Friday, September 3, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from J. R. R. Tolkien

This week (September 2)) marks the 37th anniversary of the death of J. R. R. Tolkien.

For those of us children's writers who every Thanksgiving have to endure well-meaning relatives who ask if we're still writing "just" children's books (not my relatives, of course), Tolkien is the name with which to counter. THE HOBBIT after all was "just" a children's book. But it was so immensely succssful that its author was asked to write a sequel. The result, of course, written over the next 12 years, was the fantasy epic THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

As writers we all know how important it is to create fully fleshed out characters, and I've written before about creating place and time. Tolkien took the art to unheard-of heights. He created an entire alternate world and peopled it with not just realistic characters, but with highly detailed new species. His world was complete with maps, calendars, and family trees. And it was so real for so many that, according to the Tolkien Society, the author would get calls in the middle of the night from fans demanding to know, for example, if balrogs had wings. To escape he was forced to move and change his phone number.

Come to think of it, maybe I'll stick with my fan letters written in pencil.

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