I've touched on this before, but feedback from a reader is making me think more about it again. Up front I want to state that I am all for originality in almost all aspects of creating stories. The reader of my book is absolutely correct that there are strong unoriginal aspects of my story. I am in no way upset to hear the reader mention this, but I do wish to explain a couple of conundrums that I have.
The unoriginal part of my book is the type of creatures involved. I use trolls, dragons, goblins, orcs, dwarves, and elves. I believe that there is a huge base of fans that wants worlds that echo this Tolkienesque style. We were born from the big Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) craze of my teen years. I heard there was upward of five million active players back then. People mention that orcs belong to Tolkien. That may have been true at one point (though I believe he got them from old legends himself) but D&D changed that by having orcs be one of the most common types of monster. Hugely popular computer games, such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights also reflect this. I believe publishers and agents are overlooking this one big fan group, not understanding that originality is not always what is wanted. Sometimes people want the type of world that they love most, but with a good story (not like the weak official D&D books that have been released). Each time that someone has dared to publish books along these lines, the reviewers skewer them....but they sold like hotcakes. Isn't publishing supposed to be a business? Look at The Sword of Shannara and the Iron Tower trilogy to see how unoriginal stories can sell.
Second, though it may be heresy, my fictional universe suggests that Tolkien was the one that was unoriginal. The magic that flows through every atom in the universe acts almost like a form of DNA, propagating an echo of life through each habitable planet such that each will have nearly identical flora and fauna. Those creatures and plants that differ between these planets often show up in the legends and stories on the other planets, because the creatures most attuned to magic feel a resonance in their minds. So, Tolkien and others who came up with the legends of goblins and dragons and such did not truly imagine them on their own, but got the story ideas through the magical resonance that came to them through the energy that connects everything. Similarly, there would be planets out there that reflect the legends of other cultures, such as the Chinese or any other group that has their own legends. The fact that the Western scientists land on the planet that reflects Western legends is not an accident, but rather another of the effects of magical resonance. Imagine how shocked these learned scientists were to find birch trees and wolves and such on a distant planet! It took them a long time to cope with the shattering of their scientific ideas.
Sorry if that sounds weird. I honestly don't know how to get an agent to look beyond the unoriginal creatures. All I know is that I most hunger for stories of this exact type (Tolkien and D&D) and the publishers are not giving them to me!
Note: I fully realize that there is a pretty hard-care group of fantasy readers who would be glad to never see another Tolkienesque fantasy in their lives. However, I believe those people should recognize that those of us who DO want more derivative fantasy have a right to exist.
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