A tribute to Tolkien

Instead of dismissing it with a gracious modesty, I’m going to shamelessly record for posterity that The Master quoted in Anand Venkateswaran’s essay on J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hindu Literary Review is yours truly.

The full text of my quote to Anand, who is also a close friend and my first ever editor in journalism, is pasted below. It was in response to his comment that writing about Tolkien felt like he was engaging in something way above his pay-grade.

If Tolkien only wanted to demonstrate his linguistic fluency, and not something that would be consumed by the “masses” for decades after his time, he wouldn’t have written his stories the way he did.

Some of us walk away in awe of his mastery of the culture and languages of the worlds he created. Others see it as the ultimate story of friendship, and some others of good versus evil. Like all forms of fiction, his writing is shot through with tremendous political issues and subtle forms of discrimination. But the greatest thing about fantasy fiction, distinct from all other forms, is that it allows us to create new worlds completely divorced from our own, and lets us make of it what we want to. Fantasy fiction is fractal. There’s no point being intimidated by it.

At the moment I said it, I was quite proud of the way I’d phrased “fantasy fiction is fractal”. But I realised later that what I was really trying to say wasn’t coming through. It would’ve been better phrased as “fantasy replicates itself through readers’ interpretations of it”. However, none of this subtracts from the fact that Anand’s is a wonderful essay and tribute to a writer and inventor without whom fantasy fiction as we know it today wouldn’t exist.

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