Thursday, May 24, 2012

Of Red Moon and Black Mountain and the anxiety of Tolkien’s influence


The shadow of The Lord of the Rings is long, indeed. In the 1960s Frodo lived and the reading public was hungry for more, and derivative works like The Sword of Shannara met that demand. That pattern continued into the 1980s with the publication of works like Dennis McKiernan’s Iron Tower trilogy, the series showing the clearest Tolkien “influence” of them all and one that literally provided more of the same. Now, this stuff wasn’t all bad; it filled a need and offered a safe, enjoyable formula. I willingly read many of these works back in the day and occasionally still do. But decades later many of the Tolkien clones haven’t aged all that well. I seem to have a lot less patience for them these days, even though I understand the environment in which they were written, and can appreciate that avoiding the influence of The Lord of the Rings 30-40 years ago must have been very difficult, if not impossible.

Take Joy Chant’s Red Moon and Black Mountain (1970). It’s well-written, not hackwork by any stretch. In 1972 the Mythopoeic Society bestowed its Fantasy Award  upon the novel, denoting it as a work that best exemplified “the spirit of the Inklings.” Red Moon and Black Mountain has an unquestionable Tolkien-Lewis quality about it, if by spirit one means rewriting The Lord of the Rings with the framing device of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe tacked on. After a solid start it descends into full-on Tolkien-clone, which probably explains why it’s largely forgotten today.

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7 comments:

Pericles said...

This must have been a briskly selling novel at one time. You can still find copies fairly easily in used bookstores.

David J. West said...

I have a copy which I read the first chapter or so and put it down to pick up something more engaging.

I did buy it because of Frazetta's cover-and the promise that this was a "thrilling Sword & Sorcery novel, that raises fantasy to new heights!" snicker.

I'm keeping it for the sake of the Frazetta cover.

Ted Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted Cross said...

I appreciate how many people feel the way you do about works derivative of Tolkien. However, I feel the publishing industry is ignoring the fact that there still exists a large base of fans who crave more stories centered around a Tolkienesque world. Each time they did bother to give us one, whether Sword of Shannara or the Iron Tower trilogy, it sold very well, so why assume now that another such book wouldn't sell well?

Also, these mentioned stories weren't just derivative of the type of world that Tolkien did, but stole plot points directly from him. What I crave most are stories that are set in a Tolkienesque world but don't steal his plot points. There a so many wonderful tales that could be told to satisfy the cravings of readers like me, but publishers don't give us these stories. I wrote one myself and all the agents say is 'derivative' and autoreject. Hmm, I thought publishing was a business for making money, not for deciding that because some are tired of something, they won't allow those who still enjoy it to have any

Lagomorph Rex said...

That is a concern. This is something I've been kicking around for a while, I've begun to notice distinctive trends in Fantasy publishing that show an Imitation-Reaction axis.

Basically, you either Imitate Tolkien, or you React against him. You Imitate Robert E. Howard, or you React against him. You Imitate Robert Jordan, or you react against him. Sometimes that means we get Elric.. and sometimes it means we get Sword of Truth..

I've not read this particular book, I bought it because it is part of Lin Carter's "Adult Fantasy" series.. But have yet to get around to reading it.. I understand it has several sequels, though I've never directly encountered any of them at a used book store.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Ted, I know where you're coming from. I too enjoy these kinds of novels from time to time, probably not unlike a reader of certain kinds of mysteries, or a fan of the romance genre, who understands the formula and knows what to expect but enjoys it for that very predictability. I did not dislike Red Moon and Black Mountain, but it's just another example of the incredible influence LOTR had (and still has) on the genre.

Lagomorph, I recommend that you track down a copy of the audio book Rings, Swords, and Monsters by Michael Drout. I borrowed a copy from the library. It touches on that very theory, that Tolkien was such an enormous influence that subsequent authors had to either copy him or write in opposition. I think right now we're in an atmosphere of "react against/oppose Tolkien."

Lagomorph Rex said...

Thanks Brian, I checked and a local library does actually have that audio book, so I'm going to go pick it up sometime this week.