Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge


One of the often repeated refrains from the vile Cult of Resentment is that so much Fantasy is just rehashed, Tolkien fanfiction. Unfortunately, there is some truth in this, a lot of modern multi-volume fantasy is quite derivative of Middle Earth. Pale imitators lacking the poetic and moral compass of JRRT. Due to the popularity of the imitators, and the almost systematic erasure of most pre-Tolkien fantasy from the public sphere, a new reader often thinks of Middle Earth as ground zero for fantasy, myself included.

But that is starting to change, big thanks to Jeffro’s Appendix N for one, and also a revival of the pulp aesthetic by indie magazines like Cirsova and Storyhack and the many new writers affiliated with the PulpRev movement.

In order to educate, and also hopefully find some great reading material for myself, I propose a challenge to all my blogger friends.

Pre-Tolkien Short Story Challenge

  • Identify 3 Fantasy stories written before Lord of the Rings was published. 3 stories written before 1954.
  • Review all three on your blog, focusing on pre-Tolkien differences of similarities, and making sure you let us know where we can find them for ourselves.
  • Share the challenge.

I think this will be an interesting exercise. I hope a lot of people join me so I can compile a great collection of reviews that hopefully will inspire others to read older Fantasy.



53 thoughts on “Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge

  1. I’m in. Is there a deadline for when the posts have to go live? Also, are shorter works included, or only novels?


      1. Thank you for the signal boost. I decided to do this with short stories first because getting people to read longer works is often tough. If the short story one gets some good interest, I will do a longer novel one.

        No time limit, just do some reviews and tag the challenge. If these posts convince at least one person to read all the great old pieces my mission will be complete.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It has been great digging back into Tolkien this summer, but I’m looking forward to getting back to reading other vintage SF. I am definitely finally going to read some C.L. Moore this fall, and I am planning to read REH’s Solomon Kane stories. Maybe one of my H. Rider Haggard novels? Although they probably aren’t technically fantasy. I don’t have many fantasy books that are really pre-Tolkien, although I don’t think his influence really became dominant until the 80s and 90s.


      1. I definitely need to read some Dunsany.

        I just finished season 3 of the Revolutions podcast, by the way, picked up on the strength of your recommendation.


  3. Alexandriu,

    Would pre1954 fantasy literature include
    The Breton cycles (aka King Arthur and his round table?)
    Reynard le renard?
    I ask because i’ve never been clear what stories are fantasy and aren’t


    1. Hey! I picked up the Munn book some time ago, but never checked the copyright. Looks like I’ll need to sneak it into 2019’s To Do list. ‘Preciate the head’s up on that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yan:
    And please include the French? I’d be very interested to read it.
    Are there any French preTolkien works that you can recommend?


    1. Of course I’ll share it in french : it’ll be written in french, that’s way easier for me to work in french than to directly write in english (and my blog is in french, so..). Then it’ll be avalaible in english a few days later so that I can have time to properly translate it.

      As for pre-Tolkien french fantasy, well… That’s the whole point : there’s *none*.
      We had historical fiction with musketeers, pirates and prehistoric men (and even tarzanides), but no proper “fantasy” (the whole thing being french “fantasy” was derivative of the serials of the 19th century – think Dumas’ Three Musketeers or Feval’s Hunchback ; anything akin to what was called “merveilleux” was strictly reserved for fairytales destined to young readers).
      I’ll explain a bit in my post, of course, but I highly recommend L’Epopée fantastique, a quadrilogy of anthologies in the collection “Livre d’or de la science-fiction” by Pocket (sorry, no english edition for that one), where Marc Duveau delves into the historical and editorial aspect of the genre, going back as far as actual medieval tales like Tristan and Iseult and explaining the “hole” in french “médiéval fantastique” between the 18th century (the Lumières turned these tales into ridicule) and the late 20th century.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. And here it is, first non-english post of the challenge 😉

    Even if you don’t read french, you will certainly be able to pick up the names and titles I’ve chosen, which… might seem kind of odd. In the midst of everything that have been cited so far, I wanted to be a bit surprising.

    I’ll work on the english version this weekend, you can expect it to pop by Monday or Tuesday.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There’s a french saying that goes “chose promise, chose due”, which I have absolutely no idea how to translate but roughly means that you have to keep the promises you make.

    So, I had promised an english translation by Monday.
    Promise kept 😉

    Of course, my proofreading might (and certainly will) be lacking, especially on such a lengthy post, so if you have any remark or if there’s any correction you feel that needs to be made, don’t hesitate to contact me.


    1. Your post was fantastic. Thank you for translating it. I mentioned it slightly in my post but I think that 19th century French lit had a great impact on Sword and Sorcery. You can’t read Howard’s Solomon Kane without seeing a bit of the Musketeers. I think Howard wrote Musketeer fan fiction with Kane.


  7. I realized I had neglected to post links to two of my posts.

    Here’s a review of a story by H. Rider Haggard.

    and a comparison of Tolkien and H. P. Lovecraft

    Finally, I’ve decided to adapt this challenge to science fiction, looking at science fiction before John W. Campbell, Jr. became the editor of Astounding.


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