I honestly can’t remember if my dad read us The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia first. I’m pretty sure he read us The Hobbit more times… though even that, I’m not sure about. Either way, these were my very first forays into the realm of fantasy fiction, and both Tolkien and Lewis had a major influence on me from a very young age. It may perhaps be cliche at this point to say that The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are my two most favorite fantasy series… but being cliche makes it no less true.
Bilbo Baggins taught me that even the small and the unskilled may get a chance at greatness, but that in the end, goodness of heart and friendship is more important than any treasure.
Gandalf taught me that sometimes even the very wise feel fear, and sometimes do not know which road to take.
Thorin taught me about perseverance and leadership and the importance of home.
Frodo and Sam taught me about friendship and loyalty and sticking by someone even if it means carrying them through Mordor.
Merry and Pippin taught me that sometimes a tense situation needs a dash of humor.
Boromir taught me about courage and also that the mighty can waver, but that no one is beyond redemption.
Eomer taught me to stay faithful and true even when false accusations are aimed at your heart.
Aragorn taught me about humility and wisdom.
Eowyn taught me that sometimes what we want is not the same as what we need.
Denethor taught me that a pessimistic outlook is about the same as giving up.
Legolas and Gimli taught me that friendship can spring from the unlikeliest of places and does not have to be limited by interests or similarities.
Smaug taught me never to laugh at live dragons.
Whenever I reread to these books, they continue to teach me. When I return to Middle-Earth to adventure with my dear friends, I always feel as though I’m coming home. These stories, these characters, have done much to shape the person I am. But more than that, I must admit that they have shaped the author I am. It has never been my intention to write “Tolkien-esque” fantasy, but I cannot deny that the influence of his stories has trickled through into my own, poor scribblings in a variety of ways:
My love of fantasy and stories set in fantastical realms with magic and dragons and quests and all the trappings that come with the genre.
Characters with mysterious backgrounds.
Characters who are more than they seem.
My firm belief in happy endings.
The propensity to include poems and snatches of rhyming lines in my books.
My enormous casts of characters (even my flash fiction stories tend to explode in character-count, no matter how hard I try to restrict the number… more characters always want to jump into the story)
A fairly obvious line between good and evil.
Characters worth rooting for, who might make mistakes but generally strive to be good and kind to the people they encounter.
Deep themes of redemption, loss, forgiveness, faithfulness, and grief.
My great hope that those who read my stories will not only make new character-friends and go on a fun adventure, but also that they will learn something about themselves, or about the world, or ultimately, about their own Author, our great Creator God.
Of course, there are other books and authors I’ve read that have also influenced my style and my voice, blending together in my heart and mind in order to result in books that are just mine. But the influence of Tolkien is solidly there, reflected in the stories I choose to tell. And this is why I still count it among the highest compliments my writing has ever received that one reader once described my books to someone else as, “Tolkien-lite.”
And now it’s your turn, dear Reader! What books have influenced you in some lasting way? What stories have taught you lessons that you have carried with you throughout your life? If you are a writer, what stories or authors have left an imprint on your soul and translated into your own tales?