The Best Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Rip-off Ever!
With 2012 being the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit and Peter Jackson’s movie (or trilogy) coming out soon, there are certain to be a rip-off or two. And rip-offs might not be a bad thing. When you’re done reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (or done watching the movies), that’s it. There isn’t another Tolkien book or trilogy that’s the same thing.
JRR Tolkien also wrote The Silmarillion, but it’s more like a history/mythology book than a rousing story, and if I want to read about mythology or history, I’ll read about real mythology or history.
That’s just how I am now. When I heard that George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (also known as Game of Thrones) series was loosely based on the War of the Roses, I decided to read about the War of the Roses instead of the Ice and Fire series. Now I know more about English history, and I didn’t waste weeks upon weeks keeping up with a convoluted series that might not ever get finished.
WHAT IS A LORD OF THE RINGS RIP-OFF?
A book (or series) has to be more than fantasy to be a Hobbit/Lord of the Rings rip-off. It has to be fantasy, but it also has to have a quest, usually for some all-powerful object that must either be mastered or destroyed. Various fantasy critters (elves, dwarves, trolls, along with authors’ creations like hobbits and orcs) have to be involved (like a fantasy version of an old Benetton ad).
A lot of fantasy looks like a Hobbit/Lord of the Rings rip-off, but isn’t. Both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are about quests that require a journey through the fantasy land (in this case Middle Earth). Most fantasy stories have a journey of some kind, but that’s part of the genre. Alice journeyed through Wonderland. Dorothy journeyed through Oz. John Carter journeyed through Mars. And all of these were written before The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings.
The whole point of fantasy is to create another world and then exploring it. Writing a fantasy without a journey is like traveling to an exotic location and then staying in the hotel room all day to watch football (which I’ve done, and my wife was not happy).
BOOKS THAT AREN’T RIP-OFFS
Bored of the Rings– by National Lampoon
A parody is not the same thing as a rip-off, so this 1969 book does not count. Bored of the Rings is a really thin book, so people who won’t read Lord of the Rings can still laugh at Bored of the Rings. And they do. Bored of the Rings made me curious about what a dildo was (at the time, I didn’t understand why everybody laughed when I said the name Dildo Bugger).
In the 1970s, I couldn’t go see National Lampoon’s Animal House (cable television hadn’t been invented or hadn’t reached us yet), but I could read Bored of the Rings. Bored of the Rings was cool to people who hated Lord of the Rings. Other boys in junior high who read Lord of the Rings were getting swirlies in the public school boys room, and I was left alone simply because I had passed around my copy of Bored of the Rings.
Thank you, National Lampoon.
A Song of Ice and Fire (series also known as Game of Thrones)- by George R. R. Martin
Yes, the story can meander (like Lord of the Rings does occasionally). Yes, the production values of the HBO series look pretty good. But this fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy called sword and sorcery. Sword and sorcery is more about the blood and guts (and scantily clad women with no morals) than it is about the quest.
Conan the Barbarian stories (by Robert E. Howard) are probably the best in the sword and sorcery genre. They’re short. They get to the point. They’re well written. A Song of Ice and Fire may be well written (that’s debatable), but it’s not short, and it hasn’t gotten to the point yet (if it has one). I’ll be surprised if George R. R. Martin ever finishes the series.
It’s not a Lord of the Rings rip-off, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be the best one.
BOOKS THAT ARE RIP-OFFS (in my opinion)
Lord Foul’s Bane (trilogy)- by Stephen Donaldson
This came out at the time (late 1970s-early 1980s) a lot of the forgotten Lord of the Rings rip-offs came out. It has a lot of similarities (quest to Mount Thunder, powerful ring, trilogy), so (in my mind), it’s a rip-off. The trilogy starts off on Earth, and the guy wakes up in a fantasy land, so it’s also a rip-off of John Carter (or Alice in Wonderland) too.
Even as a kid (or young adult), the names in Lord Foul’s Bane kind of annoyed me: Lord Foul, Thomas Covenant, Drool. The author could have used a pen name like Stephen Hammeronthehead with the way he overdid the names. I read these in the early-to-mid 1980s, and I don’t remember a thing except thinking, “This is rip-off” and “These names are annoying.”
That’s okay. I’ve been told my writing style is annoying too. And I haven’t even written a trilogy yet.
AND THE BEST RIP-OFF IS…
The Sword of Shannara– by Terry Brooks
It has the quest. It has a Dildo… er… Bilbo/Frodo type character (Shea). It has a source of power that must be reckoned with (a sword). It even has a Gandalf-like figure (Allanon). A friend of mine in a 12-step program laughed when he read this book, saying something like, “Allanon’s trying to save the world. Typical Allanon.” I think you have to be in a 12-step program to get it.
Back in the 1970s, the Brothers Hildebrandt used to paint popular illustrations of scenes from Lord of the Rings (these made awesome calendars!). The Sword of Shannara is such a great rip-off that the Brothers Hildebrandt painted illustrations for this book too.
If you can look at a random series of Brothers Hildebrandt paintings and determine which ones are from Lord of the Rings and which ones are from Sword of Shannara, your reward is a swirly from a bunch of high school guys in the boys restroom.
The Sword of Shannara isn’t bad. Today’s readers who are unfamiliar with Tolkien’s influence probably prefer it over The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings (I’m not condoning such an attitude). The Sword of Shannara is such a great rip-off that the author is still writing Shannara books nearly 40 years later. Let’s see if people are reading A Song of Fire and Ice 40 years from now.
When people start celebrating 75 years of The Sword of Shannara, I’m really going to feel old.
Only 99 cents!! Only 99 cents!!
- The Hobbit 75th birthday celebrated worldwide (telegraph.co.uk)