Tag Archives: Tolkien

Why I Spell It Elfs, Not Elves

“You’ve made a spelling mistake.” “I always thought it was spelt ‘elves’.” “Why are you spelling it like that?” I’ve had a few questions along these lines in the lead-up to publishing The Fey Man. It’s no surprise, because they’re all correct: the plural of ‘elf’ these days is indeed ‘elves’. But it didn’t used to be that way, not until J. R. R. Tolkien came along.

Tolkien is responsible for ninety percent of all fantasy tropes, or so it seems, and he addressed the question of the plural in the appendix of The Lord of the Rings, where he admits:

“…dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. It should be dwarrows (or dwerrows), if singular and plural had each gone its own way down the years, as have man and men, or goose and geese.”

He goes on to say that he instead chose dwarves as a way of distancing his creations from “sillier tales”; he didn’t want readers to think of children’s stories of little people.

(As an aside, I would have loved to use dwarrows as a plural for dwarf. It’s a fantastic word but, alas, I think it would have been unnecessarily confusing.)

So why am I using a form Professor Tolkien (who you ignore at your peril, for he was a very smart man) thought was associated with silly tales? To put it simply: I want you to think of fairy tales when you read The Fey Man.

Many writers of fantasy follow Tolkien when they create their worlds: they draw on old mythology, often Norse but also Chinese and Christian and Hindu and so on. Mythology is a fascinating subject, but the gods and heros are so grand and dramatic they tend to overshadow perhaps the most pervasive mythology: fairy tales.

Fairy tales are interesting creatures. We all know the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, don’t we? Except we may not know that older versions of the story had the wolf bake Grandma into bread and feed it to Little Red. Or that the wolf had the girl throw her clothes on the fire before she climbed into bed. Fairy tales are such fluid things, appropriated by each generation and each new culture and modified to suit new purposes. Even now we’re creating darker versions of the tales we know. Fairy tales, in all their guises, are a big influence on the Fair Folk series and they resonate with the story on a number of levels.

That’s why the spellings Tolkien popularised didn’t seem to fit my novel. They suggested too much the fantasy worlds that had come before. I wanted something that seemed a little quaint, a little English, a little fairy tale. The elfs are still a race not to be trifled with. The dwarfs still demand respect and admiration. But they help give a little flavour of what I hope feels like a different world.

If you want to see what that world looks like, why not download a copy of The Fey Man absolutely free?

Smaug is the steroetypical treasure-hoarding dragon in The Hobbit.

Top Fantasy Novels: The Hobbit

If there’s one fantasy novel to rule them all, it’s Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It has such a far-reaching influence that it’s almost impossible to find any aspect of fantasy fiction that doesn’t owe the trilogy some sort of debt. But, despite that, I think Tolkien’s earlier novel, The Hobbit, is unfairly overshadowed by it’s younger brother. I think The Hobbit might be the better fantasy novel.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Certainly The Lord of the Rings is far grander, a battle between good and evil for the fate of the world and so on. It’s more serious in nature and therefore held in higher esteem. But if The Hobbit is more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, I say it is better for it.

We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!

The Hobbit sits much closer to traditional fairy tales in content and tone. It’s an adventure, a treasure hunt, with a dragon to vanquish and humorous events and coincidences along the way. The narrator speaks in a knowing tone, sharing asides and commentary intended to delight and surprise. A favourite is mine is the invention of golf, accredited to a Took’s fortuitous decapitation of a goblin.

I think this is why I prefer Bilbo to Frodo, too. Bilbo’s reticence to leave his home is funny and loveable, whilst Frodo’s seems confusing and naive. To want to stay in the warm because adventures make you later for dinner is cute. Refusing to help save Middle-Earth would have made Bilbo seem mean and selfish.

He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.

But, though this might be “just” an adventure, there’s still peril. Giant spiders. Ancient dragons. And, of course, Gollum.

Poor Gollum wasn’t such a bad guy in the first edition. But when it came time for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien went back and made some changes to bring his character into line with the more mature tone of the sequel. Consequently, Gollum was no longer a fairy tale obstacle who happily bets a magic ring and parts amicably after losing. Now he becomes mean and violent and a very real danger. But the riddles remained and thus the real charm of their encounter.

So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.

And, of course, this is still a Tolkien novel and it’s still set in Middle Earth. So there is plenty of folklore and languages for the people who like that sort of thing (me). There’s plenty of poetry, too, and beautiful lines that could only have been written by J. R. R. Tolkien.

A beautifully written, funny, charming fairy tale adventure, set it Middle Earth. Tell me why it shouldn’t be one of my top fantasy novels.

Writing Lessons From The Hobbit

I wasn’t a fan of The Hobbit. There, I said it. I loved Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, but The Hobbit felt bloated, poorly paced and, quite frankly, it bored me. But there’s writing tips in everything, even ill-judged sequel/prequel trilogies.

It’s got spoilers in its pocketses, preciousss…

Don’t Overwhelm the Audience with Characters

There’s a lot of dwarves in The Hobbit and they’re all introduced in a matter of minutes. Even if their names weren’t similar that’s a lot for the audience to take in. Try to ease your audience in or, if that’s not possible, remind them who’s who throughout the story.

Give Your Audience What They Need, Not What They Want

The work that Jackson and co. did on Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy was unsurpassed. A sequence in The Hobbit was expanded to give the people what they wanted: more Gollum. But he didn’t reach his former glory because he just didn’t have enough to do to warrant his screen time. Had Peter Jackson limited Gollum to a cameo, the audience would have been left wanting more. That leads me into:

Exercise Restraint

As you write your story you may fall in love with the kooky wizard who talks to animals more than he does people. But what is he doing to move the story along? If the answer is “not a lot”, get out the red pen and cut the scene where he tends to hedgehogs. You’ll hate to see it go but your audience will thank you for it.

Clarify the Hero’s Motivations

Bilbo’s decision to join the dwarves on their journey is pivotal to the story. Yet the film doesn’t really explore why he joins them. There’s a brief reference to his younger self being a lover of adventure. But the decision itself seems abrupt and baseless and so the rest of the story is based on a whim. If your hero takes action, make sure it gets explained at some point.

Let the Heroes Be Heroic

It seemed that when the dwarves encountered a problem (be it trolls or warg riders or goblin kings) they never escaped through their own wits. They escaped via a deus ex machina (be it Gandalf, elves, Gandalf again). Consequently they all seemed weak and unable to determine their own fate. Allow your heroes to save themselves once in a while.

But who knows? Perhaps I’ll look fondly back on The Hobbit when they make six Silmarillion films?