Beyond Middle-earth: Coming Home

"Middle-Earth/2." Photo by Francesco Piasentin/Flickr.
It’s hard to imagine an aspect of the fantasy genre that hasn’t been influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien. Elves and orcs seem to be commonplace races in many fantasy novels. Reluctant kings, unlikely heroes, shieldmaidens and wise, elderly mentors appear over and over again, not to mention swords and other inanimate objects possessing incredible power.

Tolkien wrote so much more than his Middle-earth stories.
Even though he is sometimes referred to as the father of fantasy, Tolkien was not the first person to write in the genre; George MacDonald, author of The Princess and the Goblin and mentor to Lewis Carroll, is one such writer. But, there is a reason why Tolkien’s works are so revered. His sheer imagination and dedication to his life’s work established what we now call epic fantasy and made it possible for others to embrace the genre. He made fantasy something to be enjoyed by the masses. The fact that he built such a rich and complex world, including developing languages, paved the way for other writers to build their own worlds. Middle-earth is the most in depth fantasy world we will ever see.

For me, one other reason why Tolkien is so important not just to fantasy, but to literature in general, is the themes he explores in his writing. Think of his critique of Industrialism in the way Isengard expands itself out of fire and iron but is ultimately reclaimed by Treebeard and the Ents of Fangorn Forest. Think of his portrayal of the simple life in the Shire as ideal living. The Hobbits are not a people concerned with expanding their lands, but instead prize community, good food and good, tilled earth above all else; after all, isn’t it Sam’s love of his own garden that helps him overcome the Ring’s temptation?

Middle-earth is the most in depth fantasy world we will ever see.
Without a doubt Tolkien has been the most influential writer in my life. I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings by a friend when I was 13 and reading it felt like coming home, like I belonged there. I’d always loved fairy stories, and Tolkien just seemed like the logical next step. After The Lord of the Rings I just couldn’t get enough, and was ecstatic to find there was a whole world to explore, a new language to learn (and I did, in fact, teach myself Elvish). That first reading deepened my interest in mythology, especially Norse myth, and set me on a path to read other fantasy works, as well as Romantic, Gothic and Victorian literature. I feel I owe much to Tolkien. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his creations.

There’s a lot I could write about The Hobbit or The Silmarillion. But, Tolkien wrote so much more than his Middle-earth stories, and I enjoyed reading these as well: Roverandom, Smith of Wooton Major and Leaf by Niggle, as well as translations of Beowulf, Sigurd and Gudrún and Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight are just a few examples. These are works that I don’t think get enough attention, and so these are the works I want to write about in this column. I also plan on offering a poet’s perspective on many of Tolkien’s poems and exploring the works that influenced him, like Arthurian legend and Norse myth. I am excited by this opportunity to write about the author I love best, and I hope you will enjoy travelling this road with me.

Kyla Neufeld

Kyla Neufeld

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Kyla is a poet, writer, and editor living in Winnipeg. She has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Winnipeg and currently works as the Editor of the Rupert's Land News.
Kyla Neufeld