Tolkien and Fangirl

I’ve mentioned before how some parts of Fangirl remind me of Tolkien. I know it’s a silly comparison; they’re apples and oranges. But this is about my response to the book, not anyone else’s. LOTR was my Harry Potter. It was the fantasy world I wanted to live in growing up, then followed into online fandom when the movies happened. So maybe I couldn’t help being reminded of it by Fangirl.

Anyway, I was. One similarity I noticed was the multi-layered nature of the story, and the way I responded to it. (I’m sure there’s a better term for what I’m describing, but I don’t know what it is.) On first reading, the songs and poems in LOTR bothered me with how they slowed things down, interrupting the main narrative. I was impatient. I wanted to skip them. On some of my umpteen readings, especially early on, I actually did skip them.

Fangirl’s extended quotations from the Simon Snow novels, and the fanfiction based on them, felt the same way to me. At least on my first reading, I wanted so badly to find out what was going to happen next that I felt frustrated with Simon and Baz for getting in the way. I wanted to skip those parts (though I didn’t).

But then an interesting thing happened. Just as with Tolkien, I found on subsequent readings (I’m on my third reading of Fangirl, plus some bunnyhops through my favorite parts) that the extra material really added to my enjoyment. There was so much more to the world in those extra passages. There was all this room for speculation: Fleshing out the Simon Snow novels from the excerpts, analyzing the departures from canon Cath and Wren made in their fanfiction and the differences in the fic they wrote together versus what Cath wrote alone, and then the excerpt from Cath’s story. All of it was related, interwoven with and commenting on the main story, and just like Tolkien’s songs and poems, they made the world more complete, more real, because like the real world, there were all these deeper layers to dig through.

Rainbow isn’t Tolkien, and Tolkien isn’t Rainbow. Their strengths and weaknesses are in different areas. But as Tolkien was to landscape, Rainbow is to characters. In completely different ways, each of them has imagined and conveyed a world that feels so real that it hurts that it’s not.

I want to live in that world.

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