How I Fell in Love with Fantasy

Image result for images of ballantine books fellowship of the ring

Someone around here was enthused enough to prefer my books to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Well, what can I say?

I first read The Lord of the Rings in high school, and it overwhelmed me. My imagination was already on fire, thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs–first his Pellucidar novels, and then his tales of adventure on Mars. But Tolkien–!

I was astonished that such a book could ever have been written. Burroughs’ books are short; Tolkien’s was a monumental trilogy. You wind up spending a lot of time in it. The marvelous thing about The Lord of the Rings was that it positively came alive for me: it made me believe in the story that it told. Perhaps it was the mass of detail: Tolkien’s imaginary world is vast. To this day, after many re-readings, I’m sure I could find my way around the Shire, and I’m sure I’d like it there. And I’d know which places to avoid–Mordor, Mirkwood, and the Mines of Moria.

I’ve never seen any illustrations of LOTR which satisfied me. That’s because Tolkien’s art made his people and places real to me, as if I’d actually been there, seen them; and any illustration is, of course, someone else’s imagination, and can never show me anything exactly how I’d already imagined it myself.

It gave me a burning desire to write fantasy. I can’t even guess how many pages I turned out in notebooks, and on my old manual typewriter, trying to imitate Tolkien, trying to match him. But I can say it took several decades for me to realize that the world didn’t need another Tolkien: any fantasies I wrote would have to be my fantasies, and no one else’s. And that took another couple of decades to accomplish.

It’s important to remember that when LOTR came out, there was nothing else remotely like it. Since then, the fantasy genre has been suffocated with Tolkien wannabes, shamelessly ripping off his once-upon-a-time unique creation. I still love Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves and warriors, etc., but find everybody else’s cheap imitations intolerable. I suspect that if my first reading had been now instead of then, it wouldn’t have had the impact that it did.

Burroughs and Tolkien inspired me, and I doubt my own books would ever have been written if I hadn’t read theirs first. I still stand up and salute The Chessmen of Mars, and in my imagination, search for the road to the forest of Lothlorien.

11 comments on “How I Fell in Love with Fantasy

  1. It is nice when we can stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. I always enjoy it, Lee, when you share your personal thoughts about the writing experience. With all the darkness of modern America’s entertainment and humor, it is hard to find redeemable books like the Bell Mountain series – but when I do, it is a big blessing!

  2. On Amazon, there is a 1988 vampire book written by someone with your name. Was this you? And if so, it would be interesting to hear how you made the transition from writing horror to writing Christian fiction.

    1. Yup, that was me–my first published book, “Lifeblood.”
      Between my last published horror novel and “Bell Mountain” was 20 years, and a lot happened in those 20 years to change me.
      I should probably post about this, if I get a chance today. It’s too much ground to cover, for a comment.

  3. My favorite good guy character in the Bell Mountain series is Helki the Rod. He’s just so cool!
    My favorite bad guy is Lord Reesh. For some reason, I’ve always been a “fan” of the bad guys in fiction, but I’m no fan of the non-fiction bad guys.
    It’s amazing how Tolkien gets into so much detail in his books!

    1. I was sorry to part with Lord Reesh, but his time had come. He really was my best villain–although Ysbott the Snake is meaner.

    2. One of the reasons why I like villains is that I can look forward to their demise or defeat. The good guys always come on top!
      What does Lord Reesh look like? I’d like to know!
      Or, who looks like Lord Reesh?

    3. To me, Lord Reesh looks like Claude Rains when he played Herod in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
      This is a technique I use all the time: imagining my characters as played by actors in a movie. Sometimes it really helps a character to come to life for me.

    4. I just checked it out and I agree with you! I think I saw one of those pictures of Claude Rains as Herod before on one of your blog posts, and honestly, at that time, I thought he was a doll!

  4. Tolkien fueled my love for fantasy as well, Lee. It was sparked with Lewis when I was young, but the amazing complexity and depth of Tolkien’s books helped me see fantasy as a genre that could go well beyond children’s stories. It lended itself to layers of meaning, and had the potential to not just entertain, but be excellent literature, blending unbridled imagination with existing mythology to create something completely unique.

    I never dared to imagine I could imitate something so brilliant as Tolkien’s work, so I didn’t try–no one has managed it yet, and probably never will. But I did learn what I could from his example. Among other things, Tolkien taught me that it was possible to create whole worlds that you could fully experience in your mind. Worlds that sometimes feel more real than our own. And he taught me about creating three-dimensional characters with not just life, and breath, but soul. He showed me the epic nature of spiritual warfare, and how one evil force can use men’s sins against them to do terrible things…yet how even such depth of evil can be thwarted by the love and willing self-sacrifice of individuals.

    My writing will never measure up to Tolkien’s, but in the process of trying, I learn something each time I sit down to write. I’m sure he never realized the impact he would have on people, especially considering he only wrote these books to showcase his linguistic skills in creating the Elven language. But that just makes his legacy all the more incredible.

    1. We ought to remember that he worked on his fantasy, totally focused on it, for his whole adult life.

      If you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to review your latest book, there are two reasons for it. I’ve been pushing myself hard to finish my current book, with several other projects piling up behind it.

      But I’m also re-reading your two earlier books, because my memory needs refreshing. I’m reading them in bed at night, which is the ideal place for it.

      Helki would love to take Elowyn under his wing and coach her in woodcraft. He sees a lot of promise in her.

    2. I know Elowyn would be honored to learn from Helki. 🙂 No worries on the review. I’m grateful that you’re taking the time to read the earlier books again first, and I know when you do get to the review it will be honest and thoughtful. Hopefully you’ll notice an improvement in the writing between the first book and the most recent one. At some point I’m going to re-edit Journey to Aviad since it has been so long. Like you, though, I’m pushing hard to get my next book written and there are only so many hours in the day!

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