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***Tales Before Tolkien

The Roots of Modern Fantasy

Classic Stories that Inspired the Author of The Lord of the Rings

edited and with commentary by Douglas A. Anderson

Reviewed April 20, 2004.
Ballantine Books, New York, 2003.  436 pages.

Tolkien has inspired current generations of fantasy writers.  Who inspired Tolkien?

Douglas A. Anderson answers this question, revealing a rich tradition that started long before Tolkien.  To choose stories for this anthology, the editor chose only writers who were born at least five years before Tolkien, and all stories were written before The Hobbit was published in 1937.

He includes notes before each story, telling us which authors Tolkien definitely had read or had not read, and which he might have read and have elements that seem to find an echo in Tolkien's works.  The inclusion of pieces Tolkien definitely hadn’t read show us the wide variety of fantasy fiction that already existed.

As with all anthologies, some of the stories included are better than others.  Some of my favorites were “The Griffin and the Minor Canon,” by Frank R. Stockton; “The Demon Pope,” by Richard Garnett; and “The Dragon Tamers,” by E. Nesbit.  All in all, this is a delightful collection for lovers of fantasy interested in the history of the tradition and stories a little different than the sort of thing we usually read nowadays.

Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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