There are a lot of fans of fantasy who have come to the genre so recently that they don’t know its history. In not knowing the history, they end up making unwarranted, disparaging comments about classics in the field. Let me give you a few examples.
- When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, I heard people say that yes, they were good, but they were “derivative” of Dungeons and Dragons.
- In reviews of the television version of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, many reviewers commented that it was okay, but man oh man, the school for wizards—that was soooo derivative of Harry Potter. (The Earthsea television series was, in fact, rather horrible and bore very little resemblance to the books; the wizarding school was one of the few elements that it retained.)
- The Spiderwick Chronicles series of books has also been accused of being derivative of Harry Potter as well, because it has magic and magical creatures in it.
Tolkien versus Dungeons and Dragons
J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnificent work, The Lord of the Rings, was first published in three volumes in England in the mid-1950s. Note that date. It was later published in the United States in the 1960s, first in an unauthorized edition, and then later in an authorized one.
The Lord of the Rings was enormously influential on a number of writers, including game designers E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, who created Dungeons and Dragons in the early-mid 1970s—about 20 years after the first publication of The Lord of the Rings. Although Gygax says he was only minimally influenced by the book, he did definitely take the concepts of halflings, orcs, treants, elves, dwarves, etc. from it. (Initially, he used the terms hobbit and ent, for example, but was forced by the Lord of the Rings copyright holders to change those terms. Also, he changed the height of halflings from Tolkien’s description of being about the height of a ten-year-old boy to about the height of a two-year-old toddler.)
In a nutshell? The Lord of the Rings story can in no way be derivative of something that was published twenty years later.