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September 25th, 2019

Tolkien fantasy and non-humans

I'm reading the Silmarillion again, for the first time in years and years. This edition includes his letter to a publisher, pushing for publishing it with LotR. As a summary it's a bit dull, but includes a couple of interesting points. One is that he views A Fall as essential to a story, which certainly makes for tragedy and loss, but seems a bit depressing. (Gaiman, as expressed through Desire in Endless Nights, has a different perspective: "Let me tell you how every story begins: someone wanted something.")

The other is that his work is non-anthropocentric, which yeah. Especially the Silmarillion and First Age stuff, which is mostly elf-centric, where you could have a timeskip of centuries and still feature the same characters. But of course The Hobbit and LotR are hobbit-centric, not human-centric, and while hobbits are a lot like humans -- in some ways, more so than the Dunedain, with their long lives and implied psychic powers -- they're technically not human.

For all the talk of Tolkien's alleged imitators in fantasy, how many have non-humans as the star characters?

(Two come to mind. Watership Down, which whether it was directly influenced by Tolkien or not sure seems like it could have been, conlang and all; and Hodgell's Kencyrath, who are magical humanoids closer to us than Tolkien's immortal elves, but different enough to give a biologist pause about species definitions. Including mental differences: incidents of Kencyr lying or breaking sworn oaths can be counted on one hand.)

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Damien Sullivan
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