Eragon was falsely advertised — okay, criticized — as a slavish hybrid of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, with dragon riders. Obviously, this is the world’s greatest fantasy novel, despite what the critics say (originality is overrated, on account of there’s no such thing.)
But it was not to be. Eragon was far more original than folk thought — it stole the forms of Tolkien, but none of the spirit.
So I resolved to fix this. And that is my project for this month (and several future months, but July is devoted to it in particular). I am going to rip off LotR and Star Wars.
So, I can’t make LotR and get the spirit of the thing exactly, and I will miss the spirit entirely if I just plop elves and dwarves into a renaissance festival. (Ripping of Star Wars just means awesome special effects and lots of action. Ripping off the good movies means listening to editorial advice).
LotR blossomed out of one of Tolkien’s largely unrealized dreams: creating a mythos for the English. A culture that coalesced as Christianity grew dominant, born of germanic tribes, tempered by celts, showered with roman ideas of structure, no existing mythos suited the English exactly. The Norse and the Celtic came closest, but the Celts were scattered and the Norse too Sturm and Drang.
American culture — that is, my subculture. White America, a culture forged out of many others, but primarily by English philosophers and Celtic malcontents, the America that revolted against George and spawned the Cowboys — has no pre-Christian myth suited to it either. LotR won’t do for us.
I am incapable of succeeding where Tolkien failed, or even where he succeeded. But if I am to slavishly copy LotR and succeed in capturing some of the spirit, I must pursue a similar course.
So, let’s take LotR. It remixes some particularly English elements:
- Norse concepts of noble sacrifice, of wild and potent nature and of wizened old wizards manipulating events.
- Celtic concepts of the dangerous, secret, beautiful world of faerie.
- The inherent dignity and worth of plain, humble country men minding their own business in the fields.
- Arthurian ideas: heroic knights adventuring in a world of monsters.
Mind you, setting ripoffs like D&D played up the Arthurian angle more than Tolkien ever did. Still, the Rohirim and the Gondorians have a bit of the medieval court to them.
The legendary elements of American culture come largely from the colonization of America (and the revolution), the settler story, and the cowboy story.
My elements then:
- A tough, resilient folk, slow to show their full fury, but dangerous when roused.
- They came from a distant, highly refined civilization, which they fled because they love freedom, and it has gotten tyrannical.
- They are further divided into two main subcultures — a unifying, more collectivist culture, and a more fiercely individualist culture.
- A largely unexplored world. They live on the edges and fringes of it. They are largely cut off from the old empire and they don’t mind. But representatives of the old empire still occasionally make the journey here. (England for the colonials, New England for the Cowboys).
- Native peoples who live in the unexplored wild, divided into roughly three categories:
- The noble/wise savage, who understands the way of the wild, is sad by the ignorance of our civilization, and is willing to teach him.
- The brutal/barbaric savage, who collects scalps, raids, wars, and wipes out whole towns if he can.
- The civilization-minded savage who encountered our immigrant civilization and decided to take their culture and civilize it of their own accord.
We are dealing in legends and black-and-whites here, not realities. Our faux-indians must be completely romanticized or demonized (and our faux-british completely demonized as well). I intend to go in and add redemptive qualities even to my barbarians, as redemption of the lost is a big deal for me, but if I am to approach the quality of a tale with trolls and orcs, I must create beings that distill the best and worst of these elements. Moreover, I must seek not the elements that historically existed, but the elements of the romances.
This adds some constraints under which my world-building must take place — for instance, the idea that the chief distinctive of humanity as a fantasy race is not that they are generalists rather than specialists (ala D&D) or else the mortal children of God (ala LotR), but rather that they are alien invaders; the cream of heroism from a falling and increasingly dark civilization. In a sense, we are at once the elves and the orcs; only our orcs are more like the galactic empire’s storm-troopers.
Already, we’re off to a good start. Humans can be divided into three categories:
- British Galactic Imperial Stormtroopers
And the native peoples into three:
- Wise Mystics (D&D Elves)
- Builders (Dwarves, except perhaps above ground).
- Savage Barbarians (Warcraft Orcs)
(I chose Warcraft because there is already an inbuilt redemptive element).
Each of these should have its own race or kingdom or something along those lines. Once again: not trying to be subtle or realistic. Subtlety and realism are completely counter to what I am doing.
The other constraint I’m using is that I’m merging my various fantasy worlds, to save work. One of them is constrained thus: No traditional fantasy races (elves, dwarves, etc). I make an exception and include humans because one must have a race that is human enough for the reader to sympathize with. My original idea was a race that was simply more humanlike than the others, but too far away and it doesn’t work, and too close and you might as well use humans.