Having just finished Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, I can finally look back over the whole thing and compare it to the trilogy that started it all, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (considering The Hobbit as prelude). Lest this seem like simply an "ugliest orc" and "sharpest sword" type comparison, I'm going to focus on the more fundamental aspects of their work. How do the authors see the world? Having the chance to "sub-create" (in Tolkien's terms), how did they craft their worlds? In essence, what is the natural theology of the worlds they have made? It's interesting how I could not make a real comparison between the two until Jordan had finished his story. So much depends on the ending.
Theology is not an accidental or artifically imposed term. Both were commited Christians, Tolkien a Catholic and Jordan a self-described high-church Episcopalian (almost like Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis?). There are distinct differences, the biggest being that Tolkien grew up in the first half of the 20th century while Jordan grew up and wrote in the second half. But they both imagined worlds that are attractive just for the level of detail in them, worlds with magic and swords and evil monsters and heroic deeds.
Sometimes I'm disappointed looking around with the level of detail that is present in, say, an ordinary church built 100 years ago vs. one built (or more likely, repurposed) today. Tolkien and Jordan give evidence that the faithful detailing that used to go into the stone through a craftsman's chisel may now be evident in the interior spaces carved out by our authors. The keyboard as the new chisel. Both worlds are certainly as intricate as a vast mosaic or a cathedral's statuary.
Since I'm convinced that this fantasy genre is indeed valuable (convinced enough to have spent hundreds of hours reading about people and places that don't technically exist), I think it's valuable to dig down into it. Since this introduction is long enough in itself for a blog post, I'll split it up into parts and work my way through the comparisons over the next month.
It should go without saying in huge letters: SPOILER ALERT. Part of the whole tension of waiting for an ending is seeing what it reveals about the author's beliefs, intentions, and view of the world. So, yeah, I'll be talking about how it all ends. The Internet sort of forces immediate consumption of any new media for spoilerphobes at any rate. (But my recent review of the last book is indeed spoiler-free!)