has the main characters do nothing but wait around and engage in exposition laden conversations for literally years worth of novel time. When the hero finally starts out on his journey, he wanders around lost for a while until a deus ex machina of a character saves him and sets him in the right direction. Once the characters all get together, they sit down and have a committee meeting filled with more massive volumes of exposition for several dozen pages.The characters set out, fail once, go a different direction, get their wizard killed, wander into some suspicious elves, and then one of their own turns on them. And that's just the first book. Tolkien's literary sins are endless, the songs and poetry that the characters interject throughout the book are charming but ultimately fairly badly written, and the lack of female characters was glaringly apparent even to my eleven year old self.

And guess what? I don't care. None of that matters. Because Tolkien wrote a story that rises above all of these alleged sins. Because the years of painstaking work he put in to crafting the mythology and history of Middle-Earth bleeds through the pages, even when it isn't directly referenced by the text. Because when Aragorn summons the oathbreakers, or Frodo walks through the Dead Marshes, or Eowyn fulfills prophecy by slaying the Witch-King, you can feel the weight behind those parts of the story that is simply not present in many other fantasy works. And for me, The Lord of the Rings is why I read fantasy and science fiction.


  1. For me I'm guessing it's Tolkien, maybe those who've come after like George R.R. Martin and Tad Williams. But Tolkien first and foremost.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: The only other possibility for me was Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, but even that is a distant second.

  3. I hate to admit it but other than LOTR's I haven't read too many of the "classics" in the genre. I started with Tolkien, moved on to Salvatore, and then finally hit gold with Martin, Bakker, Abercrombie, Lynch, and Rothfuss. Seems like there is so many good books coming out it's hard to go back in time!

  4. @Cursed Amanda: I would recommend trying Le Guin, Moorcock, Lieber, and Alexander. They are all very different, but they are all good.