The great temptation, the fatal temptation, of adult fans of fantastic fiction is the temptation of Law. We want the contents of our imagination taxonomied and classified, ordered and indexed, subject to rules and regulations. Gaps exist to be filled. Mysteries exist to be solved. Legends are just timelines that haven’t been formalized yet. Fantastic fiction becomes a code to crack.
It’s a depressing state of affairs, not least because it can be traced directly to one of the most generous and unfettered imaginations in all of literature, the same imagination that gave this column its title: the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien famously devised the entire history of Middle-earth and all the adventures that took place therein in order to give his imaginary alphabets and languages hands to be written with and voices to be spoken by. That he arrived at the single greatest act of world-building in fantasy history completely bass-ackwards should, one would think, serve as an instant warning light to fantasists who wish to put the cart before the horse, but you and I both know that hasn’t been the case. A rigorous and road-tested encyclopedia-salesman approach to creating new worlds and new images to fill them is viewed as inherently superior to one in which the power of images and ideas comes first. It’s like people really want to write a wiki, and have to come up with the pesky “moving, powerful, imaginative literature” stuff out of obligation.
– Sean T. Collins at Vorpalizer,
“Roots and Beginnings: The Neverending Story“