"Sorry, J.R.R. Tolkien is not the father of fantasy: The creator of 'The Hobbit' gets more credit than he deserves.''
Ouch. Without rehashing his point, what I think he was trying to say was that there was epic fantasy before Mr. Tolkien and that most of the successful modern fantasy writers were just as greatly influenced by Tolkien's contemporaries, the writers of early pulp fiction, and then later on by Dungeons & Dragons gaming. Let's just all agree that he unnecessarily ruffled a lot of feathers, acknowledge the disrespect, and see if there's something salvageable.
Beyond Mr. Power's enlightening history lesson, we can reconsider the psychological needs of the modern fantasy reader. One of the strengths of R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice & Fire" is its complexity. The realism of the modern world overlaying the tropes of epic fantasy paints a picture of the often confusing, sometimes macabre global-village-butterfly-affect that holds the readers attention as they try to figure out, not just who the hero is amid a massive cast of heroes, but which one will survive long enough to finish his/her quest. It's wonderfully attuned to the modern zeitgeist , but is that what all fantasy readers need? I would say, no.
Hundreds of thousands of our citizens go to war. There is an entire generation that have sacrificed the best years of their life entrenched in tragedy, trauma, and the kinds of complexities that are as unreal to the remaining 99% of us as dragons, but every one of them just as lethal.
Here is my thought. Tolkien's Middle-Earth presents a conflict where acts of righteousness and evil are crystal clear and the heroes gather together to annihilate a monster that is practically invisible. When the heroes win, the world is returned to them changed, but forever theirs, forever in their debt, forever peaceful.
The thought came to me as I watched the Hobbit this past weekend and learned how to turn off my inner cynic. The The modern fantasy fan may, to borrow half a metaphor from science fiction, opt for the blue pill and a world that mimics are own with a clever underlying gestalt. End metaphor.
Still, others will need a different kind of medicine. A Carrollesque rabbit hole maybe be preferred. One depositing them in a place that, at its heart, resembles the Middle-Earth they fundamentally need, very similar the vets of the World Wars, when the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were first published.
Every sub-group of genre fan will have their preferences, many of them having nothing to do with escapism or fantasy. But if it were escape, if it were an outlet that was yearned for, I for one would never choose to escape to Westerios and stay. The Shire however, is a different story all together. Now, go build your worlds.
Your thoughts and disagreements are welcome.