Explore the realm of epic fantasy on the small screen! This blog post introduces 10 TV series adaptations, blending captivating storytelling with breathtaking visuals, for a magical escape.
For epic fantasy readers, the allure of immersive worlds, epic quests, and memorable characters can be an addictive escape.
Thankfully, the small screen has embraced the realm of epic fantasy, offering visually stunning adaptations that transport viewers to fantastical realms.
In this blog post, we present ten TV series for fans of epic fantasy, providing an enchanting blend of captivating storytelling and breathtaking visuals.
So, grab your popcorn and prepare for an adventure beyond the pages.
“Game of Thrones”
Based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, “Game of Thrones” quickly became a global phenomenon. Set in the fictional land of Westeros, this epic saga weaves together intricate political intrigues, gripping battles, and compelling character arcs. With its sprawling cast, morally complex characters, and unexpected plot twists, “Game of Thrones” sets the standard for epic fantasy television.
“The Witcher,” adapted from Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series, follows Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter in a dark and gritty world filled with magic and mythical creatures.
With its rich lore, complex narratives, and Henry Cavill’s charismatic portrayal of Geralt, this series captures the essence of the books and brings them to life with breathtaking visuals and intense action sequences.
“His Dark Materials”
Philip Pullman’s beloved trilogy comes to life in “His Dark Materials,” a visually stunning and emotionally resonant series.
Set in parallel worlds, it follows young Lyra Belacqua on a quest to uncover the truth behind mysterious phenomena.
With its intricate world-building, powerful themes, and exceptional performances from the cast, this adaptation captures the essence of Pullman’s enchanting universe.
While technically science fiction, “The Expanse” by James S.A. Corey offers a compelling blend of epic world-building and political intrigue.
Set in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, the series delves into a complex web of interplanetary conflicts and conspiracies. With its well-developed characters, thought-provoking themes, and gripping plotlines,
“The Expanse” will appeal to fans of epic fantasy looking for a dose of thrilling escapism.
“The Chronicles of Narnia”
“The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis has captivated readers for generations, and the TV adaptations bring these timeless tales to life with enchanting visuals and heartfelt storytelling.
Whether you journey to Narnia through “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” or “Prince Caspian,” these adaptations capture the wonder, magic, and profound messages of Lewis’ beloved series.
Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling series, “Outlander” transports viewers through time, weaving historical fiction, romance, and adventure.
Follow the story of Claire Randall, a World War II nurse who finds herself in 18th-century Scotland, caught in a tumultuous era of clan warfare and political intrigue.
With its captivating performances, breathtaking Scottish landscapes, and epic love story, “Outlander” offers a compelling blend of history and fantasy.
Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods” takes readers on a journey into a modern-day America where old gods clash with new ones.
The TV adaptation expands on Gaiman’s mythological tapestry, immersing viewers in a visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of faith, identity, and the power of belief.
With its stellar cast and evocative storytelling, “American Gods” offers a unique and captivating viewing experience.
“Shadow and Bone”
Based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, “Shadow and Bone” introduces viewers to a war-torn world where darkness threatens to engulf everything.
This series weaves together multiple storylines, introducing us to complex characters with extraordinary powers and high-stakes conflicts.
With its lush visuals, gripping storytelling, and interconnected narratives, “Shadow and Bone” delivers an epic fantasy experience.
“The Wheel of Time”
Robert Jordan’s beloved fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” is set to captivate audiences with its upcoming TV adaptation.
The story follows a group of individuals who are destined to play crucial roles in the battle between light and darkness.
With its sprawling world, rich mythology, and intricate plotlines, “The Wheel of Time” promises to be an epic journey for fans of the books.
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is a visually stunning prequel to Jim Henson’s beloved film.
Set in a magical world of Thra, this series employs puppetry and cutting-edge visual effects to tell an epic tale of rebellion against dark forces.
With its intricate puppet designs, immersive world-building, and compelling storytelling, this series is a treat for fans of epic fantasy seeking a unique and visually captivating experience.
Explore Tolkien’s lasting impact on fantasy, from Middle-earth’s intricate lore to its ripple effect in pop culture. Dive into the legacy of a mastermind.
Ah, Middle-earth. A place where hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men coexist, and where one tiny gold ring can cause a ruckus that would put a Black Friday sale to shame.
This world has been etched into our collective consciousness ever since J.R.R. Tolkien first introduced it in “The Lord of the Rings.”
Published in the 1950s, the epic tale not only transformed how we view fantasy, but it has left an indelible mark on, well, almost everything else.
Now, Tolkien didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “Hmm, I fancy writing about an overambitious piece of jewellery today.”
His motivations were as profound as Gandalf’s wisdom (and that’s saying something!).
He desired to craft an epic mythology for England, driven by his dismay at the lack of native legends that weren’t tampered with by the French (Norman conquest, anyone?).
Fuelled by his love for ancient texts, philology, and probably a pint or two from The Eagle and Child pub, Tolkien gave us a world that is astonishingly detailed and breathtakingly vast.
When it comes to the release of the series, it was no less than a literary event.
Starting with “The Fellowship of the Ring” in 1954, followed by “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”, the trilogy took readers by storm.
It’s worth noting that the term “trilogy” here is a bit of a misnomer—Tolkien saw his creation as a single novel but owing to practical reasons (like the sheer weight of the manuscript!), publishers divided it into three.
And while we’ll be diving deeper into the nitty-gritty of Middle-earth’s influence on world-building, the art of crafting languages, and the allure of epic quests that make our Monday mornings seem pretty mundane in comparison, this introduction is just to get your feet wet.
So, whether you’re an old fan who considers the Shire your second home, or a newbie just wondering what the fuss is all about, tighten your bootstraps, grab a lembas bread, and let’s embark on this enlightening journey together.
And remember, it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters—unless your destination is Mount Doom, in which case, you might want to reconsider.
If you’ve ever tried to create a sandcastle without any plans, tools, or, frankly, a clue, you’ll know it usually ends up looking more like a misshapen potato than a regal fortress.
World-building in fantasy is somewhat similar, albeit on a slightly more, let’s say, epic scale.
It’s one thing to say, “Here be dragons”, and another to elucidate the lineage, favourite snack, and probable Tinder profiles of said dragons. And that, dear reader, is the genius of Tolkien.
Middle-earth isn’t just any old land plucked from the depths of imagination—it’s a grand tapestry woven with millennia of history, songs that are probably older than your granny’s china, and cultures so rich and varied they make our annual village fêtes look like a tepid cup of tea.
Now, Tolkien didn’t merely give us a map with some catchy names and say, “Here you go, have fun”.
No, no. He gave us genealogies (who knew hobbits were such avid record keepers?), intricate languages that would flummox even the most dedicated Duolingo user, and a calendar system which would make even the most ardent timekeeper’s head spin.
And then there’s the vast, sweeping landscapes—from the cosy confines of the Shire, to the ethereal beauty of Rivendell, to the doom and gloom (mostly doom) of Mordor.
His world-building was, in every sense, a game-changer.
Before Tolkien, we had fairy tales and fables, but post-Middle-earth, fantasy authors everywhere probably felt the weight of expectation.
A few elves and a magic sword wouldn’t cut it anymore.
They had to think about ecosystems, geopolitics, and the socioeconomic implications of dragon hoarding.
Thanks to Tolkien’s meticulous attention to detail, the bar was set sky-high (somewhere around the level of the Eagles, I’d wager).
This is not just world-building—it’s world-crafting.
It’s the equivalent of meticulously painting the Sistine Chapel and then deciding it needs just a tad more gold leaf.
The sheer expansiveness of Middle-earth has since become the gold standard (pun very much intended) in the realm of fantasy.
The next time you dive into a book and find yourself immersed in the nuances of fictional trade agreements or the correct pronunciation of a witch queen’s third name, tip your hat to Tolkien.
The man didn’t just set the stage—he built the entire theatre.
Ah, language. It’s that nifty little thing we use to order a coffee, complain about the weather, or explain why we’re three hours late to a meeting (dragons on the motorway again, I swear).
But for Tolkien, language wasn’t just a tool—it was an art, a passion, and quite possibly, a bit of an obsession.
Just as Picasso had his Blue Period, Tolkien had his Elvish Phase.
Now, if you thought learning French was tricky, spare a thought for anyone diving into Quenya or Sindarin.
Tolkien, ever the overachiever, didn’t stop at creating a few fancy names or curse words.
No, he went the full monty, crafting fully-fledged languages with their own grammar, vocabulary, and scripts. This wasn’t just a hobby; it was philology on steroids.
Why, you ask? Well, Tolkien believed that language was intrinsic to culture and identity. You can’t have a millennia-old race of ethereal, long-haired beings without giving them a suitably poetic language to sing about moonlight and, erm, trees.
And, boy, did the Elves love trees.
But it wasn’t just about the Elves.
Dwarvish, the Black Speech of Mordor, the Westron Common Tongue—each was a testament to Tolkien’s belief in the power and beauty of language.
With his philological prowess, he demonstrated that fictional cultures feel significantly richer, more real, and more alive when their linguistic roots are deep and well-forged.
Aspiring authors everywhere surely threw up their hands in exasperation, realising that they now had to think about verb conjugations for their fictional species.
Gone were the days when a few ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ would suffice for creating linguistic depth.
Now, there was a new benchmark, and it came with its own alphabet.
Since Tolkien’s time, the importance of constructed languages (or ‘conlangs’ for those in the know) has blossomed.
Whether it’s George R.R. Martin’s Dothraki in Game of Thrones, or the Na’vi language in James Cameron’s Avatar, authors and creators have come to embrace the enriching depth that a well-crafted language can bring to a fictional universe.
Races and Creatures
Let’s turn our attention to the residents of Middle-earth.
Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits.
They might sound like the line-up for a particularly eclectic village talent show, but Tolkien’s depiction of these races transformed them from mere mythological footnotes to headline acts in the fantasy realm.
First up, the Elves.
Before Tolkien, if you mentioned elves, many would picture mischievous little sprites dancing in moonlit glades or cobbling shoes after hours.
Tolkien’s Elves, however, are a whole different kettle of fish. Tall, ethereal, and perpetually looking as if they’ve just stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, his Elves became the archetype for many a fantasy narrative. #
Laden with history, tragedy, and an elegance that would put any catwalk model to shame, Tolkien’s Elves transcended their previous roles in folklore.
Then we have the Dwarves, stout and sturdy, known not only for their impressive beards (a hipster’s dream) but also for their craftsmanship and love of all things glittery.
Under Tolkien’s touch, they became a fiercely proud race with a deep sense of honour and tradition.
Gone were the mere tunnel-digging stereotypes of Disney’s Snow White—these Dwarves had culture, history, and yes, a penchant for breaking into song every now and then.
And who could forget the Hobbits?
Tolkien’s unique creation, these unassuming little folk with their furry feet and insatiable appetite for second breakfasts, captured hearts worldwide.
They might not have the ethereal beauty of Elves or the might of Dwarves, but their courage, resilience, and love for the simple pleasures of life resonated deeply with readers.
Now, it’s true, Tolkien didn’t pluck these races out of thin air.
Mythology and folklore brim with references to elf-like creatures, dwarvish beings, and other fantastical species.
However, what he did was infuse them with a depth and richness previously unseen.
They weren’t just cardboard cut-outs used to further a plot; they had histories, legends, grievances, and dreams.
And it’s this depth that has cemented Tolkien’s races as touchstones in the fantasy genre.
Many a writer has (shamelessly or otherwise) borrowed, adapted, or been ‘inspired by’ Tolkien’s interpretations.
When we think of Elves or Dwarves in modern fantasy settings, the image is often tinted with a shade of Tolkien.
Step onto the stage of Middle-earth and you’ll be greeted by a cast of characters so iconic, they’ve practically stamped their faces (or in some cases, their precious rings) onto the very essence of fantasy storytelling.
While Tolkien didn’t invent all of these archetypes, he certainly gave them a fresh coat of paint, a new lease of life, and an unshakeable place in our collective imaginations.
First in the spotlight, we have Frodo Baggins, the poster child for the “reluctant hero”.
Here’s a chap who’d rather be munching on crumpets in Bag End than traipsing across Middle-earth with the weight of the world (and a particularly heavy ring) on his shoulders.
Frodo’s journey from the comfort of the Shire to the fiery depths of Mount Doom is the quintessential transformation from ordinary to extraordinary.
Tolkien shows us that heroes aren’t just made on battlefields; they’re made in the quiet moments, the hard choices, and the persistence to keep going even when the nearest tavern is miles away.
With his pointy hat, majestic beard, and penchant for puffing on a pipe, he might seem like your typical wizard at first glance.
But Gandalf is so much more than a spell-slinger. He’s the guiding hand, the voice of wisdom, and occasionally, the bringer of fireworks.
He’s the mentor who knows when to lead, when to step back, and when to, quite literally, send you on an unexpected journey.
Thanks to Tolkien, a whole generation of fantasy authors saw the merits of having a seasoned character who’s seen it all, done it all, and still has a few tricks up their billowing sleeves.
And, of course, we can’t forget Gollum, the corrupted creature torn between his better nature and his overwhelming desire for the One Ring.
Gollum is the epitome of the “corrupted being”, a living, rasping testament to the corrupting nature of power and obsession.
While he might be a far cry from the typical villain with a dastardly plan, he’s a chilling reminder that sometimes, the greatest battles are fought within.
While characters like these can be traced back to ancient myths, legends, and folktales, Tolkien’s portrayal of them set a benchmark. His characters weren’t just archetypes; they were layered, complex beings who laughed, cried, struggled, and triumphed.
Their journeys have since become the yardstick against which many a fantasy character is measured.
Once upon a time, in the heart of Middle-earth, there was a ring. Not just any ring, mind you, but the One Ring, the sort of jewellery piece that could make entire kingdoms fall and rise.
And at the centre of “The Lord of the Rings” is the monumental quest to bid this little trinket adieu in the fiery chasms of Mount Doom.
Sounds simple enough, right? Ah, but as with anything Tolkien touched, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
The concept of the “quest” is as old as storytelling itself.
From ancient myths where heroes sought golden fleeces or fire-breathing foes, to legends of knights chasing after elusive grails, the idea of embarking on a journey, facing insurmountable odds, and returning transformed is a tale as old as time.
However, Tolkien didn’t merely dabble in this time-honoured narrative; he supercharged it.
The quest to destroy the One Ring is not just a trek across scenic landscapes (though there are plenty of those).
It’s a multi-layered journey—physically gruelling, emotionally harrowing, and spiritually awakening.
Every step taken by Frodo and the Fellowship is laden with peril, moral dilemmas, and the ever-present shadow of the enemy. It’s a marathon of endurance, courage, and resisting the urge to simply wear the darn thing.
Tolkien’s take on the epic quest wasn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B. It was about the transformation of its participants, the forging and breaking of alliances, and the understanding that even the most epic of quests is, at its heart, a deeply personal journey.
Since the publication of “The Lord of the Rings”, the epic quest has become a cornerstone of fantasy literature.
Need to overthrow a dark lord? Quest! Misplaced a magical artefact? Quest! Got a prophecy about a chosen one? You guessed it, quest!
While the objectives vary, the essence remains the same: characters pushed to their limits, facing both external challenges and internal conflicts, all while navigating a world brimming with wonder and danger.
Peel back the layers of orcs, elves, and a rather peculiar obsession with pipe-weed, and at the heart of Tolkien’s magnum opus lies a rich tapestry of moral themes.
These aren’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill dilemmas like whether to have a second helping of elevenses (though, that’s certainly a quandary many a hobbit has faced). No, these are the weighty, sit-up-straight-and-think-hard kind of themes, the sort that have been echoing down the corridors of fantasy literature ever since.
First and foremost, there’s the age-old tussle between good and evil. Middle-earth is rife with it.
From the lofty towers of Minas Tirith to the shadowy depths of Mordor, every nook and cranny seems to be choosing a side. But Tolkien, ever the maestro, doesn’t just paint this battle in broad strokes of black and white.
There’s nuance, ambiguity, and a fair bit of moral greyness (we’re looking at you, Boromir).
It’s a gentle reminder that even in a world bursting with magic, the lines between right and wrong can often be as blurry as a wizard’s vision after one too many ales.
Next up, we have the oh-so-seductive corrupting influence of power, best epitomised by that shiny bit of finger jewellery: the One Ring.
How many have been ensnared by its allure, whispering promises of grandeur and dominion?
From proud kings to a certain gangly creature who’s overly fond of referring to himself in third person, the One Ring’s grip shows that unchecked power can lead even the noblest souls astray.
In Tolkien’s world, the true measure of a hero isn’t their strength or cunning, but their ability to resist temptation and wield power responsibly.
And then, there’s perhaps the most heartwarming theme of all—the idea that even the tiniest individual, someone who might be overlooked in the bustling crowd of Middle-earth, can be the catalyst for monumental change.
You don’t need to be a seven-foot-tall warrior or a sorcerer with a flair for the dramatic. Sometimes, all it takes is a humble hobbit with a good heart (and possibly an appetite for adventure that matches his appetite for scones).
Since Tolkien laid down his pen, these moral threads have woven their way into the fabric of countless tales, sagas, and epics.
Authors across the globe have grappled with, expanded upon, and reimagined these themes in myriad ways.
Magic and Its Limitations
If you’ve ever dreamt of attending a school of witchcraft and wizardry in Middle-earth, best shelve those dreams.
Because magic in Tolkien’s world doesn’t come in handy, colour-coded textbooks or involve shouting Latin-ish phrases while brandishing a wand.
Middle-earth magic is a different beast altogether—subtle, ancient, and as elusive as a well-behaved oliphaunt.
In many fantasy tales, magic is the solution to all life’s little problems.
Need to light up a room? There’s a spell for that. Fancy turning your pesky neighbour into a toad? There’s probably a spell for that too (though, not endorsed for everyday use).
However, in Middle-earth, magic is less about dazzling displays of power and more about the intangible, the ineffable. It’s in the haunting songs of the Elves, the ancient wisdom of the Ents, or even in the resilience of a hobbit’s spirit.
And when overt magic does make an appearance – say, in the guise of a certain grey-clad wizard – it’s often shrouded in mystery and reverence.
But here’s the real kicker—magic in Tolkien’s realm often comes with strings attached. Or, to be more precise, consequences.
The One Ring grants invisibility, but wear it too often and you might just find yourself hosting a permanent Ringwraith party (spoiler: they’re not the fun kind).
Even mighty artefacts like the Palantíri or the Silmarils, for all their allure and power, are double-edged swords, bringing both great insight and potential doom.
This nuanced approach to magic—where it’s less about the spectacular and more about the significant, where every spell or magical act carries weight and consequence—has left an indelible mark on the fantasy genre.
Later authors, drawing inspiration from Tolkien, have woven intricate magical systems, ensuring that magic isn’t just a tool but an integral, living part of their world.
They’ve recognised that, sometimes, the most powerful magic lies not in the grand gestures but in the small moments, and that every action, magical or otherwise, ripples through their world in myriad ways.
Imagine for a moment you’re a visitor in Tolkien’s study (tea and crumpets optional, but highly recommended).
One glance at his desk and you might wonder if he’s chronicling the rich tapestry of an ancient civilisation, given the sheer depth and intricacy of the papers strewn about.
But no, this isn’t history homework gone awry—it’s the painstaking crafting of Middle-earth’s millennia-spanning backstory, complete with its heroes, villains, love stories, betrayals, and a good number of epic ballads to serenade the lot.
Before “The Lord of the Rings” even gets its boots muddy in the Shire, Tolkien had crafted entire ages of his world’s history.
This wasn’t just a cursory timeline scribbled on the back of an envelope.
We’re talking detailed accounts of creation myths, family trees more complicated than a soap opera, entire languages (with their evolving dialects, no less), and sagas that would make ancient bards nod in appreciation.
“The Silmarillion”, often dubbed Middle-earth’s own Bible, is just the tip of this monumental iceberg.
Now, while creating exhaustive backstories might sound like an author’s way of ensuring they never run out of procrastination material, it’s far more than that.
By grounding Middle-earth in such rich history and mythology, Tolkien gave it weight, depth, and a tangible sense of timelessness.
Every hill, every forest, every ancient ruin in Middle-earth whispers tales of yore, imbuing the landscape with a poignant sense of both wonder and melancholy.
It’s this depth that makes us feel, when stepping into Middle-earth, that we’re delving into a realm as ancient and storied as our own.
Tolkien’s dedication to crafting Middle-earth’s deep past wasn’t just a hobby run amok; it set a gold standard for the fantasy genre.
Authors who followed in his footsteps realised that to truly immerse readers, their worlds needed history, legends, and the occasional epic ballad.
It’s no longer enough to simply introduce a mystical city; readers now yearn to know who built it, which star-crossed lovers met beneath its silvered arches, and, naturally, which legendary figures might have sung a melancholic tune about it all.
Pop open a copy of “The Lord of the Rings” and before you even reach a word of the tale, you’re greeted by an elaborate tapestry of coastlines, mountain ranges, forests, and the winding roads of Middle-earth.
It’s not just any map; it’s a visual feast, a cartographic love letter to the world Tolkien so meticulously crafted.
You see, Tolkien understood something vital: A good map does more than just show you the way from the Shire to Mordor (though it’s rather handy for that, too)—it plunges you, heart and soul, into the very landscape of the tale.
Now, you might wonder, why such fuss over a bunch of lines and names on paper?
Well, beyond the obvious delight of tracing Frodo’s perilous journey with a finger, or getting a bird’s-eye view of Gondor’s strategic location, there’s something deeply immersive about a well-crafted map.
It beckons the reader to wander, to explore, to daydream about adventures in the vast swathes of land labelled with tantalising terms like “Here Be Dragons” or “Mirkwood” (adventures that hopefully don’t involve too many spiders).
And here’s where Tolkien, the astute pioneer he was, sparked a cartographic revolution in fantasy literature.
Realising that a map could serve as a reader’s anchor, allowing them to ground themselves in a tale’s sprawling geography, he not only provided a reference tool but also an artefact that enriched the very essence of his story.
Emboldened by this, many a fantasy author soon followed suit.
Gone were the days when readers had to blindly navigate through the treacherous terrains and sprawling cities of fantastical realms.
Now, they could embark on their literary adventures equipped with detailed maps, ready to explore every nook and cranny, from the highest mountain peak to the tiniest hamlet.
Songs and Poetry
Ever found yourself wandering through the lush fields of the Shire, wishing you had a jaunty tune to express your delight? Or perhaps, while skulking in the depths of a dark cave, you’ve felt an inexplicable urge to unravel a riddle?
Well, you’re in good company, for Tolkien too realised that sometimes, the heart’s yearnings and the world’s wonders can’t simply be contained within the bounds of regular sentences. Enter: songs, poems, and riddles.
Now, Tolkien didn’t merely toss these into his tales for a bit of flamboyant flair.
Each song, each poem, each cryptic riddle is a thread woven into the rich tapestry of Middle-earth.
They breathe life into bygone eras, serenade heroes of old, and capture the essence of various races, from the lofty laments of the Elves to the earthy ballads of the Dwarves.
They’re like snapshots, preserving moments and emotions from Middle-earth’s vast chronicles.
Take, for instance, the mournful song of the Ents, lamenting lost Entwives.
In its haunting verses, readers don’t just see the sorrow of ancient tree-herders but also feel the weight of ages gone by.
Or consider Bilbo’s cheeky riddle-game with Gollum; it’s not just a battle of wits but a cultural exchange, giving glimpses into their respective worlds.
Tolkien’s genius lay in recognising that such literary devices could be more than just decorative flourishes.
They could deepen the reader’s immersion, making the world feel ancient and lived-in.
After all, what better way to understand a culture or a people than through their art, their folklore, their songs?
And, as with many of Tolkien’s innovations, this symphony of words didn’t go unnoticed.
Subsequent fantasy authors, inspired by the maestro, began to weave their own anthems, ballads, and enigmas into their narratives.
Realising that these could be conduits to the very soul of their worlds, they embraced this harmonious approach with gusto.
Standard for Trilogies
Picture this: Tolkien, after years of painstaking work, finally hands over his magnum opus, expecting it to be embraced as the singular epic it was intended to be.
Instead, the publishers, probably after a dramatic gulp and a long stare at the sheer bulk of the manuscript, decide, “Let’s slice it into three parts.”
And just like that, instead of one colossal volume of “The Lord of the Rings”, we got a triad: “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers”, and “The Return of the King”.
Now, this wasn’t just a whimsical decision to test the strength of bookshelves worldwide.
In the post-war era, with economic considerations like paper shortages, publishing such a monolithic tome wasn’t just challenging; it was near-impossible.
Splitting the narrative into three distinct parts was a practical solution, and it turned out to be a stroke of unforeseen genius.
This unintentional trilogy inadvertently laid down a blueprint for fantasy literature.
The three-act structure, inherent in most great narratives, found a perfect fit in the trilogy format.
The setup, the confrontation, and the resolution naturally flowed into three separate volumes, each with its own peaks and troughs, yet contributing to a larger, cohesive narrative.
Other fantasy authors took note. Suddenly, trilogies became the order of the day.
They allowed for expansive world-building, intricate character development, and plots that could twist and turn over hundreds of pages before reaching a satisfying climax.
Think about it: how many times have you picked up a promising fantasy book, only to realise it’s the first in a trilogy? That’s Tolkien’s (and his publisher’s) legacy at work.
The split not only benefited Tolkien’s tale, giving readers natural breaks to catch their breaths from all the hobbit-hopping and orc-chopping, but it also reshaped the very structure of epic fantasy.
Authors and publishers alike recognised the merits of the trilogy format, both in terms of storytelling and, let’s face it, sales.
In the end, “The Lord of the Rings” being carved into thirds was serendipity at its finest.
And the fantasy realm? It found its golden standard in the trilogy.
Influence on Popular Culture
It began with a ring, a rather unassuming bit of gold that unexpectedly embarked on an epic journey. And as that journey unfolded, it didn’t just stay confined to the inked pages of Tolkien’s world.
Like a particularly ambitious hobbit, “The Lord of the Rings” stepped out of its cosy literary Shire and ventured into every nook and cranny of popular culture.
Let’s begin with the most luminous of these footprints: the film adaptations.
Peter Jackson’s cinematic rendition didn’t just give faces to beloved characters—it painted Middle-earth in vivid, breathtaking strokes.
From the serene vistas of Rivendell to the looming menace of Mount Doom, the films captured imaginations and box offices alike.
What’s more, they heralded an era where epic fantasy, once reserved for bookish types whispering about wizards in dimly lit corners, was suddenly front and centre, dazzling audiences in IMAX.
But the silver screen was merely one stop in Middle-earth’s pop culture conquest.
The enchanting realms of Tolkien’s creation morphed into pixelated landscapes in video games, allowing fans to personally duel with Balrogs or, at the very least, engage in a spot of orc-bothering.
Board games saw players strategically navigating the perils of Middle-earth, and if you’ve ever played a tabletop RPG, you’ve Tolkien to thank for those elves, dwarves, and halflings on your character sheets.
Beyond the realms of entertainment, Middle-earth even carved a niche in the very fabric of our real world.
Case in point: New Zealand.
Those once-quiet islands, known for their sheep and rugby, now also stand as the living, breathing embodiment of Tolkien’s landscape.
Tourists, in their droves, descend upon its shores, eager to tread the very ground that Frodo and Sam did (cinematically, at least).
The nation embraced its Middle-earthen identity with arms wide open, showcasing to the world the sheer transformative power of a well-told tale.
“The Lord of the Rings” demonstrated that epic fantasy wasn’t just a niche genre, destined to gather dust on high library shelves.
It could be a cultural powerhouse, influencing entire industries, from cinema to tourism.
It proved that tales of heroism, magic, and Middle-earthen mischief weren’t just for a select few but had a universal appeal, resonating with hearts across the globe.
Tolkien’s Timeless Tapestry
Piecing together threads from ancient myths, age-old legends, and rich literary traditions, Tolkien didn’t merely write a story—he spun a masterpiece.
Each thread, meticulously selected, became part of a grander tapestry, depicting a world as detailed and tangible as our own.
Yes, the myths he drew from were not his invention.
Elves had sung their songs and dwarves had swung their axes long before Bilbo decided adventures weren’t so bad after all.
Yet, Tolkien’s genius lay not in the invention of entirely new threads, but in the way he wove them together.
By infusing his academic expertise with a boundless imagination, he gave these tales a fresh lustre, making them shine in ways they hadn’t before.
The landscapes of Middle-earth, the languages of its races, the trials of its heroes and the depths of its lore are, in themselves, wonders to behold.
But their sum?
It’s magical in the truest sense of the word.
“The Lord of the Rings” is not just a narrative—it’s an experience.
One that invites readers to lose themselves in its pages and then compels them to see the world with renewed wonder.
Fast forward to today, and the echoes of Tolkien’s impact are evident in every corner of popular culture.
Whether it’s an author meticulously crafting their fantasy world, a filmmaker attempting to capture the same lightning in a bottle, or a game designer sculpting realms of adventure—all bear traces of Tolkien’s influence, knowingly or otherwise.
In wrapping up this exploration of Tolkien’s influence, one thing is abundantly clear—his vision of Middle-earth, though rooted in the past, is timeless.
As generations of readers have found, and future generations will surely discover, in the heart of Tolkien’s work lies a universal truth—the power of storytelling to captivate, inspire, and bring a touch of magic to the everyday.
To put it simply, while others have penned tales, Tolkien cast spells.
And the enchantment of Middle-earth? Well, it’s far from wearing off.
10 Modern Fantasy Novels Inspired by The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien’s influence on modern fantasy literature remains unmatched.
Many authors cite Tolkien’s epic tale of hobbits, elves, dwarves and men as a major inspiration for their own fantasy worlds and stories.
Here are 10 modern fantasy novels that show traces of Tolkien’s imaginative genius:
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Martin’s gritty, morally ambiguous fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire owes a debt to Tolkien in its sprawling worldbuilding and epic scope.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle centres around Kvothe, a legendary figure with mysterious powers. Echoes of Tolkien’s depiction of wizards like Gandalf can be seen in this fan-favourite fantasy series.
This action-packed tale follows elite thief Locke Lamora in a city that evokes comparisons to Tolkien’s Minas Tirith. The unlikely hero and meticulous world-building are reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings.
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Abercrombie’s gritty First Law trilogy subverts many common fantasy tropes, but its emphasis on flawed heroes and anti-heroes is somewhat Tolkien-esque.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Pullman’s acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy contains many overt references to The Lord of the Rings. From colleges of wizards to speaking animal companions, the influences are clear.
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
This debut novel kicked off Brett’s Demon Cycle series about humans battling demonic forces. The unlikely hero trope and focus on apocalyptic stakes are very Tolkien-inspired.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson’s Mistborn books centre around a dark lord ruling over the world, which many view as inspired by Sauron and Mordor from The Lord of the Rings.
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
Jordan’s mammoth Wheel of Time saga features Tolkien-style worldbuilding, with similarly sprawling geography and epic magical systems.
Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels depict an epic struggle to overthrow an evil emperor, not unlike the Dark Lord Sauron. The unlikely hero trope also makes an appearance.
The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
This opening novel in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn employs many Lord of the Rings elements, from elves and dwarves to a mysterious magical sword.
Uncover the enchanting influence of mythology and folklore on the high fantasy genre. Join us on a journey through epic quests, magical realms, and prophetic tales of dragons and wizards.
Today, we shall embark on an heroic journey through the realms of mythology and folklore, delving into their influence on the high fantasy genre.
So, grab a cup of tea, settle into your favourite armchair, and prepare to be regaled with tales of dragons, wizards, and all manner of mythical beasts.
A Brief History Lesson
Before we dive headfirst into the fantastical world of high fantasy, let us take a brief detour through the mists of time to explore the origins of mythology and folklore.
From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, we humans have always had a penchant for spinning yarns about mythical beings and grand adventures.
It’s no wonder, then, that these stories have left an indelible mark on the genre of high fantasy, providing a veritable treasure trove of inspiration for authors, both old and new.
Now, let us examine some of the most well-known mythological and folkloric elements that have found their way into high fantasy literature.
Magic is as old as storytelling itself.
In the ancient myths of Greece, we see the witch Circe using her magic to transform Odysseus’s crew into pigs.
Meanwhile, in Norse tales, we have the Allfather Odin, who’s not shy about using a bit of the old magical arts, even if it involves plucking out an eye for wisdom.
Now, let’s swap our ancient scrolls for the glossy covers of modern high fantasy, where the mystical mumbo jumbo continues to enthral.
In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, magic is a complex system of checks and balances, involving ingesting and ‘burning’ metals.
It’s not quite “eye of newt, and toe of frog,” but it sure keeps the plot turning faster than a witch’s cauldron.
In Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle, magic, or Sympathy as it’s known, is a bit like a university degree—demanding, dangerous, and very likely to leave you in masses of debt.
Whether it’s transforming spells of yore or the arcane arts in our beloved high fantasy sagas, magic continues to captivate us, sparking our imagination and making us check twice in wardrobes for secret worlds.
Ever since our cave-dwelling ancestors first etched a hunter’s journey onto a rock wall, humanity has been captivated by tales of epic quests.
After all, who doesn’t love a good yarn about some plucky hero venturing out into the unknown to slay monsters, find treasure, or pop to the shops for a pint of milk?
When it comes to ancient literature, the quest narrative is as ubiquitous as a rainy Manchester afternoon.
These quests are typically bold undertakings filled with wondrous adventures, strange creatures, and a spot of character development for our heroic protagonists.
Most importantly, they’ve served as inspiration for the modern high fantasy tales we love so dearly today.
One of the oldest examples of the epic quest narrative comes from Mesopotamia in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Here, our eponymous hero Gilgamesh and his beefy buddy Enkidu venture into the Cedar Forest to square up against the beastly Humbaba.
It’s all for the sake of fame and glory, and it sets the stage for all subsequent epic quests.
After all, what’s a bit of casual monster-slaying between friends, eh?
Meanwhile, the ancient Greeks were not ones to be outdone in the epic quest department.
The Odyssey, one of the West’s oldest and most beloved epics, recounts Odysseus’s ten-year struggle to return home after the Trojan War. Along the way, he encounters cyclopes (who are not very fond of wine, it turns out), enchantresses, and cantankerous gods—a full roster of fantastical beings that wouldn’t feel out of place in a modern fantasy epic.
Now, fast forward a few millennia and we can see how these ancient quests inspire our beloved high fantasy narratives.
We can see these tropes in modern high fantasy tales, too.
Think of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, where numerous characters venture on epic quests, from Jon Snow’s journey beyond the Wall to Daenerys Targaryen’s path to reclaim her throne.
Not to mention her penchant for raising fire-breathing pets, which beats goldfish any day.
The point is, the epic quest, while thousands of years old, is a narrative we never grow tired of.
Perhaps it’s the sense of adventure, the battle against the odds, or just the joy of watching a character grow from zero to hero (or in some cases, zero to slightly-better-zero).
But no matter the reason, it’s clear that the epic quests of ancient literature continue to echo in our modern tales, providing a rich tapestry of inspiration for authors and a bounty of exciting tales for readers.
If there’s one thing that gets our literary pulses racing, it’s a good old prophecy.
Whether it’s foretelling the rise of a hero, the fall of a villain, or the precise moment your kettle will boil (usually when you’ve nipped to the loo), prophecies are a storytelling staple that never seems to lose its flavour.
From the mysterious riddles of the ancient world to the plot-twisting predicaments of modern high fantasy, prophecies are the Worcestershire sauce of narrative condiments.
They add a bit of zest, a dash of mystery, and a generous helping of ‘what on earth is going to happen next?’
When it comes to the classics, the Greeks really knew how to spin a prophetic yarn.
The Oracle of Delphi was a one-stop shop for all your prophetic needs. However, like the small print in a dodgy phone contract, her prophecies were often quite vague and open to interpretation.
A classic example can be found in Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex. The prophecy stated that Oedipus would end up doing in his dad and marrying his mum.
Attempting to avoid this awkward family reunion, Oedipus legs it to a different city, bumps off a stranger (who, surprise surprise, turns out to be his dad), and marries the local widow (you can guess where this is going).
The lesson? When it comes to prophecy, you can run but you can’t hide.
Fast-forward a few millennia, and the tradition of cryptic prophecies is alive and well in the realm of high fantasy. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is a smorgasbord of prophecies, dreams, and visions.
The ‘prince who was promised’ prophecy, for instance, has kept readers and characters alike guessing.
Is it Jon Snow? Daenerys? Or Hot Pie? We’re still waiting for that one to bake.
J.K. Rowling also serves up a fresh prophecy in her Harry Potter series. Professor Trelawney’s prediction that a boy born at the end of July would be the one to vanquish Lord Voldemort sets the stage for the entire series.
Spoiler alert: it’s not Neville. Though let’s be honest, Neville had his moments…
These prophecies, like their ancient predecessors, work because they create suspense and drive the narrative.
They offer a tantalising glimpse of what might come to pass, without giving the game away.
In a nutshell, prophecies are like that friend who hints at a surprise birthday party but refuses to give any details.
It’s maddening, exciting, and keeps us on our toes.
They’ve been a part of storytelling for thousands of years, adding spice to our myths, folklore, and high fantasy tales.
Otherworldly realms have mystified mankind since time immemorial.
From gloomy underworlds to luminous fairylands, these magical domains have played pivotal roles in mythology and folklore, and continue to captivate us in the realms of modern fantasy.
First on our itinerary is the underworld, a staple in many mythologies.
Arguably the most famous is the Greek underworld, ruled by the god Hades. Yes, that’s right, even in the afterlife there’s still bureaucracy.
But, bear in mind, if you’re planning a visit, be sure to avoid the local cuisine—Persephone can attest to the unfortunate side effects of indulging in a seemingly innocent pomegranate seed snack.
In Nordic mythology, we have Valhalla, the eternal feasting hall where Viking heroes spend their afterlives in a continuous cycle of fighting and feasting.
It’s sort of like a never-ending stag do, but with more axes and less curry.
Then there’s Fairyland, a realm full of magic and mischief, traditionally accessed via portals in the natural world, like rings of mushrooms or ancient hawthorn trees.
Be wary of their hospitality, though, or you might find yourself stuck there for a few centuries.
Now, let’s step through the wardrobe (mind the coats) into the world of modern fantasy.
First off, there’s the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, which takes the concept of other realms to a whole new level with the idea of parallel universes.
Here we see everything from our own recognisable world to the eerily beautiful realm of Cittàgazze, a city haunted by soul-eating spectres.
It’s like Venice, but with fewer gondolas and more terror.
And let’s not forget the mystical lands in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.
Through a humble wardrobe, we’re transported to a land where animals talk, witches have a worrisome obsession with Turkish Delight, and wardrobes are definitely larger on the inside.
And no exploration of other realms in fantasy would be complete without mentioning the realm of Faerie in Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince series.
In these books, we encounter a realm both breathtakingly beautiful and chillingly brutal, reminding us that other realms, like people, have their dark and light sides.
Other realms serve as reminders of the infinite possibilities of the human imagination.
They give us space to explore complex ideas, confront our deepest fears, and maybe even encounter a unicorn or two.
Just remember, if you do decide to venture into another realm, be sure to read the small print, respect the local customs, and whatever you do, don’t eat the food.
Gods and Demigods
Gods and demigods are powerful beings whose exploits have coloured our narratives from the earliest myths to the most recent fantasy yarns.
First off, we have the gods, our divine heavyweights.
From the chiselled Olympians of ancient Greece, to the Norse pantheon chilling in Valhalla, these celestial beings wield power that can shape the earth, command the elements, and, apparently, complicate the lives of mortals.
Next up, the demigods—the result of divine dalliances with mortals.
These half-god, half-human hybrids often find themselves in the middle of epic quests, world-saving, and a lot of identity crisis.
From Hercules to Perseus, these guys are proof that having a god for a parent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Gods, in their majestic might, have found a cosy home in stories like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, where they tackle the peculiar nuances of modern life. I
Demigods, meanwhile, have stamped their heroic mark in series like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books.
Whether it’s the awe-inspiring power of gods, or the relatable struggles of demigods, these divine figures from ancient lore continue to cast their influence on our modern high fantasy tales.
What’s the first image that pops into your head when I say “witch?”
A cackling crone with a pointy hat, a warty nose, and an affection for cats and broomsticks?
Perhaps an eye of newt and toe of frog recipe?
Or, if you’re more aligned with modern high fantasy, a powerful and complex figure with a deep understanding of the arcane arts?
Regardless of your witchy vision, there’s no denying that these spellbinding ladies have left an indelible mark on literature and folklore, from the ancient world to Terry Pratchett’s beloved Discworld series.
Our earliest witchy wanderings take us back to ancient Greece, where the witch-goddess Circe made a name for herself in Homer’s Odyssey.
Circe had a penchant for turning men into pigs.
However, she wasn’t all about the porcine transformation; she also helped our hero Odysseus on his epic journey home, showing us that witches can be just as helpful as they are harmful.
Skipping ahead a few centuries, we meet the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Weird Sisters.
With their eerie chants of “Double, double toil and trouble,” they whip up a storm of trouble for our ambitious antihero.
They’re a classic example of the trope of witches as foretellers of doom and spreaders of chaos. And let’s face it, they’ve got a cracking recipe for disaster soup.
Now, hold onto your hats, folks, because we’re hopping on our broomsticks and soaring into the modern realm of high fantasy.
One needn’t look further than the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for some of the most iconic and subversive witches in fantasy literature.
Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick (later replaced by the adorably feisty Tiffany Aching) are the witches of the ramshackle kingdom of Lancre.
They don’t fit the stereotypical mould of cackling, evil hags. Instead, they use their headology (a sort of folk-psychology-meets-common-sense approach), their knowledge of herbs and the human heart, and their innate grit to solve problems.
Granny Weatherwax, with her iron will and no-nonsense attitude, is the antithesis of the evil witch trope.
Nanny Ogg is the bawdy, jovial matriarch we all wish we had, while Magrat and Tiffany represent the idealistic, modern young witch trying to find her place in the world.
Pratchett’s witches are fully-realised characters, complete with strengths, weaknesses, and wonderfully quirky habits (we’re looking at you, Nanny Ogg and your naughty songs).
Over the year, witches have evolved from malicious spell-weavers and fortune-tellers into complex, multi-faceted characters.
They’ve gone from the sidelines of myth and folklore to the forefront of modern high fantasy, casting a spell that continues to enchant readers of all ages.
Whether you picture a bearded old man in a pointy hat or a bespectacled boy with a lightning bolt scar, there’s no doubt that wizards have cast a spell over our literary imaginations.
From their beginnings in ancient folklore to their lofty status in modern high fantasy, these magical maestros have had quite the journey.
Our first stop is in ancient Egypt, where we meet the high priest Djedi, who was said to be able to bring a decapitated animal back to life.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but I’d say resurrecting a goose definitely earns you a spot in the wizarding hall of fame.
Returning to ancient Greece, we encounter Medea. his enchantress, who appears in the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece, certainly knew her way around a spell or two.
She could mix potions, control the elements, and generally bewitch anyone who got in her way. Although technically a witch, Medea’s powers and influence over the narrative can be seen as a precursor to our modern understanding of a wizard.
Moving on to the Medieval era, the figure of Merlin emerges in Arthurian legends.
Now, here’s a bloke who truly embodies the classic image of a wizard.
With his long beard, mysterious origins, and propensity for prophecies, Merlin set the standard for wizard-kind for centuries to come.
The mighty Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a wizard par excellence.
He’s old, wise, and can put on a fireworks display to put New Year’s Eve in London to shame.
Plus, he’s got that killer line, “You shall not pass!” which is handy not only when facing demon Balrogs but also when dealing with queue jumpers at the local chippy.
On the flip-side of a Merlin or Gandalf, we have Terry Pratchett’s wizard Rincewind from the Discworld series.
Now, Rincewind’s not your typical wizard—in fact, he’s rather rubbish at magic.
His true talent lies in running away and surviving against all odds, demonstrating that sometimes, it’s not the strength of the magic that matters, but the strength of the character.
And who could forget the wizarding world’s most famous teenager, Harry Potter?
This bespectacled boy wizard has undoubtedly left his mark (much like that pesky lightning bolt scar of his) on the world of fantasy literature, bringing magic and wizardry to a new generation of readers.
From elves to pixies, and gnomes to dwarves, these small humanoids may be lacking in height but are positively brimming with character.
Our first stop is ancient Ireland, where we encounter the mischievous leprechaun.
This little green chappie, with his propensity for shoe-mending and rainbow-hoarding, is a cornerstone of Irish mythology.
But be warned, if you’re planning on nabbing his pot of gold, remember this: leprechauns are not to be trifled with.
Journeying northwards, we find ourselves amid the Viking sagas and their hardy dwarves.
These stout fellows were renowned for their craftsmanship, forging legendary items such as Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir.
Then, there’s the realm of the fairy folk, sprinkled throughout European folklore.
Ranging from the delicate, fluttery-winged beings of English lore to the more elusive and sometimes sinister entities found in Scottish and Irish tales.
Fast forward to the modern era of high fantasy, and we find J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits of The Lord of the Rings.
These pint-sized heroes, with their love for second breakfasts and their big, hairy feet, have won the hearts of millions.
Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin remind us that even the smallest person can change the course of the future. Just don’t ask them to share their elevenses.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series also boasts a delightful array of smaller humanoids.
The Nac Mac Feegle (also known as the Wee Free Men) are a rowdy, boisterous group of blue-skinned, red-haired pictsies who enjoy fighting, stealing, and drinking.
As Pratchett so astutely puts it, they are “the most feared of all the fairy races, even before you get to the point of mentioning that they’re all six inches tall.”
From the early folklore of leprechauns and dwarves to the modern imaginings of hobbits and house-elves, small humanoids have always been a big part of our storytelling tradition.
They remind us of the power of the underdog (or undergnome, or underpixie), the potential for magic in unexpected places, and the truth of the old saying: good things come in small packages.
A time comes in every man’s life where you have to sit down and say, “let’s talk unicorns.”
These majestic beasts, with their singular spiralling horns and penchant for purity, have trotted through tales from ancient India to Medieval Europe.
Many a noble knight was said to have wasted his days chasing these elusive creatures, presumably because they had an aversion to practical pursuits like jousting or crocheting.
This majestic creature, boasting the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, has been a mainstay in mythology since the ancient Greeks first said, “you know what our stories need? More flying lions.” And frankly, who are we to disagree?
Next on our list is the ever-rising phoenix.
Hailing from ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology, this fiery bird had the rather handy trick of bursting into flames and being reborn from its own ashes.
Next up, we have Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology.
Born from the blood of the slain Medusa, this high-flying steed had quite the dramatic entrance into the world.
He later served the hero Bellerophon, until a fall from grace—or rather, a tumble from the horse—sent Bellerophon back to the ground.
Then, we come to the centaur: half-human, half-horse, and all-around fascinating.
They trotted their way from ancient Greek lore to the fantastical world of Narnia and beyond, forever raising questions about where exactly they buy their trousers.
Moving from ancient lore to the realm of modern fantasy, we continue to see these magical creatures and their kin popping up all over the place.
Our beloved unicorn has evolved from the unattainable symbol of purity into magical creatures found in the pages of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.
They still carry the ethereal quality of yore, but with added layers of depth and pathos that leave us reaching for the tissues.
Then there’s the griffin.
Pegasus, the flying horse, inspired J.K. Rowling’s winged beasts in the Harry Potter series, from Buckbeak the Hippogriff to Fawkes the Phoenix.
Our magical tour continues to reveal the rich tapestry of mythical beasts that have galloped, flown, and trotted their way from ancient mythology to the heart of modern fantasy.
They add a pinch of the extraordinary to our stories and continue to ignite our sense of wonder. And who knows, next time you spot an unusually large bird in the sky or hear a rustle in the forest, you might just start to wonder…
Let’s begin with the not-so-gentle giants. They’ve stomped their way through folklore from Jack’s beanstalk to the tales of David and Goliath.
Always towering over us mere mortals, they have a knack for making us feel like Lilliputians on a bad day.
Next on our parade of peculiarities are the goblins.
These mischievous miscreants of the night have their roots in European folklore.
Not exactly known for their good looks, they’re usually trotted out to serve as a warning to children who misbehave.
I imagine it’s like saying, “eat your peas, or the goblins will get you.”
And let’s not forget the brutish ogres.
This lot have been the stuff of nightmares since their first mention in the epic French poem “La Chanson de Roland”.
Traditionally depicted as large, ugly and fond of human snacks, these creatures would make terrible dinner guests.
Next on our monster menu are the harpies. These winged women of Greek mythology, known for their screeching cries and unsavoury habits, were once considered the personifications of wind.
Of course, over time they’ve become less wind goddess and more flying fury.
Next up, we have the infamous Minotaur.
This half-man, half-bull chap was known for his residence in a labyrinth on Crete and his penchant for the occasional human snack. If ever there was a case for carrying a ball of string and avoiding suspicious mazes, it’s this fellow.
Lastly, we have the trolls of Norse folklore. These behemoths, known for their strength, slow wits, and aversion to sunlight, were not the sort of creature you’d want to stumble upon on a late-night hike.
Switching on the lantern of modern fantasy, we can see the shadows of these monsters stretching out into some of our favourite tales.
The giants have been reinvented by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series. Here, they range from the sympathetic and slightly dense Hagrid to the less appealing and significantly more violent Golgomath.
Goblins, with their green skin and industrious nature, find a home in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
They may be miners and metalsmiths, but their union rights leave much to be desired, and their customer service skills are truly something to wince at.
And then, there’s Shrek, our favourite ogre from William Steig’s book and the beloved DreamWorks film series.
He might have a face only a mother (or Fiona) could love, but he shows us that even ogres can have layers, just like onions.
The harpies, with their shrill cries and chaotic nature, can be found in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.
In these stories, they’ve been repurposed as punishment for those who overstay their welcome in the underworld.
It’s like being told to move along by a terrifying, shrieking bird-woman.
Our bull-headed friend, the Minotaur, also makes an appearance in the Percy Jackson series, where he’s quite miffed about being beaten by a young lad with a piece of string all those years ago.
And finally, trolls. They’ve found a new home under J.R.R. Tolkien’s bridges and within J.K. Rowling’s magical world.
Now it’s time to dive into into the ocean’s depths, exploring the mysteries and myths of sea monsters. From the mighty Kraken to the enchanting merfolk and deadly sirens, we’ll traverse the tumultuous tides of ancient legends to the calmer seas of modern fantasy.
First on our maritime itinerary is the colossal Kraken.
This legendary sea monster, hailing from Norse sagas, was reputedly large enough to envelop entire ships with its giant tentacles.
Next, we have the merfolk.
These aquatic creatures with the upper body of a human and the tail of a fish are prevalent in folklore from all over the world.
They might seem inviting, but their whimsical nature hides a propensity for causing shipwrecks.
Lastly, we’ll listen for the captivating call of the sirens.
These Greek mythological creatures, often confused with mermaids, were said to lure sailors to their doom with their irresistible songs.
Now, let’s surface into the realm of modern fantasy, where these sea monsters continue to make waves.
The terrifying Kraken appears in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, proving that even demigods should be wary of what lurks beneath the ocean’s surface.
Merfolk, in all their alluring mystique, have swam into the hearts of modern readers in stories like Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch. These aren’t your Disney princesses, mind you. They’ve got more bite than you’d expect from fishfolk.
And who can forget the sirens? Their enchanting melodies have echoed through the pages of countless fantasy novels, including the Watersong series by Amanda Hocking.
Next, we’re lifting the lid on the coffin of undead mythology, from the spectral ghosts to bloodthirsty vampires and shambling zombies.
These timeless terrors have been chilling our spines from ancient legends to modern fantasy, so grab a garlic necklace, and let’s dig into the details!
First up, we have our friendly neighbourhood apparitions, the ghosts.
From Ancient Egypt to Shakespearean England, these ethereal beings have been haunting our narratives, often sticking around due to some unfinished business.
Next, let’s sink our teeth into vampires.
These undead aristocrats, originating from Eastern European folklore, are famed for their penchant for a liquid diet—type O, please, hold the garlic.
Lastly, we’ve got the ever-persistent zombies.
With roots in Haitian folklore, these undead folk don’t let a little thing like mortality get in the way of a good walk.
Ghosts float through many of our favourite stories.
From the mournful spirits in Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series to the helpful ghosts of Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, they’re as much a part of the scenery as the cobwebs in an old house.
Vampires, with their impressive canines and nocturnal habits, have swooped into the likes of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series.
For some unfathomable reason, there’s something tantalising about a brooding, eternally young fellow who only comes out at night.
And let’s not forget the zombies, those steady if somewhat slow, pursuers of the living.
In novels like World War Z by Max Brooks, they serve as a stark reminder that the slow and steady can indeed win the race, especially if the race is to devour brains.
As the old saying goes, “Here be dragons!” But what are dragons, really?
Not the scaly blighters who keep nicking the BBQ sausages off your grill.
No, we’re talking about the fire-breathing, gold-hoarding, riddle-spouting creatures that have haunted the nightmares and fantasies of many a culture around the world.
Dragons are fascinating creatures.
They’re the Beyoncés of the mythological world—everyone’s heard of them, and they come with a full range of talents.
Breath of fire? Check.
Shapeshifting, telepathy, riddles? All present and correct.
They’re multi-talented, to say the least, and it’s not difficult to see why they’ve captivated the imaginations of authors and readers alike in the realm of high fantasy.
One of the main reasons we’re so drawn to dragons, I suspect, is because they’re wildly different depending on who you ask.
In much of Western mythology, dragons are usually the baddies.
They’re the embodiment of chaos and destruction, a menace that needs to be sorted out by our brave knight in shining armour.
St. George and the Dragon, anyone?
Meanwhile, some Eastern mythologies give us a different perspective.
Here, dragons are often benevolent, symbols of wisdom and power, the kind of being you wouldn’t mind having around for a cuppa and a chat.
They’re associated with water, agriculture, and the heavens, embodying harmony rather than chaos.
So, one dragon’s fiery chaos is another dragon’s spot of tea.
This diversity offers authors a fantastic toolbox when they’re crafting their high fantasy novels.
Whether a dragon is a fearsome antagonist, a wise ally, or an intriguing mixture of the two, it’s the dragon’s character that adds depth and colour to a tale.
It’s the one creature where the sky isn’t just the limit—it’s a mere starting point.
But these mythological fire-breathers didn’t simply pop up overnight.
Dragons have been slithering around in the imaginations of humans for millennia.
From their ominous roles in ancient religious texts to the great epics of early literature, let’s set our time machine back a bit and explore some of these beastly origin stories.
The Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, introduces us to the rather marvellous Tiamat, a chaos sea-dragon.
She’s one of the earliest dragon-esque beings in mythology.
With her, we’re in serious trouble. I mean, she’s the embodiment of chaos. Nice lass, I’m sure, but not one for a quiet pint down at the local.
Fast forward to ancient Greece and we encounter a plethora of dragon-like creatures.
There’s the Hydra, a water serpent with nine heads, slain by our friendly neighbourhood demigod, Hercules.
And let’s not forget about Python, a dragon-serpent slain by the god Apollo, which even had a prophecy-telling gig at the Oracle of Delphi.
Over in the Bible, we have the well-known serpent from the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis, often interpreted as a dragon in early Christian art and literature.
And don’t get me started on Revelation, where dragons and serpents are all the rage, particularly one “great red dragon” with seven heads.
Even the ancient Chinese had a spot for dragons, who were often considered as deities associated with water and weather.
These dragons were vastly different from their Western counterparts – they were symbols of power and luck, rather than monstrous beasts.
They even had a Dragon King, who was in charge of rain and water. So, if you had a water leak, you knew who to blame.
Whether they were feared or revered, dragons have been an integral part of cultural lore across the world, shaping tales and myths for thousands of years.
Even today, in our high fantasy novels, we see echoes of these ancient dragon tales, reminding us of our enduring fascination with these legendary beasts.
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey, or monomyth, is a common template found in many stories from cultures around the world.
Proposed by Joseph Campbell, it illustrates the cyclical journey undertaken by the protagonist—the hero—in a transformative adventure.
From the trials and tribulations of Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey to the adventures of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon, the hero’s journey is a tried and true formula that continues to capture the imaginations of readers the world over.
After all, who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
The Hero’s Journey in The Lord of the Rings
The Ordinary World: This is the hero’s regular life before the story begins. For Frodo Baggins, the hero of our tale, this is his peaceful existence in the Shire.
Call to Adventure: The hero is presented with a challenge or quest. In Frodo’s case, this comes when he inherits the One Ring from Bilbo and learns of its dark history from Gandalf.
Refusal of the Call: Often, the hero will initially refuse the call due to fear or uncertainty. While Frodo is anxious about the dangerous journey, he understands the necessity and takes up the mission.
Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters someone who provides guidance or training. Gandalf serves as Frodo’s mentor, imparting knowledge about Middle-Earth, the Ring, and the dangerous quest ahead.
Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world and embarks on their quest. Frodo, accompanied by his friends, leaves the Shire to take the Ring to Rivendell.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero faces a series of challenges while making friends and encountering foes. Frodo and his companions – the Fellowship of the Ring – encounter numerous obstacles, from Orcs to the treacherous Gollum.
Approach to the Inmost Cave: The hero approaches the goal. For Frodo, this is his arduous journey towards Mount Doom, the only place where the Ring can be destroyed.
The Ordeal: This is a major challenge that the hero must overcome, usually facing death or severe danger. Frodo faces many ordeals, notably the climactic struggle at Mount Doom, where he battles the influence of the Ring and Gollum’s treachery.
Reward (Seizing the Sword): After overcoming the ordeal, the hero receives a reward or accomplishes their goal. Frodo’s reward is the destruction of the Ring, leading to the defeat of Sauron and the liberation of Middle-earth.
The Road Back: The hero must return to their ordinary world. Here, Frodo and his companions return to the Shire.
Resurrection: This is the final test, where the hero must face the consequences of their journey. For Frodo, this is the scouring of the Shire, where he and his companions defend their home one last time.
Return with the Elixir: The hero returns to the ordinary world but is transformed by their journey. Frodo, forever changed by his journey, ultimately decides to leave Middle-earth with the elves, passing on his story (the ‘elixir’) to Sam to continue in the Shire.
Ten High Fantasy Books Inspired by Mythology and Folklore
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Blending elements of American folklore, Norse mythology, and modern-day life, Gaiman’s tale follows ex-convict Shadow Moon as he becomes embroiled in a war between the old gods and the new.
Circe by Madeline Miller
This enchanting novel tells the story of Circe, the daughter of the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse, who is banished to a remote island where she hones her witchcraft and encounters legendary figures from Greek mythology.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Drawing upon European folklore and mythology, Beagle’s novel tells the story of a unicorn who sets out on a journey to discover why she is the last of her kind, encountering a cast of colorful characters along the way. The novel is known for its beautiful prose and poignant exploration of themes such as love, loss, and mortality.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Set in medieval Russia, Arden’s novel draws upon Russian folklore and Slavic mythology to tell the story of a young girl named Vasilisa who must protect her village from dark forces.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
In this epic fantasy tale, Rothfuss draws inspiration from various mythologies and folklores to create a richly detailed world filled with magic, music, and adventure.
The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
In this beautifully crafted series, Jemisin weaves together elements of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern mythology to create a captivating tale of gods, mortals, and the power struggles that bind them.
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s classic series is set in a world of magic and dragons, drawing inspiration from various folklores and myths, including Norse, Celtic, and Taoist traditions. The story follows the wizard Ged as he journeys through the islands of Earthsea, confronting ancient evils and learning the true meaning of power and wisdom. The series is known for its vivid world-building, complex characters, and exploration of themes such as balance, identity, and the power of language.
The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence
This dark, gritty series follows the rise of a ruthless prince named Jorg Ancrath as he battles demons, both internal and external, in a world shaped by ancient myths and legends.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
A love letter to storytelling, Morgenstern’s novel draws inspiration from a wide array of mythologies and folklores to create a mesmerizing tale of a hidden, magical world beneath the surface of our own.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
In this standalone epic fantasy, Shannon weaves together elements from Eastern and Western mythologies, creating a world filled with dragons, magic, and complex political intrigue.
Each of these stories offers a unique perspective on the timeless themes and archetypal characters that have captivated readers for centuries. Happy reading!
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Here, the politics are deeply entwined with the world’s unique magic system and the conflict with the mysterious Parshendi.
Each nation on Roshar has its unique political structure, reflecting their geographical conditions and history.
The Alethi, for instance, are a highly militaristic society governed by an elaborate system of ten Highprinces, with politics heavily influenced by the endless war on the Shattered Plains.
This series investigates themes such as responsibility, honour, and the consequences of power, in a distinctly political context.
The Ministry of Magic
J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, though often seen as light-hearted children’s literature, also delves into politics, albeit subtly.
The Ministry of Magic, Hogwarts’ administration, and even the Death Eaters reflect aspects of real-world politics and the consequences of various ideologies.
The series addresses the risks of political corruption, the importance of a free press, and the dangers of bigotry and xenophobia.
These issues, while rooted in a world of witches and wizards, are timely and relevant to readers in our muggle world.
Power in the Priesthood
Lastly, we mustn’t overlook the role politics play in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.
The oppressive Magisterium, a theocratic regime, has clear political overtones.
Pullman engages with themes of authority, freedom, and the misuse of power, embodying these concepts in the struggle between the Magisterium and those who seek to uncover the truth about ‘Dust’.
The role of politics in modern high fantasy is both multifaceted and significant.
Not merely a background detail, politics shapes the world-building, the plot, and the very characters who hold our hearts. Moreover, these fantastical political systems allow authors to explore complex themes and to comment on real-world issues.
This reflective quality is perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of high fantasy.
Through the lens of a different world, we gain new insights into our own.
So, the politics of high fantasy continues to challenge, to captivate, and to resonate with readers across our very real and complex globe.