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Why J.R.R. Tolkien Is The Most Important Fantasy Writer

The author of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" truly paved the way for modern fantasy epics.

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J.R.R. Tolkien is the author of "The Lord of the Rings" and the books that fill out its surrounding universe. He created arguably the greatest fantasy epic of all time, a story filled with magic and adventure and peril. Today we are blessed with a wealth of incredible stories like this, with universes like "A Game of Thrones" and the "Eragon" series gathering massive fan bases. But the landscape of fantasy literature was not always this fruitful. George R. R. Martin, author of "A Game of Thrones" and its sequels explained Tolkien’s effect of fantasy literature best when he said “One of the things [Tolkien] did that was extraordinary was create Middle Earth in such detail. If you look at some of the pre-Tolkien fantasy, it’s written more in the sort of fairy tales. You know, ‘once upon a time there was a king, and the king had a beautiful daughter.’ But you won’t know who the king’s father was or who his grandfather was or how the dynasty came to power, or what the neighboring countries are.”

This all changed when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit." Suddenly, readers could examine in depth the habits of a brand new race called hobbits and the way they interacted with humans and elves and dwarves and wizards. With the following publication of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Silmarillion," readers were able to learn about the deities that ruled over the fictional land of Middle Earth, and many serious fanatics of the series even went so far as to learn the languages spoken by other races and invented by Tolkien himself. This opened the mind of many writers to the scope that could be achieved in a literary work when given the chance to create an entire new world.

Though this type of fantasy writing has become extremely popular, not all successful fantasy series follow this medieval-times sort of story. J.K. Rowling created a series of fantasy novels based in the modern world, and delighted in crafting ways to shield the wizarding world from the eyes of non-magic folk. And though the "Harry Potter" series does not contain the sword-and-shield battles of "The Lord of the Rings," Tolkien’s influence is still undoubtedly apparent. Look at the detail with which Rowling describes the Hogwarts houses: their founders described but never actually in the books themselves, Rowling even sorted Millicent Bagnold, the Minister of Magic prior to Cornelius Fudge, into Ravenclaw house despite never mentioning her in a single book (Pottermore.com is a fantastic source for all sorts of "Harry Potter" lore.)

And beyond just the detailed description of the world, look at Tolkien’s influence on the story itself: a young man who must destroy an item(s) due to its connection to the life force of an evil villain, the protagonist being guided on his way by an elderly, long-bearded wizard of immense power. Sound familiar? And though every writer puts his or her own imagination into the world they create, a special thank you should be given from every reader to J.R.R. Tolkien for opening the minds of all future writers to the greatness that could be achieved when given the chance.

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