For a long time I’ve felt that epic fantasy has relied too much on Tolkien, who did a wonderful job, but I feel that rather than doing what he did by creating races and mythologies and worlds of our own we’ve in some ways allowed ourselves to be strongly influenced by him and relied on some of the work he did. In other cases those tropes have just been overplayed and overdone by people who were very good writers and knew what they were doing. I certainly don’t want to point any fingers at people like Stephen Donaldson who wrote brilliant books making use of some of the familiar tropes from Tolkien, but one of the things to remember is that when he did that they weren’t familiar tropes. They were still fresh and new. The same can be said for Terry Brooks. I’m sure if I were writing back then that’s what I would have done too, because we were still exploring the genre and trying to decide where it was going to go and what epic fantasy was and meant. But I feel that I belong to the generation after that. There was the generation who relied a lot on Tolkien and the generation who grew up reading those authors’ books, and a lot of us in my generation of writers seem like we are reacting against the previous generations by saying, “Okay, that’s been done, and you did a good job. Where else can we take this?” I have no interest in writing about elves or dwarves or any of these things that have been explored for the last four decades in intricate detail. I want to go my own directions.
I feel that epic fantasy as a genre has not yet hit its golden age yet. If you look at science fiction as a genre, science fiction very quickly got into extrapolating very interesting and different sorts of things. Fantasy, particularly in the late ’90s, feels like it hit a bit of a rut where the same old things were happening again and again. We saw the same stories being told, we saw the same races show up, we saw variations only in the names for those races. For me as a reader, it was a little bit frustrating because I read this and felt that fantasy should be the genre that should be able to do anything. It should be the most imaginative genre. It should not be the genre where you expect the same stories and the same creatures. If we want to approach the heights of great storytelling and take it a few more steps so that we don’t just copy what Tolkien did, we do what Tolkien did, which is look to the lore ourselves and build our own extrapolations. This is playing into what I like as a reader and my own personal philosophies and hobby horses, but it really just comes down to what I think makes the best story.