Please forgive a certain degree of incoherence in this post. I’m not drinking coffee this week, and it’s hitting me hard today.
I need to confess something about my influences: I was never that big into Tolkien. Frankly, several times in my teen years I butted my head up against Lord of the Rings to no avail. It wasn’t until I revisited it in my twenties that I was able to get through it, once I figured out what parts I could skim and what to really read. Part of my problem is Tolkein is very, very enamored of giving things names, many different names…. and isn’t all that interested in, you know, stuff happening.
“What happened to you?”
“As you may have heard, I was captured by the people of the hills of Jutrel, who are called the Jutreila, who are also known as the Hillmasters of Hemia. They took me across the Swamps of Sisssentaria, which the elves called the Illitírian Fens. This led us the the Pits of Helsinara, called Hudza-Küm by the dwarves and Úlieteza by the elves, where I was cast down, forever trapped.”
“Then how did you escape?”
“You know of the one called Rathanor, also known as Jontor Helmin, also the Brown Wanderer, the Fox of Hulestia. The Elves called him Tríesiniilia, the dwarves know him as Hÿnsa the Bold, and the Orcs call him by the most terrible name in their language, which I will not tell you for it is most vile and despicable.”
“Yes. He’s standing right next to you.”
“Well, he came and rescued me.”
I admit, I’m exaggerating for effect. But not by much. The point is, Tolkien? Not a big influence on me.
So what was, then?
If I’m being honest, I’d have to say it was David Eddings’s The Belgariad. I know. I know. It’s completely derivative. It’s totally by the numbers. Everything in here is archetype, and it’s totally on purpose. Eddings doesn’t deny it in the slightest. He puts his hook in you, and you’re sitting there going,” “Oh, hey, he’s doing this here to hook me.” and yet… hooked.
What it really came down to was characters and dialogue. Eddings was the first fantasy I read that didn’t try to be “high” fantasy. People talk like people. There’s a snap and a patter to the dialogue. Despite everyone being on a big Save The World Travelogue Quest, people just chat and ramble on and tease and joke and act like a bunch of people who are traveling together.
And that’s what elevated it above being just derivative and by the numbers.