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Confronted with complex questions in a fantasy world

I smiled to see Ed Power giving credit where it’s due in the development of the fantasy genre; I play Dungeons and Dragons too, and read Fritz Leiber and the rest. But he must have an ax to grind when he starts belittling J.R.R. Tolkien as “simplistic” and “prudish” (“What Tolkien didn’t do,” Ideas, Dec. 22). That’s a pretty naive view of Tolkien — and life.

Just because the swords-and-sorcery side of the genre explores “moral ambivalence” or celebrates “worldly and cynical” characters — and don’t get me wrong, I love Leiber’s Gray Mouser — doesn’t give it a higher level of moral sophistication.

The most complex questions of all confront us when we ask how to carry on through despair after our hopes have been dashed, or what temptation does to us, or how we rebuild despite destruction. Tolkien’s characters face this crucible of constructing meaning out of suffering. What could be more modern?

Power and Tolkien and the rest of us all inhabit the same difficult world. I love skulking through D&D co-creator Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk too, but when I need to figure out the hard times, Sam Gamgee and Frodo offer more wisdom than Power understands.


Frederick Martin