Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Empty Canvas

If you put the word 'Tolkienesque' into Google and then filter by 'blogs' you will find any number of posts disparaging people like me. I came across a couple that called writers who write Tolkienesque fantasy 'lazy' and 'unimaginative'.

I view the Middle Earth works of Tolkien like a painting that a great master began, completing just a tiny portion of it before dying and leaving it unfinished. That one tiny part is so brilliant that some fall in love with the possibilities that it offered. It is so vivid that we can accurately envision what the finished painting might have been like.

The critics have a right to their opinions, but they are wrong to consider writers like me lazy or unimaginative. They don't understand the depths of passion we have for that incomplete painting. They would be right to say that only that master could have finished the painting, but they miss the point. Those of us with the deep love for the tiny portion of the master's work that exists are pained at the thought that no more of the painting can be revealed to the world. We desperately want to see more of it and not just in our imaginations. So the painting can never be finished. However, it eases the heartache for us to even add another tiny patch to the painting, to bring to life another story that adds just another brush stroke to illuminate a tiny bit more of the master work.

Let the critics say what they will, I intend to spend the bulk of my writing life working on my own imaginative, non-lazy vision of what I see in that beloved painting. Most writers out there want to go their own way and create their own paintings, even knowing that they can never rival the great master. I have already found the one painting that I love more than all others. It's just a few brilliant brush strokes in the bottom corner, and I want to try my best to fill in just a little more of that empty canvas.


  1. I say, write what you love. Tell your story on your terms. If you aren't writing something you are fully vested in and fully enjoy, then it's not worth it. Good for you for ignoring the negativity. It's just bluster.

  2. Everyone has different opinions. Those who don't enjoy 'Tolkienesque' are entitled to feel that way, but I agree that it's wrong to call us lazy and unimaginative. I think to write any fantasy you need a good imagination. You're creating a whole new world in your head as opposed to using the one that already exists and what we live in.

    It still takes just as much to write a work of fantasy. Lazy we are not!

  3. I (and mamy others) feel the same about Star Wars, and a huge industry has grown of that. Much of my story came from a "What if..." about the back-story, but I change the setting enough to not have a blatent rip-off.

  4. This was a beautifully written analogy Ted, well said.

    As far as I'm concerned those kind of critics can suck it. I would give quite a few of my body parts to have more Tolkien novels, but that is not possible.

    Besides, what makes a Fantasy 'Tolkienesque?' Does it have to have Elves, Dwarves and Orcs? What about Dragons? What about Magic? What about legends of an elder race of men from across the Sea?

    To say that nothing new can be written in the genre is a bunch of bullshit. Sure, it's incredibly rare that epic, high moral fantasy is even published, and it's true that when it is it never compares to LOTR, but does that mean it should not be done? Shouldn't be attempted? Hell no, not in my opinion.

    Sorry for the rant. But this kind of thing pisses me off. Don't tell other people what they can and can't do with their creative work. If you're not into it, don't buy it.

  5. Same here, Will. I am not writing fan fiction, but rather my own take on the universe (though clearly influenced by D&D, Tolkien and George Martin).

    Matt, rant away! The fact is that these critics tend to be the ones who speak out the most (just see the Absolute Write message boards) while most of us stay pretty quiet. I sometimes feel like the lone person battling against them. I love the fact that there is at least one more like me out there.

  6. You just keep writing, Ted.
    You need to look for those who like that style instead!

  7. Nice post! I'm always in favor of following your heart.

  8. I don't think any writer as a right to tell others what is creative and imaginative. No one's completely different from others, and just because you set yourself firmly in one (awesome) tradition doesn't make you lazy. Are all those writers using Real-word locations lazy? Uncreative? No way I'll believe that.

    Just ignore those critics. Your characters and your world are well worth it.

  9. Some people are just sour grapes, yeh know? I've read your book and KNOW it is a complex, well told story with great characters that have their own personalities... sure, you borrow the 'races' but you even have a creative explanation for THAT. I think fantasy actually requires far MORE imagination and work that most other genres and I think adopting a couple little pieces of established works so that you can shorthand some of that is just good sense (if you had all totally original races, you'd have to do a TON more describing that doesn't pariticularly contribute to the STORY)

    That's my opinion anyway.

  10. I really appreciate all the positive thoughts. Hart, even though I still think the story needs some rewriting, you make me feel a lot better about it!

  11. Eloquently put! I, for one, would love to see what kinds of brush strokes you can add to Tolkien's world. :)

  12. I think there's certainly a large niche of readers and writers who agree with you, even though it's currently fashionable to bash the form.

    I find it particularly funny when the people bashing the use of Tolkien's races happen to imitate so many of his other elements.

    "Oh, we can't write about goblins. But apparently it's okay to have a king in hiding who has to reclaim his birthright..."

  13. Thank you, all.

    Bryan, when are we ever going to get to read your fantasy book?

  14. I just stumbled upon your blog and I'm very glad I did! Because I agree with you 100- no, 110%! It's nice to know there are others out there who value Tolkien's contribution to fantasy and want more of the same.

    BTW, have you read his story Leaf by Niggle? Your analogy of the painting strongly reminds me of that.