I was very excited to be taking a course on major authors in fantasy this semester. Reading Tolkien, Pullman, and even Donaldson did not seem like homework because of the level of enjoyment I had while reading the books. I had never heard of either Donaldson or Pullman before. Taking this coarse ultimately helped me to decide what I feel merits the status of a major author in fantasy.
I have read a smattering of fantasy books in my time and with this coarse nearly under my belt I have come to conclude that a major author of fantasy must be an extraordinary storyteller. This is only my opinion and I realize that there are many other important factors to considering major authorship. Tolkien is an exceptional storyteller for his coverage of detail and his beautifully crafted world with fantastic character development in The Lord of the Rings. I was completely attached to the fate of Middle Earth and I was just as enamored with the story even though it was my third time reading it.
Reading Donaldson’s Thomas Covanent the Unbeliever series after reading Tolkien was a harsh leap that may have colored my perception of him. But I still don’t believe he is a major author. I was not invested in his characters or the fantasy world he created. I was all too aware that I was reading a story. When I read Tolkien and Pullman I was so immersed in the books that I wasn’t distracted at all by the fictitious nature of their works. I could not get into Donaldson’s books in the same way.
Phillip Pullman surprised me. I thought reading His Dark Materials would be more pleasurable than Donaldson but I did not think that I would be so enveloped in the characters, plot, and themes. He is not a traditional fantasy writer in that he doesn’t give the reader what they expect. The conflicting sides are not drawn in black and white with a team that fights to preserve good and another team that seeks to spread darkness and promote evildoing. The reader has to work harder to find the truth in the story. Of coarse another aspect of good storytelling is that I could hardly put the book down. It is by far the best fantasy work I have been introduced to in years.
My interpretation of Donaldson was not charitable compared to my gushing praises to Tolkien and Pullman but I cannot apologize for my experience of the different works. I am judging these books first and foremost as a reader, and secondly as an English major. Maybe I err in this but I do not think it is reasonable to establish set requirements for someone to be considered a major author. Donaldson has been counted as a major fantasy author and I couldn’t disagree more. Likewise some have serious reservations about placing Tolkien in that category. I originally took the coarse because I already felt that Tolkien was a major author. I guess I believe that the reader must decide for themselves the criteria for a major author.