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Fairy Tales and Other Fantasies,
This review is from: Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy (Paperback)
Tales Before Tolkien is an anthology of fairy tales and other fantasy stories published prior to Tolkien's works. Some of these authors are known to have influenced Tolkien, but all wrote on themes which Tolkien would probably have admired. All the authors were chosen to be at least five years older than Tolkien.
"The Elves" by Ludwig Tieck is a "literary fairy tale" in the German tradition and illustrates the dangers of visiting with fairies. "The Golden Key" by George MacDonald is a mystical tale of a boy and a girl who embark on a lifelong quest. "Puss-Cat Mew" by E. H. Knatchbull-Hugessen is a story of a young man and a cat against evil ogres and dwarves. "The Griffin and the Minor Canon" by Frank R. Stockton is a yarn about the friendship between a clergy man and a monster. "The Demon Pope" by Richard Garnett is a tongue in cheek story of Satan and the Sacred College.
"The Story of Sigurd" retold by Andrew Lang is an abbreviated version of the Nibelungenlied. "The Folk of the Mountain Door" by William Morris is a mystical tale of a god and goddess attending a naming rite in a Norse-like kingdom. "Black Heart and White Heart" by H. Rider Haggard is a story of an English gentleman who tries to steal the lover of a Zulu warrior. "The Dragon Tamers" by E. Nesbit describes the trials of a poor dragon who is always outwitted by one family. "The Far Islands" by John Buchan tells of a boy whose family is obsessed by the Western Isle. "The Drawn Arrow" by Clemence Housman is a story of the gratitude of kings. "The Enchanted Buffalo" by L. Frank Baum is a yarn about treachery and revenge in the Royal Tribe of buffalo. "Chu-bu and Sheemish" by Lord Dunsany is a fable about jealous gods. "The Baumhoff Explosive" by William Hope Hodgson is a cautionary tale about becoming too much like Christ.
"The Regent of the North" by Kenneth Morris is a tale about a Viking who will not forswear his religion for Christianity. "The Coming of the Terror" by Arthur Machen is a suspense story about frightening events in England during World War I. "The Elf Trap" by Francis Stevens relates the strange experiences of a Professor of Biology who meets a beautiful young lady in the back woods. "The Thin Queen of Elfhame" by James Branch Cabell is the story of a man who unintentionally finds true love. "The Woman of the Wood" by A. Merritt discloses the murderous actions of a man who loved a coppice. "Golithos the Ogre" by E. A. Wyke-Smith tells of the vegetarian ogre who has two plump children as house guests. "The Story of Alwina" by Austin Tappan Wright is an excerpt about the history of Queen Alwina of Islandia. "A Christmas Play" by David Lindsay recounts the efforts of the fairy Emerald to find husbands for three sisters when there are only two princes available.
These stories are representative of the fantastic short stories written prior to Tolkien. While several are fairy tales, others come from a wide variety of cultural myths. Many of the authors are well known today, but others are known only to the students of literature. In any case, these stories are worth reading just for the pleasure of it and, if such reading gives us any insight into Tolkien's works, so much the better.
Since these stories span a broad spectrum of treatments, I liked several more the others; some I didn't much like on first reading. Since each presents its own emphasis and mood, however, I suspect that my list would differ upon subsequent readings in other circumstances. Moreover, other readers will probably find themselves liking stories that I didn't much enjoy.
Highly recommended to Tolkien fans and anyone else who enjoys short works of fantasy.