After the King: Stories In Honor of J.R.R. Tolkien
The upcoming release of the film The Fellowship of the Ring has renewed interest in All Things Tolkien.
Christopher Tolkien, the late author’s son, published many of his father’s writings, and these books are becoming more readily available again. But in 1992, fantasy’s most creative authors took a different path and wrote new stories in the master’s honor. Although not about Middle-Earth, they nonetheless were in Tolkien’s distinctive narrative style. That anthology, After the King, has been re-released after eight long years.
The collection is impressive in the varying styles from which its authors hail. Comic author Terry Pratchett, whose story “Troll Bridge” is set in his Discworld universe, tells a tale that contains his humorous touch and yet conveys a wistfulness for things past. High fantasy is represented by such authors as Peter Beagle, who sounds much like an old folktale-teller in “The Naga.” Even authors better known for science fiction, such as Poul and Karen Anderson, turn to the fantastic in their story “Faith.”
For the most part, the anthology contains some truly wonderful stories. One of these, Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Reave the Just,” captures readers from the first sentence, hinting at a legendary amount of stories about the title character … and that this is only one of those yarns. In fact, Reave’s influence permeates this story’s main character’s life by the mere mention of his name.
In what arguably is the book’s best story, Charles de Lint returns to his magic city Newford with “The Conjure Man,” a yarn about a man of magic and the Tree of Tales that he mourns. This story has so many wonderful lines — so many that makes the reader think about what’s really important in life — that it’ll linger long after you close the book.
The volume does have a miss or two, most notably Patricia McKillip’s “The Fellowship of the Dragon,” which contains oddly one-dimensional characters and leaves far too much hanging at the end. Since the characters are so forgettable — I couldn’t keep them straight — it doesn’t much matter.
But the occasional sour note doesn’t spoil this collection. On the whole, these stories are original and engaging, and a fitting tribute to the man who created Middle-Earth.
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on October 18, 2001.