The Masters: Tolkien
The fantasy genre is an old one–it started with myths and fairy tales at the dawn of time. We humans love stories that play out the moral struggle within each of us as a struggle of the forces of good and evil, shown on a larger stage. How much better if the struggle contains memorable fantastic creatures and characters!
I see three masters of the fantasy genre in our time. All of them created an amazingly complex fantasy world with a solid, believable, detailed history to support unforgettable characters and situations. The first one I am going to talk about is J.R.R. Tolkien.
Tolkien is my favorite. He was a Christian. The worldview of his work echoes his faith–Middle Earth is a moral world governed by a benevolent deity. The weak are able to succeed in the battle against evil where the strong cannot. But this is only with the help of apparent coincidence, for example the assistance of Gollum in destroying the One Ring. We Christian readers know this is no accident. In addition, unseen benevolent forces resurrect Gandalf and send him back to finish his work. Against all odds, good triumphs over evil.
The most unique feature of Tolkien’s work is the detailed historical backdrop he invents for Middle Earth, including languages. Readers of The Lord of the Rings experience the history of Middle Earth in hearing tantalizing songs that describe heroes of earlier ages without complete explanations. The heritage of song provides the illusion of a real world. And the characters speak in several languages, which certainly seem to me to be reasonably complete tongues.
Tolkien worked most of his life on some aspect of the story of Middle Earth, beginning in childhood by constructing the language that eventually became one of the Elvish tongues. His work is a towering achievement for a man with persistence, focus, and vision. What a blessing he has been to me and to many others!