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Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy Hardcover – Aug 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey Books; 1 edition (Aug 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345458540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345458544
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.3 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,954,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Tales before Tolkien is a collection of classic fairy tales which inspired the author of The Lord of the Rings. That is what the front cover of the book promises and this is what you get. There are 22 tales, which were mostly written in the 19th and the 20th century. Every story starts off with a brief introduction about the author and the tale presented. My personal favourites are all of them but in particular I liked `The Elves', `The Griffin and the Minor Canon' and `The Dragon Tamers', dragons and cats being my favourite animals.

At the end of the book there is a list of recommended authors, which includes only those which were born five years and more before JRR Tolkien. Those with an asterisk to their name have work included in this book. Such notable authors as Hans Christian Anderson and H.G Wells have not, which I found a bit of a pity. But apart from that this is a fine book and highly recommended.
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Fairy Tales and Other Fantasies 6 Sep 2003
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Tales Before Tolkien is an anthology of fairy tales and other fantasy stories published prior to Tolkien's works. Some of these authors are known to have influenced Tolkien, but all wrote on themes which Tolkien would probably have admired. All the authors were chosen to be at least five years older than Tolkien.
"The Elves" by Ludwig Tieck is a "literary fairy tale" in the German tradition and illustrates the dangers of visiting with fairies. "The Golden Key" by George MacDonald is a mystical tale of a boy and a girl who embark on a lifelong quest. "Puss-Cat Mew" by E. H. Knatchbull-Hugessen is a story of a young man and a cat against evil ogres and dwarves. "The Griffin and the Minor Canon" by Frank R. Stockton is a yarn about the friendship between a clergy man and a monster. "The Demon Pope" by Richard Garnett is a tongue in cheek story of Satan and the Sacred College.
"The Story of Sigurd" retold by Andrew Lang is an abbreviated version of the Nibelungenlied. "The Folk of the Mountain Door" by William Morris is a mystical tale of a god and goddess attending a naming rite in a Norse-like kingdom. "Black Heart and White Heart" by H. Rider Haggard is a story of an English gentleman who tries to steal the lover of a Zulu warrior. "The Dragon Tamers" by E. Nesbit describes the trials of a poor dragon who is always outwitted by one family. "The Far Islands" by John Buchan tells of a boy whose family is obsessed by the Western Isle. "The Drawn Arrow" by Clemence Housman is a story of the gratitude of kings. "The Enchanted Buffalo" by L. Frank Baum is a yarn about treachery and revenge in the Royal Tribe of buffalo. "Chu-bu and Sheemish" by Lord Dunsany is a fable about jealous gods. "The Baumhoff Explosive" by William Hope Hodgson is a cautionary tale about becoming too much like Christ.
"The Regent of the North" by Kenneth Morris is a tale about a Viking who will not forswear his religion for Christianity. "The Coming of the Terror" by Arthur Machen is a suspense story about frightening events in England during World War I. "The Elf Trap" by Francis Stevens relates the strange experiences of a Professor of Biology who meets a beautiful young lady in the back woods. "The Thin Queen of Elfhame" by James Branch Cabell is the story of a man who unintentionally finds true love. "The Woman of the Wood" by A. Merritt discloses the murderous actions of a man who loved a coppice. "Golithos the Ogre" by E. A. Wyke-Smith tells of the vegetarian ogre who has two plump children as house guests. "The Story of Alwina" by Austin Tappan Wright is an excerpt about the history of Queen Alwina of Islandia. "A Christmas Play" by David Lindsay recounts the efforts of the fairy Emerald to find husbands for three sisters when there are only two princes available.
These stories are representative of the fantastic short stories written prior to Tolkien. While several are fairy tales, others come from a wide variety of cultural myths. Many of the authors are well known today, but others are known only to the students of literature. In any case, these stories are worth reading just for the pleasure of it and, if such reading gives us any insight into Tolkien's works, so much the better.
Since these stories span a broad spectrum of treatments, I liked several more the others; some I didn't much like on first reading. Since each presents its own emphasis and mood, however, I suspect that my list would differ upon subsequent readings in other circumstances. Moreover, other readers will probably find themselves liking stories that I didn't much enjoy.
Highly recommended to Tolkien fans and anyone else who enjoys short works of fantasy.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
some tastey tidbits 11 Sep 2003
By Ted Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This collection of tales has a couple of real gems ("The Elves" and "The Dragon Tamers") for people looking for sources of Tolkien's ideas, and a number of ones we've all read before ("The Story of Sigurd"). As a whole, I think the collection is a bit misleading because Anderson admits in his introduction that some of the tales don't really have any connection to Tolkien at all, they are just included to show you what was being written in the field of fantasy around the turn of the century. I would rather he excluded those and just concentrated on the ones that Tolkien either said he had read or that he very likely did read. That gripe aside, the book is very well designed and presented. I liked the brief "sidebar" that opens each tale, but would have preferred a bit more depth there.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Two Stories in Particular 20 July 2009
By Thomas Nguy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Tales Before Tolkien collects popular fantasy fiction shorts that preceded Tolkien. The book's title implies that Tolkien may have incorporated borrowed elements in his work. That's hardly news. What drew me was the variety of stories and their undemanding lengths. A perfect bedside addition and great inducer of sleep. This book is also my introduction to the lyrical writings of George MacDonald and Frank Stockton; the author of 'The Golden Key' and 'The Griffin and Minor Canon'. 'The Golden Key' is one of the most atmospheric fantasy piece I've come across. I was also happy to discover an little known piece by Lord Dunsany, one of my favorite authors, titled 'Chubu'.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great introduction to pre-Tolkien fantasy 6 Aug 2014
By Mike - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book contains a diverse selection of short "literary fairy tales" written before Tolkien published The Hobbit. It is not, however, aimed at the Tolkien scholar: while some of the stories in this book very clearly influenced Tolkien, many others did not. Some are quite different in tone and content, and are simply enjoyable for their own unique merits. This book mainly provides a very broad, and very enjoyable, glimpse of the world of pre-Tolkien fantasy - a time when fantasy was much more patient and poetic than it is today. Many excellent works from this time have been overshadowed by Tolkien and forgotten, and hopefully this book will aid in their re-discovery.

There is no annotation and only a very brief introduction to each story, but included at the end is an excellent list of popular pre-Tolkien fantasy writers and their famous works. If you enjoy the stories in this book, you can go on to explore some of the longer works from the period - of the ones I have read, my favorites are "The King of Elfland's Daughter" by Lord Dunsany and "Mistress of Mistresses" by E.R. Eddison. Pre-Tolkien fantasy works are often more challenging than most of today's popular fantasy - they are not driven by fast-moving plots and dialogue, but instead by elegant prose, poetic imagery, metaphor, irony, and ideas. The average difficulty is comparable to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or the works of Edgar Allen Poe (or in the case of Eddison, Moby-Dick).

I have been enjoying this collection immensely - some stories are magical, some heroic, some mysterious, some hilarious; some take place in imagined worlds, some in this one; they are each wonderful in their own way. This collection shows just how diverse the fantasy genre can be. I hope it leads many more readers to explore the rich world of pre-Tolkien fantasy. As much as I love the entertaining fantasy of today, there is a certain feeling of wonder and grandeur that comes only from the fantasy works of old.
A Good Look At Fantasy Stories Before The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings 14 Sep 2008
By Andrew Wyllie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book shows what was current and modern fantasy tales prior to Tolkien's writing. It shows how prior authors had described elves and dwarves before they became codified in Tolkien's work. The stories show the type of storytelling that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. The stories range from Europe to America and place people from various lands into very unusual circumstances.

The reason I only give this book four stars is that while some of the stories are entertaining, they lack the same kind of environment as Middle Earth provides and some even try to overlay modern (at the time) times into the stories. I think this takes away from their effect. Another reason that I give it only four stars is that a lot of the stories were admitted to have never been seen by Tolkien prior to his work, so it is doubtful that they had much effect.

I would still recommend this book to someone who is interested in literary history and how tales have changed in the last 100+ years. Also it does give a good comparison of the type of stories that Tolkien was up against in order to succeed. This is still a book that I will come back to on occasion just for a different type of story.
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