Hey, Tolkien, Where’d You Get Those Elves? Part 1: Stars and Swans

J. R.R. Tolkien’s tales of Middle-earth have had a profound impact on the fantasy genre, especially his Elves. Rather than the tiny, mischievous sprites found in cookie commercials and some children’s media, his Elves are near human-sized. Immortal and possessing an ethereal beauty, they are generally shown as wiser, more sensitive, and more in-tune with nature than humans. Similar elves have become a common staple in fantasy works. But where did Tolkien get his Elves? Tracing the possibilities turns out to be quite the journey, so I’ll split this into two parts and start with literary and linguistic leads before covering the more mythological ones.

A couple thanks: I have wondered about the origin of Tolkien’s Elves for a while, but I got my first clue from Melissa A. Albertsberg, a writer I follow on Twitter who maintains a great writing blog. She mentioned researching the Alfar (more on them in Part 2) as a basis for her elves. Later, I had a conversation with Tiege McCian of The Burnt Thumb about Tolkien Elves. He pointed me toward The Worm Ouroboros and The King of Elfland’s Daughter as potential inspirations, which have been helpful for putting Tolkien in context. Thank you to both!

“Elves leave Middle-earth,” artwork by Araniart, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tales Before Tolkien

This would be a pretty short post if I took Tolkien at his word about the origin of his Elves. His vague explanation for the source of Middle-earth is it “began with me,”1 though when “pressed to rationalize” he likens Elves to an idealized version of humanity.2 This is due in part to his frequent sense of “recording” rather than “‘inventing’” Middle-earth.3 I can sympathize, since I’ve also had the experience of a scene or a character appearing so fully formed in my mind that it feels discovered. However, later I can almost always see some influence from another story I have watched, read, heard, or lived. Even if he didn’t purposely base his Elves on a single model, they will likely reflect a few previous ideas.

Other fantasy writers predating Tolkien are a good place to start looking for his inspirations. Tolkien is one of the earliest fantasy writers still widely known, but he was hardly the first. His letters make reference to E. R. (Eric Rücker) Eddison, George MacDonald, Lord Dunsany/Edward Plunkett, and William Morris among others. Morris is noteworthy as one of the few Tolkien never served a backhanded compliment or an outright sneer, and for being possibly the first “’invented-world’ fantasy” author.4 The works Tolkien mentions as definite influences are The House of the Wolfing and its sequel, The Roots of the Mountain.5 Wolfing is set in a forest called Mirkwood, a name borrowed from Norse mythology and later repurposed by Tolkien as a place that Elves such as Legolas call home.

As far as I can tell, however, most of these writers never used elves directly in their stories. Morris’ 1890 novel The Story of the Glittering Plain includes people who live in eternal, blissful youth, but they are ordinary humans made immortal by the magic of the land. Elves are mentioned in The Roots of the Mountain, but they are unseen and even doubted by Face-of-God, who wonders if they “have been frighted away.”6 In The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother has an ageless beauty and serene wisdom similar to Galadriel, but she’s almost too otherworldly since most people can’t see or remember her. As for Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros (sometimes Dragon), he imagines the planet Mercury full of beings he labels Demons, Witches, Pixies, Goblins, and more. But though Lord Goldry Bluszco of Demonland carries a “sword forged by the elves,”7 those elves never make an appearance.

I can only find one author on the list of Tolkien influences who used elves as actual characters: Lord Dunsany. While we don’t know for certain that Tolkien read The King of Elfland’s Daughter, its human-sized elves, human-elf romance, and a half-elf king are rather familiar. Interestingly, Elfland Princess Lirazel so desires to worship the stars, despite her human husband’s scolding, that she names her son Orion.8 Tolkien’s Elves first wake when Middle-earth is in perpetual starry night, so they “ever loved the starlight” and worshiped the star Valar/deity Varda with special fondness.9 Elfland can also retreat from the mortal world like a tide, much as the Valars’ realm of Valinor eventually retreats until only Elves can “find the ‘straight way’” to it.10 Elfland moves because the King is avoiding his human son-in-law rather than because of a natural tide, but it’s still striking.

There are also major differences, however. The King of Elfland’s “great beard” startled me since Tolkien-esque Elves are generally shown clean-shaven.11 That plus his power as “the founder” of Elfland to command all to his will calls to mind Prospero from The Tempest more than Elrond of Rivendell. 12 Tolkien says of Elves’ “their ‘magic’ is Art,” which never attempts the “tyrannous re-forming of Creation.”13 The story of Beren and Lúthien does include some pretty serious magic, but mostly the Elves practice a relatively subtle craft. This is very different from Dunsany’s Elfland, where even time is under the King’s control. In fact, for Dunsany nothing elvish is inherently immortal. All beings age in our world and live ageless in Elfland regardless of origin. As a result, Lirazel is innocently ignorant of time at first, while Tolkien’s Elves constantly face “the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change.” Dunsany may have provided Tolkien with some ideas, but his Elfland is hardly Middle-earth.

Prospero and Miranda from The Tempest. Lord Dunsany’s King of Elfland is surprisingly similar to this magician, complete with bushy beard and mistrust of suitors courting his daughter. Joseph Noel Paton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Language of Elves

The languages Tolkien’s Elves speak may also point to their inspirations. Tolkien loved tinkering with language. He is the first known author to create not just a constructed language or conlang, but an entire family of related languages.14 Instead of inventing them for Elves, he created the Elves, the other races of Middle-earth, and their histories to give his languages a living context. The two most famous of his Elf languages are Quenya, also called “Elf-latin” in one of his language trees,15 and Sindarin, though he invented many others as well as their common ancestor Quendian. Quenya was based mostly on Finnish with at least some Latin influence while Sindarin has more of a Welsh flavor.16 So are there connections between the Elves and the cultures whose languages helped shape them?

Comparison of the word for “Silver” in three Tolkien Elf languages. Figure by author.

There are some parallels between Finnish culture and Tolkien’s Elvish cultures. The Preface to an English translation of the Finnish epic The Kalevala states “Finnish is the language of a people who live pre-eminently close to nature,”17 which certainly fits the Elves. It also labels Finnish a highly musical language, appropriate considering that the Elvish creation story in The Silmarillion depicts the world as literally sung into being. The note about them being “a cleanly people” even reminds me of the seemingly dirt-repellent versions in the movies. I’m sure these are over-simplifications as far as Finnish people go, but then again Tolkien “never visited Finland,”18 so he probably knew the people mostly from books as well.

I have not, however, found anything that could be a direct model for Middle-earth Elves in Finnish mythology. There is a notable passage where “a white ship” grows from a swan.19 When the ancient Elves are traveling across the sea to Valinor, the Teleri or Sea-Elves request help from the oceanic Valar Ulmo, who gives them white ships pulled by swans.20 Yet this is again more cultural than physical. Some of the Emuu or nature deities are close,21 but they are more like the Valar than Elves. And the Finnish creatures most often translated as elves in English—tonttu and menninkäinen—are both tiny. Tonttu fall under the category of haltija, guardian spirits of places as well as individual human souls as part of the Finnish three souls belief.22 Think the daemons of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series or the Genius/Juno of Roman mythology. Both Elves and humans in Middle-earth have individual “fëa” or souls,23 so Elves are definitely not the guardians of humans.

Swans play a key role in the mythology of Finland as well as the tale of the Teleri Elves in Middle-earth. Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

To Return or Fly Free

Speaking of Elf souls, the Latin influence on Quenya may point to a mythical explanation for the Elves’ ability to reincarnate. Though this is rarely shown in action, Tolkien is quite clear that Elvish immortality means existing as long as the world, “never leaving it even when ‘slain.’”24 Elves killed by injury or grief generally journey to “the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return”25 In the dark underworld ruled by Mandos, “their fëar are rehoused in new hröar[body] after a time of waiting and spiritual cleansing.”26 This is similar to a version of Hades described by both the Roman poet Virgil and the Greek philosopher Plato. Touring Hades with his deceased father, Virgil’s hero Aeneas witness a group of souls washing away their past memories in “Lethe’s lake” before being reborn.27 Elves don’t seem to forget. The dying Finrod Felagund even seems to know the time until his next incarnation, saying “It will be long ere I am seen among the Noldor again.”28 Otherwise, however, the process is fairly similar.

“By the Shore of Lethe Lake,” 1905 print by Walter Shaw Sparrow showing souls drinking the water that will wipe their memories before their next incarnation. Hermína Laukotová, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In case you’re wondering if reincarnation was just the norm in Middle-earth, no, there were at least two paths. The Silmarillion notes how “the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world” without stopping in Mandos.28 There is one exception. The mortal Beren travels to Mandos after death, and half-Elf half-Maiar maiden Lúthien then convinces Mandos to allow them both to reincarnate as mortals.29 As with the Elf warrior Glorfindel,30 they return with the same names and appearances. Generally, though, humans die and go somewhere the Elves cannot know, which is seen as the “Doom (or the Gift) of Man…freedom from the cycles of the world.”31 It’s hinted that Dwarves also go to Mandos after death but don’t necessarily reincarnate,32 while Hobbits are “considered Men” so they may share the same fate.33 Ent and Orc afterlives are not specified.

As for the Welsh connection from Sindarin, that does touch on mythology, so I’ll save it for next time.

I’m always in awe of Tolkien’s world-building abilities. The Elves seem to be his favorite given how much lore he created for them, not to mention all those languages. Which reminds me, when people talk about speaking Elvish, I wonder which language they mean? If you happen to know, please tell me! Also, what do you think of the influences I’ve discussed so far? Do you know of other pre-Tolkien fantasy that has elves, or other works and cultural elements that might have influenced his Elves? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. Tolkien, J. R. R., J. R. R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, 1951, in The Silmarillion, 2nd ed, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004), xv.
  2. Tolkien, J. R. R., J. R. R. Tolkien to Naomi Mitchison, April 25,1954, in Dickieson, Brenton, “The Tolkien Letter that Every Lover of Middle-earth Must Read,” A Pilgrim in Narnia, posted Mar. 28, 2017, accessed Jan. 29, 2021, https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2017/03/28/the-tolkien-letter-must-read/.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, xvii.
  4. Landlow, George P., “Morris and Tolkien,” The Victorian Web, last modified Jan. 19, 2004, accessed Feb. 2, 2021, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/morris/tolkien1.html.
  5. “The Literary Link Between William Morris and J. R. R. Tolkien,” Inkling Books, accessed Feb. 2, 2021, http://www.inklingbooks.com/inklingbooks/williammorris/williammorris.html.
  6. Morris, William, The Roots of the Mountains (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), 205. Accessed through Project Gutenburg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6050/6050-h/6050-h.htm.
  7. Eddison, Eric Rücker, The Worm Ouroboros (New York:Dutton, 1952), 14. Accessed through Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/wormouroborosrom00eddi/page/14/mode/2up.
  8. Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924, reprinted New York: Ballantine Books, June 1969), Chapter VIII. Accessed through Project Gutenburg, https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/dunsany-kingofelflandsdaughter/dunsany-kingofelflandsdaughter-00-h.html.
  9. Tolkien J. R. R, The Silmarillion, 2nd ed, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004), 37.
  10. J. R. R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, xxviii.
  11. Dunsany, Chapter XV.
  12. Dunsany, Chapter XXXII.
  13. J. R. R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, xviii.
  14. Peterson, David J., The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building (New York: Penguin Books, 2015), 10.
  15. Image titled “An early ‘family tree’ of the tongues of Middle-earth,” from Hostetter, Carl F., “Inventing Elvish,” in Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, 3rd ed., edited by Catherine (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2018), 51.
  16. Hostetter, 50.
  17. Lönnrot, Elias, The Kalevala: The Epic Poem of Finland, trans. John Martin Crawford (2004, Project Gutenberg, 2010). Accessed through Project Gutenbrug, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5186/pg5186.html.
  18. Sander, Hannah, “Kullervo: Tolkien’s Fascination with Finland,” BBC News, Aug. 26, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34063157.
  19. Lönnrot.
  20. Tolkien, Silmarillion, 52.
  21. Niina, “List of Finnish Deities and Nature Spirits,” Fairy Chamber, posted June 13, 2008, accessed Jan. 22, 2021, https://www.fairychamber.com/blog/list-of-finnish-deities-and-nature-spirits.
  22. Niina, “Finnish Mythology: Concept of The Three Souls,” Fairy Chamber, posted July 16, 2018, accessed Feb. 1, 2021, https://www.fairychamber.com/blog/finnish-mythology-concept-of-three-souls-video.
  23. LaSala, Jeff, “Tolkien’s Elves: How the Eldar Half Lives (and Lives, and Lives, and Lives),” Tor.com, Aug. 19, 2019, https://www.tor.com/2019/08/19/tolkiens-elves-how-the-eldar-half-lives-and-lives-and-lives-and-lives/.
  24. J. R. R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, xix.
  25. Tolkien, Silmarillion, 29.
  26. LaSala.
  27. Virgil, “Book VI,” The Aeneid, trans. John Dryden, The Internet Classic’s Archive, accessed Feb. 3, 2021, http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/aeneid.6.vi.html.
  28. Tolkien, Silmarillion, 171.
  29. Tolkien, Silmarillion, 29.
  30. Tolkien, Silmarillion, 186-187.
  31. LaSala.
  32. “Dwarves,” Tolkien Gateway, accessed Mar. 27, 2021, http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Dwarves.
  33. “Hobbits,” Tolkien Gateway, accessed Mar. 27, 2021, http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Hobbits.

27 thoughts on “Hey, Tolkien, Where’d You Get Those Elves? Part 1: Stars and Swans

  1. Hi Ceridwen! What a fantastic post, and thank you for the shout out. It’s unfortunate that there is no definitive conception of Germanic elfs that survives but at least it allowed Tolkien to play around with the possibilities.

    Very nice work researching for this essay, I love these quotes, never heard of them. Lol I’m not sure if I should add my thoughts or if I should wait for part 2, but maybe I can just remark on what you’ve written.

    Although Tolkien was certainly inspired by Germanic myth and legend perhaps he was more influenced by Celtic texts than he let on. Tolkien’s note that elven “magic was art” recalls medieval Irish ms describing the pre-Christian deities as the “gods of art” and references to the “three gods of art”. Tolkien’s statement that his elves didn’t meddle in creation probably comes from his devout Catholicism, but similar sentiments regarding divine or natural order can be found in both Irish and Welsh tales. In the (8th, 9th c?) Life of Columcille the Saint hears of a peasant wizard with a cow that produces endless supplies of milk. He goes and prays before them and it is revealed to be an odious deception. The buckets of milk are in fact the cow’s blood under enchantment, the fat cow is really down to skin and bone and on the verge of death. In the 10th c Finn and the Phantoms, a giant offers boiled meat to Finn but he refuses with the words “I won’t eat raw flesh”. The text emphatically states it is indeed raw. A very symmetrical story is found in the Welsh Buchedd Collen where Saint Collin will not eat Gwyn’s food, calling it “leaves of trees”. This sort of economy of nature is thematically similar to Tolkien’s aversion to ‘tampering with God’s order’. He certainly read Welsh and Irish legends to some extent, so he might have read those or works that discuss them.

    It’s great to chat again. Been a really tumultuous month for me: moving, new, crappier work area, car issues, ugh. It’s so nice to have time to read and really get immersed in your essays again! As always, take care, looking forward to more!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! I always look forward to seeing what insights you’ll have in your comments.

      Ah, that’s interesting about Irish deities being called “gods of art!” I will be discussing the Celtic influences in Part 2, but I hadn’t run into that tidbit during my research. I quickly discovered that Tolkien himself was incredible unhelpful for tracing his influences, particularly for the Elves. There’s this quote that I’ll be making a brief reference to where someone calls his names “Celtic” and he just explodes at them and then weaves in an insult to Lord Dunsany and Johnathan Swift. But it’s very clear that his Elves are more like Celtic deities/fairies than like elves in traditional English ballads or even the Germanic Alfar.

      You know, it just struck me: Tolkien’s insistence that only the highest god of all could truly create and all others could do is twist existing creation or make illusions is a bit like how things work in The Last Unicorn. Schmendrick says that the witch Mommy Fortuna “can’t turn cream into butter, but she can make a lion look like a manticore to eyes that want to see a manticore.” True magic workers in that world are supposed to be able to transform things. But even when Schmendrick works “real magic,” he can’t really make something out of nothing. I wonder if Peter S. Beagle was influenced by the Irish and Welsh tales you mention or if it was Tolkien who inspired that concept?

      Anyway, it’s good talking with you. Yikes, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with so many stressful things this month! 😥 I hope next month will be better. By the way, thank you for bringing The King of Elfland’s Daughter to my attention. It was really a cool story! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Ceridwen! The gods of “art/skill/craft” are mentioned in the Lebor Gabála and Tochmarc Étaíne. Among other things it may be related to Caesar’s description of Gaulish deities, the favorites of whom is a god who is “inventor of all the arts” and a goddess who is “matron of crafts”.

        Lol you know what, it seems like authors are always very obtuse about their influences. Looking forward to hear Tolkien’s insult to Lord Dunsany! From what little I know I thought he was a fan. Huh. And just speaking of elfs in English Ballads, I found a Finn text dated between 9-11 c that sounds rather similar to ‘The Elfin Knight’. Strange, huh?

        There’s a wizard named Schmendrick? 🤣 Beagle might have gotten his notions from Tolkien or Celtic legends or possibly Judaism in that case.

        Thanks for the supportive words, and you’re very welcome about Lord Dunsany! Always great to hear your input as well! I have to read your back catalogue that I’ve missed…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It turned out I couldn’t fit the full quote into Part 2, but since you were interested I’ll share it here:

          Responding to a comment about “eye-splitting Celtic names” in The Silmarillion: “I am sorry the names split his eyes – personally I believe (and here believe I am a good judge) they are good, and a large part of the effect. They are coherent and consistent and made upon two related linguistic formulae, so that they achieve a reality not fully achieved to my feeling by other name-inventors (say Swift or Dunsany!).”

          It’s a pretty mild comment for Tolkien, just basically stating (accurately, in my opinion) that Dunsany’s fantasy names don’t look like they were created from a consistent linguistic base. As far as I know, he was a fan, but other than one other similar mention, there’s nothing direct from Tolkien about Lord Dunsany.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. momslovelearning says:

    Very interesting article, as usual 😊
    I am also always curious about people who can speak Elfish. I had not realized before reading your article that there were so many different Elf languages though. I also wonder which one they speak.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Tolkien not only loves his elves He provides them a way back to creation at the end of The Lord Of The Rings before the age of men. They board the great ships and go home. It is a fascinating lore that I can’t keep up with. His son Christopher tried to get through all his notes and, as I am led to believe. was only able to understand a portion of them.
    Spread Laughter Today

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I do not envy Christopher Tolkien the job of going through J.R.R.’s notes. 😂 I read a stand-alone version of “Beren and Luthien” once and my head started to hurt looking at all the different versions. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the elves after that and The Silmarillion, but then I discovered he wrote even more stuff about them. Whew! 😵

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A very nice addition to the realm of understanding Tolkien. I do have a copy of his authorised biography, which I am now going to have to dig out from the pile of books that have yet to be sorted and unpacked from our last move nearly nine years ago.

    I am glad you mentioned The Silmarillion. It is one of my favourite and treasured books, although I lent it to a cousin over 40 years ago. You think he would have returned it by now! Although it sold well, it was criticised by those who know better (apparently), for a range of reasons. However, for me, I found it very lyrical and provided so much background to the mythical world he created, including some bits and pieces about the elves and their importance, and what happens to mankind etc. after they pass on.

    I like Tolkien’s version of the elves. Other authors have tried to develop elaborate elvish cultures, and some are quite good, but I like the majestic quality that he brought to his elvish creations. In some ways they remind me of Spock (Vulcans) and his repressed emotions. They are inherently good, which varies depending on the “clan,” but suffer fools poorly. It would be fair to say, don’t get on their bad side.

    We rewatched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy a couple of weeks ago and I was left with that ethereal feeling once more regarding the elves and their acceptance of the need for them to move on.

    Thank you Cerid, for such a great post and reminding me to get back on that mystical journey and track down some decent fantasy novels once more.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thank you! 😊

      Yes, The Silmarillion is incredible. I actually enjoy it more than the original Lord of the Rings trilogy because it gives such a broader perspective on the world of Middle-earth. And it has Beren and Luthien. 😁 It was kind of nice getting to re-read it for this post. I hope your cousin eventually gives back your copy so you can enjoy it again. 😅

      Oh, the Elven cultures Tolkien creates are just amazing. I feel like I got to know them even better while working on this post (and Part 2, coming soon!). The more I learn about them, the more impressed I am. After all, the authors who have created various elves and elf-like beings since Tolkien had him to draw on for inspiration. Tolkien envisioned these complex yet innately noble beings without copying directly from any one source. Interesting you mention Vulcans. I wonder if Gene Roddenberry did take any hints from Tolkien when creating the Vulcans. I can certainly see the resemblance.

      Ah, I used to watch the Lord of the Rings movies whenever I needed to renew my hope. I ran into a source criticizing the movie versions of the Elves as overly stoic, but honestly, I think that feels truer to Tolkien’s vision. Yes, he had Elves who laughed and sang, but he also talks about their sorrows and their solemn acceptance of the losses they must witness and bear. And yet they still continue to care about the world rather than hardening their hearts. It’s truly inspirational.

      Speaking of decent fantasy novels, I ran into a reference to a story Tolkien wrote that is basically a philosophical dialogue between Andreth, a mortal woman, and Elven King Finrod. I don’t know if you’ve read Morgoth’s Ring, but apparently that story appears in the book. I’m certainly planning to check it out! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, tbh as much as I have loved reading Tolkien’s poetry, “Not all those who wander are lost”?, I have never really been attracted to fantasy, let alone elves.
    However, *drumroll* this was a really really beautiful post to have read. I casually skimmed through it, but ended up reading the whole thing. So while I don’t know what Elves really speak or what ‘Simmarillion’ is (apart from a really long fantasy name), what I do know is that you are dead serious about this. I just love passionate posts such as this, and I must really commend you for gathering all that information and presenting it in the least boring way. Really really good job C! Would love to come back and see what else you have in store for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’ve been a Tolkien fan for a long time, mainly because of the complex world he built. He also made me dream of creating my own fantasy languages and cultures one day. I’m glad this was enjoyable to you, even more so if you are not a fantasy fan. I wanted this to be accessible to anyone, not just hard-core fantasy lovers. It was fun trying to trace the images and metaphors Tolkien used for his Elves, and I wanted to share that fun with the internet community.

      And I’m really glad I managed to avoid boring! Tolkien was an impressive world-builder, but he would be a lot more approachable if he had spent less time trying to imitate the style of epic mythical tales. The other thing I wanted to do with these posts was take some of the cool ideas buried in his more intimidating works and make them available to people who aren’t interested in reading those giant tomes and all the appendices and notes. And apparently there are even more giant tomes that I hadn’t heard about. 😅


      1. Wow. You really do love him. I really appreciate the passion you wrote this with. I myself am not a fan of multiple, elaborate fantasy world. I find them difficult to believe in, and even harder to heep track of.
        But I must say this- Tolkien was certainly a visionary and whatever respect I have for fantasy is because of him, and now you. Great job.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you. To be honest, I do have issues with the black-and-white morality Tolkien weaves into his world. I’m much more of a believer in gray space myself. Thankfully, many fantasy writers today are creating worlds just as cool as Middle-earth that are also more morally complicated. 😊


          1. Well, yes. I can tell you, if fantasy is written really really well, you should struggle at least once to decide who the good and the bad side is. At least that’s what is my understanding of it. What fantasy novels would you suggest for a fantasy beginner?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I really had to think about that one. Fantasy has been my main genre for so long, and the genre has grown so many branches lately.

              I’d actually suggest most fantasy beginners start with a short story collection rather than a novel because you can sample the different types without committing to a whole book. The Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede, The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle, and To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix all have a nice range of settings and tones. If you are set on a novel, these are potential starting points I’ve read:

              *Blanca and Roja, by Anna-Marie McLemore. Set in the modern-ish world, magic in this story of love and curses is richly metaphorical. I also like how it uses food as a tool of connection.

              *A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. If you’re up for an intense dive into grief, this is a great example of magical elements used to expose and resolve problems of the inner world.

              *Dealing with Dragons/ The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede. One of my first and longest fantasy favorites, with level-headed characters navigating a world that pokes fun at all the classic tropes of the genre. Wrede is also great a creating clearly envision and consistent magical systems.

              *The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo. More magical realism than fantasy since the supernatural elements are so subtle the reader can choose whether to believe in them or not.

              *A Natural History of Dragons/ Memoirs of Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan. A rare fantasy with no definite magic. The world is closely modeled on ours and dragons are essentially just another type of animal.

              *The Bards of Bone Plain, by Patricia A. McKillip. One of my favorite fantasy authors for her metaphor-drenched, fluid vision of magic. This is one of her more concrete works that switches between a mythical harping battle and a modern-like world of cars and princesses running off to archaeology digs.

              I’m not sure whether to suggest Jade City by Fonda Lee or not. It is a complicated world–more politically and economically than magically–but it’s also really cool. It’s modern, urban, probably modeled on Hong Kong or Taiwan since the names have a Chinese flavor and it’s an island.


              1. Wow. Firstly I must thank you so much for taking the time to send this list to me.
                All of these books sound intriguing. I am not sure how many I would be able to read, but I’ll try to read some of these for sure.
                In fact, I have heard of The Bards of Bone plain from one of my friends.
                The only fantasy novels I ever finished reading are:
                1. Reckless by Cornelia Funke
                2. Ruby key by Holly isle
                Both of which I don’t remember much of. I generally like dystopian literature and am lately finding interest in some thrillers/horror.
                I have been suggested the Inkheart series too, have you read it?
                Thanks so much friend. I am so grateful for the suggestions.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. You’re quite welcome! It was interesting trying to think about what fantasy books would be a good starter pack. I actually found a list someone else made, but they had Game of Thrones on there. I would not recommend starting with that if you’re not a fan of complicated fantasy worlds!

                  Oh, I love Cornelia Funke’s writing! I have read the Inkheart series, though personally I enjoyed The Thief Lord and her Dragon Rider duology more. I haven’t read Reckless yet. Maybe I’ll have to give it a try.

                  Hmm, it looks like there are actually a fair number of dystopian novels with some fantasy element. I can’t think of any that I’ve read to recommend, unless you count all those “dark lord” tropes. There’s also a genre I call “magi-pocalypse” where the return of magic causes a post-apocalytic scenario, like Ariel by Steven R. Boyett.


                  1. No, honestly, I am not really looking for complex worlds. This one way too complex already.
                    Then there’s the whole mythology/fantasy genre, like the Percy Jackson books, but again, they seem a little to out there.
                    Now that sounds nice. There’s this animated movie called ‘onward’, which follows life after magic, though it is like the opposite of the same. I can watch fantasy though, I guess it’s easier to watch the images than actually having to visualise them.

                    Liked by 1 person

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