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The Father of Modern Fantasy

"I am in fact, a Hobbit in all but size." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

By Lena FolkertPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 10 min read
Top Story - August 2023
"The Father of Modern Fantasy" © Lena Folkert-Borondia, 2023. Created with Wombo Dream Ai

I was perusing the meager book selection at the local Goodwill and feeling frustrated by the abundance of abandoned and unused cook books and flashy but failing self-help books when I saw it.

"Could it be?" I gasped as my fingers flung toward the binding.

I brushed the binding softly, before wrapping my fingers carefully around the found treasure. I withdrew it from the dusty shelf and laid my hand against the faded and torn, but still in-tact, dust-jacket.

The mother-load.

It wasn’t worth more than the fifty cents I paid for it. At least not monetarily. I had not found a rare or long-lost first edition. At least not that day.

It was simply another well-read, torn, tattered, and properly dog-eared copy of one of the books that I'd read a hundred times myself. I had no need for that book. I had a dozen copies at home, some found in similar ways, and some pristinely kept in their original plastic wrapping.

Still, I treasured my find. And carefully flipped through it, looking for evidence of the life-altering musings of the previous owner. I just knew it must have changed their life as much as it had my own, and I was, not for the first time, furiously curious about their observations. Where did they bend down the pages? What part of the spine was the most worn? What marginal notes or highlighted passages had called to them? Were they the same as my own?

I was startled from my reverie by the soft chuckle of an older man standing particularly close to me. He smiled at me oddly as I returned my gaze to the wall of books in front of me, attempting to appear interested in the remaining smut that papered the shelves.

As I turned toward the checkout counter, the gentleman peeked into my basket to steal a glimpse of my found treasure.

I tipped my hand basket slightly, proudly flashing him a peek of my newfound copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I was pleased with my find and certain it would evoke a tinge of jealousy in my fellow bibliophile.

Instead, the old man simply rolled his eyes and and made one of the most maddening observations I've ever had the ill fortune to hear.

Found on Shutterstock

“Well, it’s no Harry Potter."

I believe my jaw actually dropped as I stared back at him.

“What?” I said in shock. “But Tolkien is SO much better than Rowling! It's because of this book that I'm studying to be a professor of literature,” I said, jumping to defense of the literary master who had changed my world forever and showed me what true literature actually is.

“Harry Potter has had a much bigger impact on people. It’s the most popular series in the world right now, and if you are going to be a teacher, you’ll have to teach the books.”

“I’m sorry,” I retorted. “But J.K. Rowling has had nowhere near the impact that Tolkien has. Sure, she is a talented storyteller who created a popular fictional series for young adults. But J.R.R. Tolkien, on the other hand, was a master storyteller who created worlds and languages and peoples that have captivated children and adults alike for decades. His works are true literature that have influenced many authors since... including Rowling.”

The conversation went from there, and I don’t remember much else of it except for the feelings I took away from it.

Shock. Disbelief. Disappointment. And an avid determination to help others understand the sheer genius and beauty that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien has shared with the world.

Found on Shutterstock

I do not intend to disparage J.K. Rowling or any other author, but the continued comparison of other authors to this master storyteller is something that has more than once set me rabid about the mouth.

I know that many others would share the belief that Tolkien is among the greatest writers of all time and has created one of the greatest fantasy worlds t0 ever have been shared in text, but let me add my humble and awe-inspired thoughts on the man who wrote the world I want to live in and sometimes forget isn’t real…

... or is it?

Art by Lena Borondia. Words by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The truth of the matter is that I have spent hundreds of hours investigating his past, reading his work, and writing about the man and his works, and I could talk about him ad nauseam. (or even more ad nauseam than my usual articles which already tend to ramble...)

His body of work speaks for itself as to why the world that he created is the richest, best, and most comprehensively created fantasy land that an author has ever deemed to share with the world, but perhaps this brief intro to the man and his genius will help to garner more appreciation for that world he so masterfully created.

Tolkien was a very bright and talented child who’s love for language began before most children were speaking in full sentences. By the time he was in his teens, he had begun to create his own languages and went on to study literature and language at Oxford, learning from those who had influenced and inspired him as a child and becoming a philologist and true master of numerous languages, both real and created.

Found on Shutterstock

His love of and skill with words served him well throughout his life, and is evident in the beauty of the languages that he created for his wonderful Middle-earth, as well as his masterful art of storytelling.

One of the most remarkable things about the languages that he wrote within the books is that they are not only melodic and beautiful languages, but they actually adhere to the rules of language. It was actually the creation of these languages that influenced Tolkien to make a world big enough and beautiful enough to contain them.

As someone who loves language but does not possess the linguistic ability that Tolkien seemed to be born with, I find the languages in his books to be like songs that I hear in a foreign language: I do not understand the words, but my heart understands the stories within through the music and the passion the singer conveys. And Tolkien surely was a masterful composer!

In addition to his melodic writing, Tolkien composed epic and beautiful songs, both in English and in his created languages, to include in his stories: Songs of heroes and villains, of love and of loss, of treasure and of war.

Additionally, Tolkien was a gifted artist, and he used this skill to complete his stories with beautifully and creatively crafted maps and images that help the reader to feel truly immersed and captivated by his world.

As you read his books, you feel not as though you are reading a piece of fiction that is bound by the paper, cardboard, and stitching that holds the book together, but you feel as though that world has left the page and surrounded you, pulling you into it.

The paper falls away, and the characters and songs and stories become so real and vivid to you that you love them, hate them, fear them and fight for them yourself.

Those characters are also so much larger than the paper world that fails to contain them and truly reflect the man who created them.

Much like his characters, Tolkien lived in a world of upheaval and chaos. Yet unlike his heroic characters, he was a man who did not rush or revel in joining the war that changed his world. However, he was not motivated by cowardice, but because he was a man of feeling and insights that perhaps were lost on those around him at the time.

Like any writer, the experiences in his life informed his writing, and the characters and plots that he created are evidence of this.

Though a storyteller myself, Tolkien I am not, (shocking, I know!) and I lack the words to fully describe why the world of Middle-Earth is so far superior to that of other fantasy worlds, but it is not just the beautiful languages and songs and images that he included.

Nor is it the magical landscapes and adventures that the characters find themselves amidst. It is not the characters so human with their rich complexities and charm. Nor the history and background of this magical world.

No. It is all of them together. And so much more.

There is truth and honesty and insight in every character Tolkien created!

The Hobbits so delightfully mirror the Englishman that Tolkien wanted to be and show a strength that shines through humor and simplicity.

The elegance and honor of the Elves reflect the dignity and grace that we all wish we were able to attain.

The Men show such resilience and strength that it is all too... human and relatable.

The villains are all lurking on the other side of every mirror and in the darkness that we try to hide ourselves from but see everyday in the world around us.

The heroes are the same as those we see in the mirror and wish to be and have been in the past.

Yes, Tolkien reminds us that even the smallest and most frightened of us can be mighty and heroic!

But he also warns of the darkness that lurks in the heart of each of us. The potential for evil.

“Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien poured himself into his writings in a way that most writers do not... cannot. The joy and grief of his life all manifested onto the page:

The fallen friends and family, the heartache of being separated from the one you love and from watching those you love suffering, the fear and disgust with watching the natural world around you being turned into something new and unnatural, the hatred and coldness that men can show.

No other writer in history can claim to have been as thorough or masterful in their creation of a fantasy world. Though many have successfully created fantasy lands, they seem to all have built upon our existing world or knowledge of it. Where their imagination failed them, Tolkien's soared into yet unparralleled heights as he crafted his rich and complex world with love and patience, bleeding his soul onto the paper.

His impact on the world of fantasy literature has never been met, and I do not believe it ever will be.

Tolkien’s works of fiction read more like beautifully crafted historical texts and songs handed down through generations than mere works of fiction. His characters, fueled by the languages and world that he created for them, have reached the hearts and intellect of young and old for decades and influenced generations of writers and readers.

The main duty of a fantasy writer is to create a world where the reader can escape, to create characters who the reader can love and become, to create a story and world that feels so real that it pulls the reader in, and they forget, if only for a time, that it is not reality.

To truly be the best fantasy world, the created place must be all-encompassing. It needs to have a language as well as people and lands, and it needs to be a place that feels both fantastic and real at the same time. No other writer has ever accomplished this as well as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

He will always be the one writer to rule them all:

“The Father of Modern Fantasy.”

“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which 'Escape' is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

― J.R.R. Tolkien


About the Creator

Lena Folkert

Alaskan Grown Freelance Writer 🤍 Lover of Prose

Former Deckhand & Barista 🤍 Always a Pleaser & Eggshell-Walker

Lifelong Animal Lover & Whisperer 🤍 Ever the Student & Seeker

Traveler 🤍 Dreamer 🤍 Wanderer

Happily Lost 🤍 Luckily in Love

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  3. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (18)

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  • Veronica Coldiron6 months ago

    So nice to meet a fellow Tolkien connoisseur. This man singlehandedly transported me into a world that seemed so real to me, I would lose myself for hours as a kid. I got into a lot of trouble for shirking my chores while reading Tolkien but it was so worth it. LOL! When I embarked on my adventure in writing my first fantasy series, I deeply relied on my love of the written word and words written by the master. I agree that JK Rowling is good, but as you said, she's no Tolkien and there can be only one. congratulations on your find and your top story! 😉 LOVED it! Also, I don't know if you've ever seen "A Knock at the Door", but I think of J.R.R. Tolkien every time I see it, so I thought I would share it with you here. 😊

  • Sam H Arnold6 months ago

    There is no one like him I have to agree. When it started I thought A Song if Fire and Ice might have a lot of the same world building and characteristics. But, Martin let the story get away from him which was never a problem Tolkien had. A wonderful article.

  • Caroline Jane6 months ago

    A wonderful ode. Your passion bursts out from your words. Great to read!

  • Phil Flannery6 months ago

    I love your passion, and i agree he is the best fantasy writer ever. I have to thank Peter Jackson for assisting in my journey. I had read The Hobbit in my twenties, but struggled with the trilogy, until the movies were released. They made for a guided reading experience. I knew what was coming but the books had so much more depth. Thanks for sharing your passion.

  • Lena, you may actually love Tolkien even more than I do. Reading his stories were life altering for me. His love of language--he is the one who convinced me that the written word should be tasted on the tongue & with the lips, not simply read in the mind, in order to appreciate the fullness of what they have to offer. This is also true of J. K. Rawlings who writes for a much younger & somewhat less literate audience. But to read her stories aloud, as I did with my son, becomes something so much greater than simply reading them to oneself. That having been said, I very much question whether we would even have a J. K. Rawlings or Harry Potter if it had not been for the towering genius of J. R. R. Tolkien.

  • Matthew Daniels6 months ago

    As a fantasist and fellow lover of Arda, this piece gave me joy. Great job. Your ambition to be a professor is a noble one. One of the countless things about his work that gives me joy is the notion that reality itself is powered by language, as by manifest music. (I'm referring to the creation myth from the Silmarillion, for the benefit of others seeing my comment.) This is why the Wizards and other entities achieve superhuman, divine, and/or magical effects with words. Arda is one of the few settings I've encountered that really marries this worldbuilding undercurrent with the characterisation, theme, and even plot of the story. It's a trope now that magics are cast through the recitation of esoteric language, typically Latin. Unless I'm mistaken, Tolkien was the first to do this, and it's been treated as a bit of a default. But many writers do the whole gibberish-equals-magic routine now without thinking about what it means or why it would work like that. Something's been lost. I can't speak for you, of course, but this deep insight and ability to bring all the threads together is one of the big things I love about Tolkien's masterpiece. To quote Boromir, "It is a gift."

  • Sarah Danaher6 months ago

    He truly was a master of the whole fantasy world and even known to this day. Even a wonderful set of movies that displayed his world building. Well written story. Congrats on top story

  • Rachael MacDonald6 months ago

    Your passion comes across eloquently and powerfully. And I got to learn something new: language before story. Very interesting!

  • Amazing piece! 100% agree Tolkien is the original best! Loved this subscribed 😊

  • Aynur Yusifova6 months ago

    I am a new one pls support me

  • Cathy holmes6 months ago

    Wonderfully written. Congrats on the TS

  • Dana Stewart6 months ago

    Wow! The analogy of Tolkien being a composer and you interpreting his words as music is as sophisticated as well as intelligent. This really smarts. It is fantastic and deserves to be read widely. Hearty congratulations on Top Story, Lena!

  • Gerald Holmes6 months ago

    This is a masterfully written piece on a true master of his craft. I agree with everything you said here! Very well done and congrats on a truly well deserved Top Story.

  • Babs Iverson6 months ago

    Fantastic!!! Lena, Congratulations on Top Story!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Alexander McEvoy6 months ago

    It’s ok to disparage Rowling as a person, given her stance on certain issues. But Harry Potter is an excellent story for young adults and I know several people who credit it with getting them into reading. However, trying to say that it is more important or impressive than Tolkien? How absurd! That guy in the shop ought to be ashamed of himself for thinking that anyone has had a greater impact on modern literature than Tolkien! His world is expansive and beautiful and you brought across your awe, love of, and respect for his bod of work wonderfully!

  • Kendall Defoe 6 months ago

    Wonderful work on the life of a genius...and some people deserve to get slapped!

  • Mariann Carroll6 months ago

    I agree with you 💗The first best date I had was a man reading his book in a book store to me. How romantic is that to be read a Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Can you imagine if you could go to his book signing debut. That would have been an amazing experience. This really deserve top story 💓💕🥰

  • Wonderful article and dare I say it and definite Top Story. and love the main image and to pictures and experiences you share

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