You see, a big part of the problem today are the huge works of Mr. Tolkien.
Despite unequivocally agreeing upon the brilliance of the man’s work and his sheer genius. Just take a look at how many studies, researches, and books have dissected his work. He “invented” a language, based on his tremendous knowledge of the tongues of the British Isles, then he drew a continent, with full maps, kings, history, mythology, and creatures, many of which were derived from his own research. And then finally, he wrote his famous books.
But at the same time, you can’t deny how his world has been like a mold for every fantasist out there, and that has been going on for like, what, eight decades now.
Now grab your nearest shiny fantasy novel. See how difficult it has become to break his rules? Now Dwarves MUST live under the mountains, and Elves MUST wield bows. Goblins are mindless barbarians, and Dragons have become a fact of life. How many villains have you read about that were named The Dark Lord?
Celtic and Welsh mythology have become the default setting for every novel until proven otherwise, which is now part of what we call the overall “Eurocentricity” of the genre.
You can’t help but admire just how solid the Tolkien example has been. It’s is — in my humble opinion — a living example of how hard work and research can pay off.
At the same time, You could easily lament how his books have generated countless stereotypes, and are doing it daily.
But change is coming to fantasy. It is inevitable. Numerous worlds are out there waiting, and we’ve already seen a lot in the past years. Excellent works by incredibly talented authors. Some have started turning to Asian cultures (THE DANDELION DYNASTY – Ken Liu). Some have taken their stories to the Arabian Nights (THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON – Saladin Ahmed). Some have weaved excellent tales in a more recent version of Europe, like World War I (GHOST TALKERS – Mary Robinette Kowal). I bet someone would eventually venture into the cultures of the Native Americans, or Africa, or Ancient Rome and Egypt.
Many new “Tolkiens” are on the brink of their new masterpiece. I think the genre is slowly changing, and most probably for the better.