Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern FantasyFrom “The Elves”: “Where is our little Mary?” said the father. “She is playing out upon the green there with our neighbor’s boy,” replied the mother.

I enjoyed many of the stories in this collection, though “The Elves” was not one of them. It was really strange and rather boring. However, many of these stories were really good. The title of this collection is kind of self-explanatory; it purports to include many stories that may have influenced J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve had this one on my shelf for a long time, but since I just re(read) The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I figured now would be the time to actually finish it. Many of the stories one can see how Tolkien would directly draw from, but there were some that he never even read, which makes the collection’s description slightly misleading.

There are a wide variety of stories in this collection; some are like fairy tales, others classic fantasy and fantasy. One, “Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll” is set in Africa, and most of the others ones are set in fantasy lands.

The first two stories, “The Elves” and “The Golden Key” are about the perils of Fairyland, and how the mortal can easily get lost and spend what seems like days there while years pass outside. It’s a fascinating concept, yet these two stories were really strange and the most boring in the whole collection. So don’t get turned off from reading this by the first rather uninteresting couple of stories.

The third story, “Puss-Cat Mew”, is much better. It’s a rather violent tale, but it’s really entertaining, and was certainly a welcome relief after the dullness of “The Elves” and “The Golden Key”. The next story, “The Griffin in the Minor Canon”, tells of a kind-hearted griffin who shows up at a village when he hears that there’s a statue of him in front of the church. This story is really thought-provoking, because when the griffin takes over some of the town’s duties, everything runs very smoothly because everyone is so afraid of him that they do their job well. “The Demon Pope” was rather confusing, but good. I loved “The Story of Sigurd”; it’s one of the stories that Wagner drew off of to great the Ring cycle, which bears a lot of similarity to the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien definitely drew off of Wagner too.

“The Folk of the Mountain-Door” was another dud; it made no impression on me whatsoever, and I confess to skimming through parts of it. “Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll” was an interesting story which I enjoyed. “The Dragon-Tamers” was funny in a British sort of way. “The Far Islands”, about a man who hallucinates about a fantasy land, was rather depressing but good. “The Drawn Arrow” was just kind of stupid and annoying, though it started out promisingly enough. “The Enchanted Buffalo”, written by L. Frank Baum, is one of a series of animal tales, and was a fairly good story.

There are many more stories, but I’m not going to go into them. Suffice to say, that this collection was pretty good, though as in most short story collections, there were some good and some bad. Still, I would recommend this book, and I may try Tales Before Narnia, edited by the same person.

Read Tales Before Tolkien:

  • if you like J.R.R. Tolkien
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like fairy tales

505 pages.

 
Very Good! I would recommend this book!
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