Ripping Off Tolkien

I have been reading a self-published novel described by a publicist as “Tolkien with a twist.” The kind of twist you give a bird when you wring its neck.

Because I don’t pick on the defenseless, I won’t give you this author’s name. I won’t give you the book’s title, either, because I don’t want anyone buying this and then coming after me with a broken bottle. I don’t like to think of how much they charged him to publish his 500-page monstrosity. They’re supposed to provide “editorial services,” but there’s no evidence they did: the book is littered with typos and weird sentences. An elf queen, for instance, is described as “statuesque” and having “a slight figure” in the same sentence. Not even an elf can be statuesque and slight at the same time. No editor should allow something like that.

But the real crime here is larceny. “Thou shalt not steal” applies to ideas and concepts as well as to cars and cash. I haven’t even finished the first chapter of this book, and the author has already transported wholesale, into his own fantasy world, the entire population of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth–elves and dwarves and orcs and dragons and even the poor hobbits. He has shanghaied the whole works. And not content with that, he has also robbed C.S. Lewis, Lord Dunsany, and Anne McCaffrey. The only thing he couldn’t manage to steal was a creative spark.

If you only saw this in publications by vanity presses, you could laugh it off. But I’ll bet there was never a writer who got ripped off more than J.R.R. Tolkien. In the wake of his success, every fantasy writer was populating his world with elves and dwarves–and then you’ve got the figurines, the role-playing games, and even amusement park rides. All of it without a by-your-leave from the estate. And as for paying for the privilege of battening off Tolkien’s creation–well, dream on. If the estate tried to sue everyone who ripped them off, they’d never do anything else at all–and they’d still never get around to all the offenders.

Half the fun of writing fantasy is making up stuff. Why would you want somebody else to do that for you?


4 comments on “Ripping Off Tolkien

  1. ‘The kind of twist you give a bird when you wring its neck.’
    I know exactly what you’re talking about. But you said it way better than I could ever have 😀
    Elves and orcs in non-Tolkien fantasy are some of my biggest dislikes. Even Tolkien could make his elves a bit insufferable at times, but at least they have an awesome language and Legolas has a good sense of humor. But for the rest… just ugh. Oh, by the way, where did Tolkien say that his elves had pointed ears? I’ve always just found that to be so stupid. And then of course everyone else in the entire fantasy world has to describe their elves as having pointy ears. It just… takes away anything that they might have had in their favor.
    Also, why do these self-published Tolkien thieves write like 5th graders? It’s as if they’ve read the books they rip off so much that they can follow it plot-point by plot-point, but they certainly didn’t learn grammar or anything useful from their reading.

    1. Tolkien never said Elves have pointed ears. I think the dumbos who rip him off get Elves confused with Vulcans.

      I can’t give you this author’s name because he was a friend and benefactor of mine, but he wrote a Tolkien rip-off that contained what surely must be the very worst line ever written in a fantasy (or any other kind of fiction, for that matter). The Elf turns to the Dwarf and says, “We must all learn to respect one another’s diverse lifestyles.” AAAAUGHHHHH!

    2. Oh, my, that is a horrible line! It’s always worse when a friend writes stuff you dislike than when someone else does.

      I still laugh when I think about a story I wrote back when I was twelve (yep, a long time ago!) called Prince Peter and the Goblin King. In it, I practically tore out a page from The Hobbit as well as a page or two from MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, and all of this in a twelve page story. Yeah. Nowadays, I’m very conscious about NOT ripping anyone off (least of all the Professor). I realize that I can’t be 100% original, but that doesn’t give me the right to take whole plot points from someone else and recycle them. Besides, it’s just plain bad writing (unless you plagiarize).

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