A unicorn discovers that she is the last of her kind and so sets forth on a quest to find the others. Along the way she is joined by Schmendrick, an inept magician, and Molly Grue, a woman who still believes in beauty despite her hard life. Their journey leads them to the cursed castle of King Haggard, where dwells the fearsome Red Bull who once drove all the other unicorns away. But more than monsters lurk in Haggard’s halls. Once the unicorn enters, she, unchanging and immortal, will never be the same again. Though The Last Unicorn lacks Tolkien’s detailed worldbuilding, its ethereal beauty has enchanted readers throughout the years.
The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer
The author challenges the standard assumption that the Inklings (a group of writers including Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams) had little influence on each other’s works by citing the many ways in which writers interact with and receive input from others, even if they do not work in direct collaboration. Even readers not particularly interested in the Inklings will want to consider Glyer’s refutation of the myth of the isolated artist. If you want to see our If You Like post for C. S. Lewis, click here.
The Well at the World’s End by William Morris
As a young man, Tolkien was inspired by Morris’s fantasy worlds and his use of archaic language. The Well at the World’s end is the story of Ralph of Upmeads, who goes on a quest to find a well of incredible powers. A fine example of fantasy before Tolkien.
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J. R. R. Tolkien
During the 1920s and 30s, Tolkien retold the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and the fall of the Niflungs in English alliterative verse. His version of these famous Norse tales remained unpublished until 2009, when his son Christopher released them along with commentary on Tolkien’s sources. The high tone and matter will appeal to those readers who enjoyed The Silmarillion while Sigurd’s connection to Túrin Turambar from The Children of Húrin may also interest fans of Middle-earth.
Between 1920 and 1942, Tolkien wrote his children numerous letters purporting to be from Father Christmas and chronicling his adventures with the North Polar Bear. They were published in 1976 and again in 2004 along with Tolkien’s original illustrations.
Years ago a young man set out on a quest to save the land from darkness. He rose in power as the Lord Ruler, but his world became one of darkness and ash. Now the skaa work as slaves under the nobles, who alone possess the genes that can impart the magical skills of Allomancy. Kelsier, a skaa thief escaped from a life of labor, dares to challenge the might of the Lord Ruler. He, after all, as a result of his mixed heritage, possesses all the skills of a Mistborn. But, if his plan is to succeed, he will also need the help of an unlikely ally–a young street urchin who does not yet know the power she wields. Sanderson’s detailed worldbuilding, especially his attention to the workings of magic, will appeal to fans engrossed by Tolkien’s complex worlds.
Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy edited by Douglas A. Anderson
J. R. R. Tolkien receives primary credit for the enormous popularity of fantasy today, but before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings other authors sparked his imagination. This anthology includes 21 short stories and one play selected by Anderson to illustrate the range of writers whom Tolkien would have read. The collection includes “The Golden Key” by George MacDonald, “The Story of Sigurd” by Andrew Lang, “The Dragon Tamers” by E. Nesbit, “The Enchanted Buffalo” by L. Frank Baum, and “Golithos the Ogre” by E. A. Wyke-Smith among other works.