Romance, Post-Tolkien

In an essay called "Out of the Shire," Hillsdale College scholar Bradley J. Birzer wonders where we go next.
As I list what to read “After Tolkien,” I must make two caveats. First, almost no one has reached the literary quality of Tolkien’s writings, whether in his clever children’s stories, such as The Hobbit, or in his high fantasy, such as in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. And, second, no one has reached the imaginative quality of Tolkien’s writings, either. For better or worse, these two must be givens as we consider “After Tolkien.” And, these two might be givens for the next several centuries.
Perhaps, but it is not certain. The earlier, allied genre of Sword & Sorcery enjoyed its great master in the form of Robert E. Howard; but his near contemporary, Friz Leiber, flourished and in some respects went beyond him. Tolkien is a high bar, though, because he had a degree of learning that is itself a high bar. You would need to find someone as creative, as romantic, and as capable of sustaining those things through the dreariness of acquiring all that academic learning. The last of those might be the hardest of the lot, but without the depth of scholarship you cannot do what Tolkien did.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Nice little summary of the genre. I do wonder whether literature is supposed to "go" anywhere? He seems to be trying to say something more important that "If you liked Tolkien, you might like this," but I'm not clear what his criteria are.

Grim said...

That's fair. You're right, of course: if someone could simply do as well as Tolkien did again, without the genre 'going' anywhere, it would be a triumph.

By the same token, if someone went back to Howard but did it just as well, it would be magnificent. Robert Jordan tried, but his Conan is very different from Howard's. There's a new series I've been reading by Scott Lynch that aims in the same direction, but it's not nearly as good (I am sorry to say). But it's the closest thing I've seen to Howard or Leiber in years, even if it's not quite right in several ways. I might review it when I've finished the last book.