Second-Hand Elf

The Escapist has just published by newest article, a strange little thing called Second-Hand Elf. I’m quite proud of it, though I’m very aware that it may bother some people. I was considering preparing a list of responses to the most common objections (“Tolkien stole from everywhere!” – simply not true), but I ran out of time.

Still, this is a topic I feel very strongly about. Coincidentally (this was written months ago), I’m currently re-reading The Lord of the Rings, and that just reinforces the depth and grace of Tolkien’s vision, a vision that has been superficially copied but never successfully imitated.


  1. I’m building a fantasy world myself, and I definitely feel Tolkien’s shadow. It’s difficult to find the right balance between ignoring Tolkien and the decades of elaboration so that my creation is original, and keeping them in mind so that the world is both comprehensible and different from what has come before.

    I’ve got elves, but they’re more the cold, noble, aloof elves borrowing from the Norse, with little of the eternal sadness of Tolkien’s soon-to-be-forgotten elves.

  2. This was a beautiful read Jonas, that effectively showed how every commodity -no matter what- will eventually turn to shit. Or -to rephrase- the simple fact that everything -e.g. fantasy- capitalism touches will turn to shit. Loved it more, for the hopeful, creative, game-centered finale.

  3. Saul

    Very good article, and I wholeheartedly agree with most of your points. In the early days of gaming, using generic settings made sense, because they were known quantities that could help to orient the player’s understanding of the world. What was then engaging was the novelty that you are in that world, rather than just observing it. Those days are over – playing a game is no longer novel, and attention needs to be turned to original content.

    Just on your assertion that Tolkien’s vision has never been successfully imitated – there is a pen-and-paper role-playing game called The Burning Wheel that has recently come to my attention, which is heavily based around the work of Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin. I think it does a fairly impressive job of capturing the spirit of these works in the format of a game (albeit a different kind of game to what you’re discussing). It’s certainly a class apart from your Warcrafts and D&Ds.

  4. Thanks, everyone! (I’ll check out The Burning Wheel.)

    An important part of the article that most people seem to miss:

    It is not wrong to be inspired by the realm of Faerie; that has always been one of its main effects on humanity. But we are not speaking of inspiration. We are speaking of theft. Creatures are ripped from the worlds they belong to – not gently seduced with a song, or led with bold vision, but captured and sold on the market like wares.

    Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar books have dwarves and quasi-elves. But they’re beautiful; not as good as Tolkien’s, granted, but still beautiful. I had no problem with that, because Kay’s books were full of vision and passion and light. The lios alfar followed him willingly.

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