Time’s Lev Grossman blames our increasingly “multicultural, transcontinental, hyphenated identities and our globalized, displaced, deracinated lives” for why any consensus about a single voice now seems impossible. I’d go even further and argue that the “voice of a generation” novel never existed to begin with. For starters, why did we ever pretend novels by straight white guys about straight white guys spoke for entire generations?
Even if you think that’s politically correct claptrap, and that those works transcended the boundaries of identity and social context (which is a weird thing to claim about a social novel), the idea of a one-size-fits-all masterpiece runs squarely against the novel form.
The most commonly occurring pop fantasy races—elves, dwarves, trolls/orcs, even humans—have their roots in European mythology. From the dwarves and elves of Nordic poetry to Scandinavia’s trolls, the basic shape and cultural texture of many of these beings can be linked directly to ancient folklore. But it wasn’t until Tolkien’s works, which were heavily inspired by such myths, that the tropes we are familiar with today really fell into place.
“Elves wouldn’t even really be a thing, at least not in the way they currently are, if it weren’t for Tolkien,” says Corey Olsen, noted Tolkien scholar and creator of The Tolkien Professor podcast. “Dwarves are another thing. A lot of the things that we associate with dwarves, we owe a lot of that to Tolkien.”
But more than that, bookstores are, for me, destinations in and of themselves, little slices of the local culture that are the same, yet somehow different, unique, each with its own local flavor or bias or accent.