I Am Not Tolkien

Anyone who knows me can tell you how Tolkien obsessed I am. I know all the weird little details. I get annoyed by inaccurate Tolkien memes. I have read the books and seen the movies multiple times.

However, when it comes to writing, I avoid Tolkien like the plague.

Lemme explain.

Tolkien was a linguist and a historian. He was an academic. This is why he was able to create his own languages, his own detailed world history, even his own religious mythos. He was already an expert in these areas.

I’ve seen a lot of memes that poke fun at Tolkien for starting his story by creating an entire language for his elves. (By the way, there are fifteen elven languages and dialects. The language of the dwarves was based on Old Norse and for men I think it was Old English, so not entirely made up, but still requiring years of previous study.)

So now fantasy writers feel like they have to do all that junk and that’s why we end up with fantasy stories that are all based in a made-up-but-medieval setting with fake words and usually at least one of the fantasy races (i.e. elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc.).

It actually really irritates me when people do this. Lemme tell y’all a secret… you do NOT have to create a new language in order to write a believable fantasy setting. In fact, you probably shouldn’t do that unless you, like Tolkien, are a linguist and have intensely studied how languages work. There are many ways of indicating language without actually writing the language. (Names of countries and such like are obviously the only exception.)

I would continue to argue against elaborate languages by saying that it pulls readers out of the story and mostly annoys them. Think about it. What do you, as a reader, do when you come across a word or name that you can’t pronounce? You skip it. You don’t try to sound it out in your head. You just skip right over it.

History is a little different in that I don’t believe you need to be a historian to create a backstory for your world. However, I do think that instead of actually trying to do this, people just go with the Tolkien Template. Medieval-era swords & sorcery, a past struggle against the Darkness, and general animosity between obvious races (i.e. elves & dwarves).

Anyway, my point here is that I found it very intriguing that I’m such a huge Tolkien fan, but when it comes to my writing, I tend to do nothing the way he did. There is no doubt that everything I’ve ever read, seen, or done subconsciously influences what I write. So Tolkien may be lurking in my writing without my knowledge. But I am not Tolkien. I do not try to write like him.

Which I suppose is not all that unusual, when I take a moment to think about it. The truth is that I am not any of the writers that I read and admire. When I sit down to that blank screen, all those writers and their works may be behind me. They may be the foundation from which I built my understanding of the craft. But in the end, the words that I put together to create stories are my own. When I write, I try to write like me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s