Tales Before Tolkien : The Roots of Modern Fantasy, ed. Douglas Anderson

Tales Before Tolkien : The Roots of Modern Fantasy
Edited and with commentary by Douglas A. Anderson
(Del Rey Books (Random House), New York: 2005)

READ: January - February 2008

Douglas Anderson, a leading Tolkien scholar, has collected here 21 stories that either inspired Tolkien directly in the creation of his seminal The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, or are striking examples of the lineage of prior fantasy works from which Tolkien drew inspiration.

While I understand that some sort of criteria needed to be followed in order to choose from a more finite pool of candidate stories, the selection criteria indeed seemed (as the editor himself admits) a little arbitrary: That the authors be born at least 5 years before Tolkien, not that the stories have directly influenced Tolkien. There's many other works I would have liked to see in this list, of which I have become aware from one of Anderson's other works, The Annotated Hobbit.

At any rate, as I expected to find in a work of this scope, many of the stories were wonderful little gems in their own right (for ex., The Elf Trap by Francis Stevens), while others struck me as being vastly inferior to what came later (for ex., The Golden Key by George MacDonald). Some stories were quaint and charming (for ex., Puss-cat Mew by E. Knatchbull-Hugessen), while others were simply off-beat (for ex., The Coming of the Terror by Arthur Machen).

For anyone who is a fan of fantasy literature, whether or not you are a huge fan of Tolkien, this is a book I'd recommend.

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