(urth) ot-my mini review of Children of Hurin

Nathan Spears spearofsolomon at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 17 00:12:17 PDT 2007

> Never. He may be better, but that makes his stories GOOD fantasy, not a 
completely different genre. I can't believe that I have to defend the 
quality of modern fantasy on a Gene Wolfe mailing list of all places, 
since Wolfe more than anyone has proved that Tolkien is far from the 
end-all of fantasy literature. This is snobbism at its worst.

I'm not trying to be snobbist.  If anything I would say that Wolfe has broken ground Tolkien never could have conceived of.  However, I would also say that Wolfe has never been limited by the genre of fantasy and its rules.  Perhaps the problem we are having is that I am assuming a "genre of fantasy" which includes mostly inferior works that copycat patterns established by superior works.  When I think of Wolfe and LeGuin and other modern authors writing fantastic literature, that genre doesn't come to mind.  I am probably confusing the situation because I dislike the use of the word genre to "define" a book's content and forget how other people use it.

Of course I concede that Tolkien wrote fantasy - I am not saying that Tolkien requires an entire genre, "genre of Tolkien," because he was so great.  What I am saying is that hordes of writers have found themselves operating within boundaries that Tolkien created without even realizing it, and so find themselves essentially writing the same story with different names.  They don't do this because Tolkien created those boundaries, but because they read Tolkien first and absorbed them from him.  Writers like Wolfe and LeGuin easily escape that trap even when appropriating the same tools, as in The Knight or A Wizard of Earthsea.  I don't think it helps that Tolkien's tale is superficially so simple - it leads to easy imitation.  I've never read a copycat version of The Book of the New Sun and I doubt I will ever have to.

I am also saying (and I think Don was saying as well) that while Tolkien's work is fantasy, it ALSO merits being labeled an epic or mythology on the order of the great works like the Iliad, Beowulf, etc.  Now that sounds snobbist, or at least awfully fanboyish.  To bring the discussion back around - which of Wolfe's works do you think likely to merit this sort of distinction?  Is the distinction worth the time to argue over?

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