The birth of modern fantasy in 1930s Britain and America saw the development of new literary and film genres. J.R.R. Tolkien created modern fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, set in a fictional world based upon his life in the early 20th-century British Empire, and his love of language and medieval literature. In small-town Texas, Robert E. Howard pounded out his own fantasy realm in his Conan stories, published serially in the ephemeral pulp magazines he loved. Jerry Siegel created Superman with Joe Shuster, and laid the foundation for perhaps the most far-reaching fantasy worlds: the universe of DC and Marvel comics.
Very solid and critical writings on Tolkien, Howard and Jerry Siegel specifically in terms of the histories, origins and motivations behind such "giants" as hobbits, Conan, and Superman. As a huge fan of Howard and his works in Weird Tales it was fascinating to read more about his life and motivations growing up in Cross Plains, Texas.
If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, Conan, or Superman, and enjoy reading about the historical aspects of the fantasy genre, then McFarland Books might have just what you are looking for.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons is number 47 in McFarland’s Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy series. This volume provides a fascinating look into these fictional worlds of fantasy, giving us background on not just the stories and the writers, but the motivations for these worlds that, interestingly enough, were all started in the 1930s.
If you’ve only been exposed to Conan the Barbarian via film, Parsons paints a much different Conan that Howard created. Whereas I’ve read the books and seen the movies of Tolkien, and have read many Superman comics and seen most of what Hollywood has produced for the screen, both movies and TV shows, Howard’s works are something I’ve never read. And this book will definitely leave you wanting to read about the “real” Conan.
This is a scholarly study of the influences upon Tolkien, Howard, et. al., and their influence, in turn, on the genre of fantasy fiction. Tolkien’s Catholicism and experiences in the First World War, for example, are used to show how these elements are later made manifest in his enduring work, The Lord of the Rings. These six chapters had their genesis as a doctoral dissertation by the author. Now holding a Ph.D. in English from Claremont Graduate University, Parsons’ area of expertise covers 20th Century British literature and film, so he is well versed in the subject matter of this slender volume.
As one would expect from such an academic work, the text is well documented with “Chapter Notes” and “Works Cited” sections. An Index makes for easy access to specific topics of interest. While informative, Parsons writing style is somewhat dry and pedantic. The most appropriate audience for this title would be other academics studying the history of the fantasy literature genre and avid readers of same. This volume is issue No. 47 in the publisher’s ongoing series, “Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy.”
This could have been a three-star book; I appreciated its look at orcs and its explanation that Tolkien didn't prefer the past to the present--he just didn't think the present was superior. The sections on Robert E. Howard also helped me understand and have some sympathy for the perspectives Howard espouses in his fiction, even if I still find them rather juvenile. Unfortunately, I noticed some minor but blatant errors of fact: the book at one point claims that the Middle-earth saga takes place after the time of Abraham, and in another claims that the infamous "Where There's a Whip There's a Way" song is to be found in Ralph Bakshi's LotR movie (it's really from the animated Return of the King). These glaring oversights make it difficult for me to generally trust the information in this book.
What a mess; it read more like a 10th grade report than a book. The author failed to even address his thesis, and the Tolkien section betrayed a total incomprehension of both the author and his legendarium. A decent REH background section earned an extra star.