If You Like J. R. R. Tolkien, Then Read…

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

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.

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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.

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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.

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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  His version of these famous Norse tales remained unpublished until 2009, when his son Christopher released them along with commentary on Tolkien’s sources.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.

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Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas

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.

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Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

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.

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8 thoughts on “If You Like J. R. R. Tolkien, Then Read…

  1. Bookish Hobbit says:

    I’ve read Letters from Father Christmas and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. I would like to read The Company They Keep, so I think I’ll see if I am able to get it from the library.

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    • Krysta says:

      I am sorry to admit I’ve actually only read parts of Letters from Father Christmas, but what I read was really good! And I absolutely loved The Company They Keep. I’ve never believed artists work in isolation (or that they have to be tortured souls to come up with anything good!), so I was thrilled to see someone finally address the concept and make a point-by-point refutation. Tolkien and Lewis’s inclusion just made the book even better!

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  2. Rebecca says:

    I have Sigurd and Gudrun sitting on my shelf but just haven’t got round to reading it yet! Tales Before Tolkien looks interesting too 🙂 Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • Krysta says:

      The nice thing about Tales Before Tolkien is that, since it’s an anthology, if you don’t like some of the stories, you’ll at least like some of the others. I thought it was a nice way, too, to bring attention back to some authors who used to be more well-known, but seem to have gotten a little lost.

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  3. Urania says:

    The Company They Keep sounds really cool, actually.

    My suggestion for the list is Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. With its beautiful language and bittersweet themes, it delighted me in much the same ways Tolkien’s work does.

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    • Krysta says:

      The Last Unicorn is a wonderful suggestion! I found its prose almost lyrical and the story itself was haunting. I consider reviewing it every now and then, but I know I need to think about it a lot more before I come close to understanding it well enough to comment on it.

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  4. David says:

    Also, by the same guy as Tales Before Tolkien, you might like Tales Before Narnia. While not all the stories contained in it are great, some are, and they can be hard to find outside of this volume. I reviewed it here and talked about the stories I liked best.

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    • Krysta says:

      I’ve heard of Tales Before Narnia, and I’ve vaguely thought of reading it for a long time, but I probably never would’ve gotten around to it. Your review makes me want actually want to find a copy, though. I’m intrigued by the inclusions of Owen Barfield’s story. It isn’t easy to find his work.

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