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Friday, June 01, 2007

Paksenarrion and Tolkien

Baen, the publisher of The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon, has a blurb on the outside cover of the edition I am reading, by Judith Tarr, claiming that Moon "has taken the work of Tolkien, assimilated it totally and deeply and absolutely, and produced something altogether new. . ." A commenter on my earlier post on this book also mentioned that Tolkien's influence shows.

I see enough resemblance that I mentioned both works as being "sword and sorcery" fiction. But they aren't the same.

How are the works similar? (Besides both being set in a past time, before the use of gunpowder?)

Moon has elves in her book. Furthermore, like Tolkien's, these elves are potentially immortal, are very sympathetic to nature, have magical powers, but can produce offspring with humans. As in Tolkien, a wanderer needs only a little of their bread to be satisfied. There are dwarves, apparently much like Tolkien's, but they aren't very important in Moon's book.

She also has orcs, and, like Tolkien's, these are all evil beings. There are also large spider-like creatures, perhaps as much spiritual as embodied, that are evil, and influence others to do evil.

Swords, or at least one sword, light up when an enemy is faced.

Both works take place over a large area, with many kingdoms, or the equivalent.

But there are differences, serious differences.

Moon introduces a religious order/group/something called Kuakgan. These people, possibly all male, are human, and have deep bonds to the natural world, and possess powers that are apparently magical.

Moon also introduces something called a, or the taig, or an elfane taig. Although this seems to be introduced in Chapter Six of the second part of her trilogy, the idea is clearly important. This is a term for the spirit of a place. Although there is some suggestion of such ideas in Tolkien, for example in Hollin, Moon makes this a more active concept, and Moon's elves expect human rulers they have any congress with to be sensitive to these entities.

The spider-creatures can masquerade successfully as humans, and seem to enjoy not just attacking them, but leading them astray in various ways. I find no suggestion of either in Tolkien.

There are evil elves in Moon's book. In Tolkien's trilogy, such elves have all vanished.

There are numerous beings like gods, spirits, or saints in Moon's work. There are also such in Tolkien, but in his books, these are closely related to the elves than in Moon's. There are religious/military orders dedicated to these entities. I find no explicit mention of prayer in Tolkien. There is mention of prayer by Moon.

Although there are a few female warriors in Tolkien, they are clearly meant to be the exception. They are not exceptions in Moon. Paksenarrion, herself, is female, and becomes a great warrior.

Thanks for reading.

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Note: This was rewritten on June 5th from the original post on June 1, 2007.


Rob Rumfelt said...

I'm always skeptical about comparisons with Tolkien. I'm never sure if the comparisons are legitimate or being used to sell the books. Being the giant of modern fantasy fiction makes him a large target, but still extremely difficult to hit!

And by the way, I've got enough reading to do these days without you adding to my list of books I want to try!

Have a great weekend!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, rob. I don't think anyone will ever be the second Tolkien.

Weekend Fisher said...

I think it's unlikely anyone will supplant Tolkien, at least not anytime soon.

However, the shelves of that genre of literature in the current bookstores certainly show their indebtedness to Tolkien; I think this is the main way in which comparisons to Tolkien are justified.

You can certainly fill a book with the differences between (say) Moon and Tolkien; but Moon obviously stands in Tolkien's debt (as opposed to, say, C.S. Lewis' debt).

Take care & God bless

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, Weekend Fisher. I think you are right.