People Make Publishing: Thanks to J. R. R. Tolkien

Rob Buchanan is the sales coordinator in the marketing department. 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to J. R. R. Tolkien. The first adult books I ever read were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I know The Hobbit is technically a children’s book, but since it led me to The Lord of the Rings books, and goes well with them, I am including it here. These are the books that began a lifelong love of fantasy books. After reading those books I spent countless hours at the local library, hunting for new books to read. I can’t remember a lot of the books I read at that time, since it has been twenty-five to thirty years since I read them, but some left a lasting impression.

Our library had a number of metal spinning racks and I distinctly remember finding almost all of the Horseclans books by Robert Adams in them. These aren’t traditional fantasy books because they are set in a world many years after an apocalypse. I don’t recall there being any magic, but there was an occasional bit of high technology thrown in. I can’t remember which of the eighteen volumes the library didn’t have, but I still remember the frustration I felt at not being able to read the entire series. I recall the books taking place over a long period of time, following a group of immortals and the people they were guiding. This allowed the author to have a large cast of characters, since of course the immortals outlived everyone as the years passed. Every once in a while I think about going back and getting the series so I can read them again and see if they are as good as I remember. They are old enough that they aren’t in the library any longer, but a quick search of Amazon shows that they are all available, in one form or another.

I also remember reading the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson.  Each Chronicle is a trilogy about a man who gets pulled into another world and forced into a war against an evil that is destroying the Land. Thomas Covenant has a tough life in the real world. He has leprosy and, fearing the disease, his wife left him, taking their young son with her. In the alternate world, he is healthy and his wedding ring, which is made of white gold, has vast magical power. Covenant is an unlikely, unwilling hero who is deeply flawed and I found the character very compelling. Donaldson wrote the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant much more recently. This is a four book series that I haven’t managed to read yet, but it is definitely on my bucket list.

It was also around this time that I discovered Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books by Fritz Leiber. Both formidable warriors, Fafhrd is a large red haired man, while the Grey Mouser is much smaller. They are drawn together in the city of Lankhmar in the land of Newhon. The two friends aren’t typical heroes. They seem to fall in love at the drop of a hat and drink away their money as fast as they can steal it. They aren’t what I think of when I picture a noble hero, but their roguish behavior and bond of friendship led to some truly wonderful stories.  The books are almost all collections of short stories in which our heroes encounter all manner of villains, wizards, monsters, and even angry gods. While the details of the stories have faded from my memory, I do remember that waking the gods of Lanhkmar is bad for everyone.

It was also around this time that I bought The Belgariad books by David Eddings. This is a series of five books about a young boy named Garion, who has been raised on a farm by his aunt Pol, with occasional visits from Belgarath, a powerful sorcerer who Garion knows as a traveling storyteller. (Yes, he sounds a lot like Gandalf) In reality, Pol is actually Belgarath’s daughter Polgara, also a powerful sorcerer. An ancient artifact has been stolen, which sparks Belgarath, Polgara, Garion, and others to set out in an effort to recover it before it falls into the wrong hands. Along the way Garion discovers he is a sorcerer as well, and he has to come to terms with leaving behind the safe life he had known for the dangers of their task, all while trying to learn how to use his power responsibly. This sounds just like countless other stories, but it was one of the first of its type I read, and I liked it quite a lot.

I don’t remember a lot of specific details from all of these stories because it has been so long since I have read them. But just thinking about them makes me remember a little of what it felt like to discover such fantastic worlds for the first time and it makes me want to go out and get all of the books so I can read them again and recapture at least some of that feeling.

-Rob