Suite101: Trampling the Legacy, Remaking the Myth – What has modern fantasy done to Tolkien’s work?

by Feb 6, 2001Lord of the Rings (Movies)

In this week’s Suite101 article, Michael Martinez examines how modern fantasy has redefined Tolkien and failed to improve upon the faux traditions attributed to Tolkien.

Here is a brief excerpt:

If there is any one element of modern fantasy entertainment which has done harm to the reputation of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, I would have to say it was Dungeons and Dragons. The fault is not entirely with the people who designed the original game, unless it be that they dared touch upon the works of Tolkien at all. Rather, given that they were forced to make changes to the game to avoid infringing upon trademarks and copyrights, the Dungeons and Dragons designers produced a hybrid vision of Middle-earth’s creatures which wasn’t really intended to be a statement about Tolkien. That is, they moved on, but took with them elements of Middle-earth which seemed universal, or were adaptable to a different model of creativity.

And then Dungeons and Dragons became a big phenomenon. Perhaps many people in today’s gaming community don’t think much of DnD because it was more what Mom and Dad were into. But Dungeons and Dragons brought fantasy alive for many people. We moved beyond the books and into the worlds of imagination we thought no one could share with us.

Unfortunately, Dungeons and Dragons became popular enough to impose some stereotypes which have persisted until today among the fannish community. That is, Elves are seen as creatures of habit, not as creatures of imagination and art. Dwarves are seen as creatures of temperament and not as creatures of judgement. A typical DnD adventuring party would usually include a Dwarven fighter and an Elven Ranger. Half-elf Rangers also abounded. Men fought or served as Clerics, too.

The presumption of Class and Profession permeated the popular imagination and took readers away from the universal optimism which Tolkien advanced. In Tolkien’s world, a well-to-do Hobbit can be dragooned into masquerading as a common burglar (not a pocket-picking thief, although he tried a little of that to poor effect). Tolkien allows a common gardener (essentially an NPC henchman in gaming terms, a non-player character who tags along with the player character) to rise to become Master of Bag End, founder of a prominent Shire family, and Mayor of the Shire (perhaps with the longest ever tenure in that office). Sam wasn’t just a gardener. He was an individual with feelings and priorities and desires. He just managed to focus so well on what he was doing that people are often surprised to learn Sam had a girlfriend.

Please click on the link below to read the entire article.


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