Tolkien and Lewis Shadows

Writing Fantasy Books In the Shadow of Tolkien and Lewis

No one can hear “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” without remembering Judy Garland. “Stormy Weather” summons thoughts of Lena Horne. And “My Way” brings to mind Frank Sinatra. Professional singers tend to steer away from Signature songs. Who wants to pair off against a masterful performance? The same phenomenon occurs in motion pictures with roles like Yul Brynner’s King of Siam, Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara or Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine. Who but an amateur would dare challenge a classic?
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis helped establish the medieval fantasy genre created by George MacDonald and gave it a high standard for quality. In a sense, they scrawled their signatures across an entire genre. Authors who follow must inevitably write in their shadows and pit themselves in the reader’s mind against their masterpieces. Cheap imitators have arisen in their wake, thus souring some readers on the genre as a whole. Tales of children sucked into another world, of dwarves, wizards and dragons have abounded in plenty.
Even so, original works of quality still find a loyal readership waiting for something worthwhile to emerge. Fans of medieval fantasy know this as a given. The Christian publishing world as a whole doesn’t know this. Writers of medieval fantasy don’t often meet with a favorable reception when seeking publication. The Christian fantasy genre sits on the edge of acceptability while publishers ignore the fact that fans flock to movies based on “The Lord of the Rings” and “Chronicles of Narnia.”
I’m glad medieval fantasy holds a high standard that pushes me beyond my limits as a writer. Harbourlight, the publisher of my Tales of Faeraven epic fantasy series, challenges me to produce enduring works of literature. That’s my hope and my goal.

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Written by Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt

As an author I love to escape with readers into creative worlds of fiction in three genres: medieval epic fantasy, historical fiction, and romantic mystery. My aim is to make this website an immersive experience for readers. Care to join us?

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17 thoughts on “Writing Fantasy Books In the Shadow of Tolkien and Lewis”

  1. J~ I'm looking forward to the Tales of Faerhaven release! You and Karen Hancock (Tales of the Guardian King) have given me hope of publishing my own medieval/epic fantasy. 🙂 It's good, this feeling of hope.

  2. I am a Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fan.

    You're correct, young people flock to anything that resembles Lord of the Rings.

    This edgy blog tour sounds so interesting.


  3. I am a fantasy fan from WAY back, so I am very excited about the release of your series. Rather than shy away from the genre, I think Christian writers need to pursue this genre with the kind of excellence the 'masters' did. I'm at a family reunion, so I will visit again in a few days to cast my vote. God bless!

  4. I so wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments of your blog spot on the Medievil Fantasy challenges : well, maybe with one exception. "My Way" reminds me of Frank Sinatra, but then I am old. At any rate, you are correct in that we sit on the precipice of challenge with a choice to fall in the pit of traditional, secular publishing, or go further and higher with new Christian fiction

  5. I'm a soft-core fantasy lover, found Anne McCaffrey in high school and am fortunate to have a hubby who lives with dragons all over the house. I just found Jill Williamson's Darkness trilogy. Excellent. I've been looking forward to reading Janalyn for a while…birthday coming soon.

  6. This looks like a blog tour I should be following. I enjoyed your piece, and am heading over to read your excerpt. Fantasy is such a great vehicle for deep discussion and powerful message.

  7. I like some fantasy authors. Not many. It's hard (I hear) to sell these types of stories, which is a bummer as I know Young Adults in particular love them. Glad you have something releasing soon.

  8. Interesting post. I just found your blog via the google alerts for 'christian fantasy.' My fantasy novel "Swords of the Six" (coming from AMG Publishers this Fall) is a blend of medieval fantasy and frontier America, with a few allegorical elements.

  9. Hi; and greetings!

    I am a Christian who truly fears the living God in the radiance of Jesus Christ the ultimate Judge on Earth: Interesting post, I just found your blog via the Google Alerts: I love writing about God in the radiance of Jesus Christ. My dream has always been about writing! I am real blessed and appreciate very much God's providence in me! Everything I do here; I praise God first and worship him continually. I shade tears for the modern Christendom world that deviate from God’s truth!

    Fleecy Lock and black complexion, cannot forfeit nature’s claim: Skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white much the same! Were I so tall to reach to the poll, or to grasp to the ocean-span; I must be measured by my soul! The mind is the standard of the man!”

    My name is: Rev. Dr. Athanasius-John T. Nkomo: An independent international evangelist: I can be reached at: Please contact me for mutual dialogue:
    Thanks very much for your time and attention: Stay well:
    Athanasius-John Nkomo

  10. Wonderful article. I agree it's time for Christian authors to write fanatsy and do it with excellence. This is a genre that captures the imagination of young people.

    It's a wonderful way to get the Christian message across.

  11. The problem is not that Tolkien and Lewis scrawled their signatures across an entire genre, it is that they staked out a tremendously influential and iconic /corner/ of the genre, so much so that people mistake that corner as the entirety of the genre.

    Authors Steven Brust reveal how untrue that is. His Dragaera books are entirely original and utterly different than the Tolkien / Lewis corner of things; not an orc or troll to be found.

    My point is that people who are tired of following in the shadows of the masters shouldn't be afraid to strike out on their own. Star Wars itself can be thought of as a space fantasy. The only real limit is one's imagination and rigor in constructing their own world / environment / situations. Jack Vance made a career of forging his own SF / Fantasy trails (as did the venerable Roger Zelazny with his Amber Chronicles).

  12. Janalyn, Absolutely beautiful video! Love your Pegasus. And suggestions of good symbolism came through. congratulations.

    (Um, I think "My Way" is Frank Sinatra.


  13. My husband loves Medieval Fantasy. I guess the battle between good and evil is as old as time. I must admit I have clumped Christian fantasy in with "End of times" or Armegedeon Fiction" in together. Now I see how riduculous it is to put CS Lewis in with, for example, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind Series. Are these books categorized as the same in bookstores? wI have never delved

  14. My bum is getting really tired of sitting on the edge of acceptability!

    It amazes me that I can attend a Christian writers conference and meet so many fantasy authors–yet all unpubbed. Weird. Don't the CBA pubbers know who's buying the most books? WRITERS! but, then again, they aren't paying attention to what we're buying because the majority of books in our genre of choice aren't stuffed in the corner with the CBA titles. Well… a few are, but we forget they exist among the bonnets and buggies.

    Great post, Janalyn.Excited for your book's release!

  15. Thanks for the compliment on my video, Donna. I enjoyed putting it together.

    Sherryle, the books you mention all fall under the wider umbrella of "Fantasy." Medieval Fantasy is really a subgenre.

    S R, you made me smile. Many Christian fantasy authors give up on the CBA and write for the general market. It all depends on where you want your books to show up in bookstores.

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