A happy Lord of the Rings Day to you! March 25 is celebrated as such around the world (though not by too many people, I imagine) to commemorate what still endures as an excellent work of epic fantasy as well as – by its fans – to commemorate Frodo’s destruction of the One Ring at Mount Doom.
I was recently having a conversation with Thomas M. and Srividya T., which he’d mooted by asking what fantasy fiction would’ve looked like today if it had descended not from J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal trilogy but from Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy, which I’m yet to read.
The conversation swiftly segued to what it was that made Tolkien tick (the extent of inventiveness), the influences on Lord of the Rings (World War I and Christianity) and the parts of modern fantasy fiction that can’t trace their roots to Tolkien’s writing (drugs, sex and depiction of race). The last bit’s a bit of a stretch, of course: you’re either deriving from him or reacting to him.
This is what makes Lord of the Rings Day just as relevant 65 years after Fellowship of the Ring was first published. Lord of the Rings assumed primacy not because it was the first work of epic fantasy that we know of (this should take some research to uncover) but because it was the first major work of its kind written by a white, British man in the colonial era. And the fact that no fantasy fiction writer can ignore Tolkien on their way to creative glory is a testimony to our collective colonial hangover.
However, this doesn’t mean we should start ignoring Tolkien’s works. It’s important to remember at all times that irrespective of their provenance, Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are still brilliant fantasy, and by virtue of being fantasy, they’re much more than about their author alone.
For example, what I’ve always loved about fantasy fiction is that – inasmuch as it is an expression of trauma that struggles to find expression in the shared languages of the world (although Marlon James puts it much better in his 2019 Tolkien lecture) – the fantasies of others are frequently the seeds of our own worlds. Its reward is more of itself, and that’s beautiful.
So today, if you have the chance, pick up a copy of the Lord of the Rings, flip to a chapter you like and read it again. You might just have new ideas.
Featured image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash.