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Tad Williams: The American Tolkien?

1 Dec

Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn has been called ‘the fantasy equivalent of War and Peace‘ and it is easy to see why. Epic in every sense of the word, this series clocks in at around 4,000 pages in paperback (the final volume To Green Angel Tower had to be cut in two because it was too big to be published as a single paperback). Despite its length, the series never feels padded or plodding – instead it is one of those rare stories that totally engages you to the extent that you feel that you are ever bit as much a part of Williams’ world of Osten Ard as the characters. I recently re-read the whole of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and what struck me for the first time was how much of a debt the fantasy authors that came after Williams owe to his work. George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has won plaudits from every corner but I have to say that in my view the foundations and first floor of his series were laid by Williams (Martin himself has indicated that he was heavily inspired by Memory, Sorrow and Thorn). Although much of Williams’ writing itself owes a debt, inevitably, to J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it is in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, perhaps for the first time, that we truly see an adult take on the genre of epic fantasy. Expectations are turned over, beloved characters suffer (and die, over and over again) and the fantasy world that is presented is every bit as gritty, believable and sometimes unpleasant as our own. Echoes of Williams’ work can also be seen in the books of those other giants of the fantasy genre, Robin Hobb, Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan, as well as those of Martin.

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