Thursday, June 24, 2010


by KJ Howe

I've recently had the pleasure of reading THE INHERITANCE by Simon Tolkien--yes, that's really Tolkien, the grandson of JRR Tolkien of LORD OF THE RINGS fame.

The story features Stephen Cade, a young man on trial for murdering his famed Oxford historian father. If you enjoy a good Agatha Christie mystery combined with a John Grisham courtroom drama, this book is for you. Lots of great twists and turns, startling revelations, and heart-stopping moments. And the writing is rich, textured, like an oil painting on the page.

What struck me most about the novel and its author was the symbolism of the title. THE INHERITANCE. Simon Tolkien, a successful criminal justice barrister in London who then moved to California, definitely inherited his grandfather's writing talent. However, I imagine it must have been challenging to enter a field where his grandfather is a legend. Although the TOLKIEN name carries great weight in the literary world, Simon must have felt some pressure as critics would naturally compare and contrast his work with his grandfather's. Imagine yourself the grandchild or child of a famous author. Who would it be? Would you write in the same genre as him/her or branch off and do your own thing? How much pressure would you feel following in the footsteps of a giant?

Thanks for coming on this imaginary journey!


Christie Kelley said...

Is it mine for a change?

Christie Kelley said...

Woohoo, the GR comes to Maryland on one of the hottest days of the year. We're supposed to be near 100 today. I hope he doesn't molt.

KJ, The Inheritance sounds like a fantastic book! I'm going to look for it.

I think the pressure of being the son/daughter or grandson/daughter of someone famous would be difficult enough but then wanting to be in the same field would be an awful stress. That's why some actors use pseudonyms. I'm sure I would do the same.

Dianna Love said...

I had not heard about this book, Kim. How fascinating. I think it would be very hard to put your book out there with everyone wondering if you could live up to your legendary grandfather. I so admire him for doing it and writing something he was excited about. I'm going to pick it up this week. Always looking for something new.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Christie! You got the chook! And yes, on one of the hottest possible days ever. Yikes.

KJ, I've been wondering about this book and thinking I'd like to pick it up. Now that you recommend it, I will! I'm sure that it was a tremendous challenge to follow after his famous Granddad. Wow.

I'm sure I'd have challenges and isssues with it and would probably change my name too, as ou mentioned so many had done.

Of course the fun of having someone like Tolkein or one of my favs, Edgar Rice Burroughs, for a granddad might outweighthe issues...don't know! :>

Kim Howe said...

And he is not the only one to go down this road.

Anne Rice's son writes, Frank Herbert's son writes, and they are certainly giants in their own fields. Everyone has the pressure of family expectations but for these people it must be one hundred times stronger.

Jeanne, I hear you on ERB, are you a Barsoom fan or a Tarzan fan? They almost seem like different species some times!

Claudia Dain said...

What a thought provoking topic. I think it might depend on the relationship between grandfather, father, and child. Did the grandfather lord his accomplishments over the entire family? Knowing what I do about JRR Tolkien, that doesn't sound likely. Was the child encouraged to find his own field of excellence, no matter where that happened to be? That would give him a freedom he would need.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Kim said: Jeanne, I hear you on ERB, are you a Barsoom fan or a Tarzan fan? They almost seem like different species some times!

I love them all. If he wrote it, I've read it, from Mars to the jungles to the deserted island of The Cave Girl. :>

Gillian Layne said...

I had not heard of this, but I'll have to find myself a copy.

I would think the pressure would be fierce. And the critical reviews would be even fiercer. I wish him luck--and I do love that title.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Gillian, I loved the title too. Kind of a personal and professional double entendre, isn't it? ;>

Deb said...

The first thing I thought of when reading the title was a double entendre, too.

I think, if my mother was an author, I would choose Debbie Macomber or Essie Summers. Those were the first kind of romances I started reading and some of the DM characters were easy for me to relate to. ES's were fun. I am reading romances now that are definitely different than "kisses" and Christian romances, but I still like and read them. Anna C.'s quote from TRD today--wholesome romances. ;)

Gilbert Morris and his daughter solved the problem by writing together. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Yay Christie! Maybe you can whip him into shape!

Wow, KJ this sounds like a great read. And as a Tolkien fan I will be very interested to see how the grandson's writing is different from his grandfather's and perhaps the same as well.

Stephen King's son is also a writer. Rumor has it he kept his identity a secret from everyone, including his editor, until the book was about the hit the shelves. He writes under the name Joe Hill and his debut book The Heart-Shaped Box was fabulous. The kid's got chops let me tell you. High praise from me as I am a huge Stephen King fan.

I can't begin to imagine what it might be like to be the son (or daughter) of a famous father (or mother) in my chosen field.

Donna MacMeans said...

I've thought of this quite a bit. My daughter seems to always be collecting ideas for stories, and I encourage her to write - but she hasn't. I think the reasons she collects the story ideas is that she's grown up while I was perusing craft - listening to taped seminars, attending workshops at times with me. So she's matured with the writing tools around her. I think the reason she hasn't written a manuscript is that she's also witnessed the rejection that comes part and parcel with writing and with it, an inherent fear of failure.

So I wonder if it's not the same for, well anyone. You grow up surrounded by the tools of your parents trade, knowing the life, knowing the inside secrets. My dentist's son is a dentist. My brother, the general's son is an officer in the army, But one must be incredibly strong to follow in the footsteps of a legend that way.

Thanks for the recommendation, Kim. I'm going to have to find this book - for many reasons.

Kim Howe said...

I guess the literary profession runs down the generations as well. Using the pen name seems like a good solution, to get a fair assessment of your abilities and to stand on your own.

Personally I think I would be compelled to write in a very different way then my parent/grandparent to create my own identity.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

I can well imagine some (but by no means all) reviewers anxiously waiting to rip into a relative of a famous author, making all kinds of comparisons. I don't think that's fair, but it seems to be the nature of things. A writer should be judged on his own efforts.

I'm sure it's difficult to grow up in the shadow of anyone who is legendary at what they do. Like Michael Jordan's sons -- at least one plays basketball, but he's not as good as his father. It would be difficult to reach that same level.

Kris Kennedy said...

I have no idea what I'd do with that sort of pressure, but I hope much of it would be decided not simply be the *fact* of having a parent considered a 'great' in his or her field (a field you then went into also), but by his/her character and sensibilities. By the personal relationship between you and that parent. It could be something to live *up* to, an inspirational thing, or it could be something to oppress.

I'm so glad you wrote this blog, b/c I had no idea Tolkien's grandson had a book coming out! It sounds right up my alley--I'm actually re-reading some Agatha Christie right now--so I'm all over it.

And I see Louisa says Stephen King's son has a book out, and it's terrific?? Terrible distractions, tempting distractions. I'm on a deadline here. Must write, not find more books to read . . .

Jane said...

Congrats on the GR, Christie.

Hi KJ,
I love Agatha Christie and will definitely check out Simon Toklien's book. I think it would definitely be hard to follow in the footsteps of a famous parent or grandparent and it seems choosing a different career might be the way to go.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Christie, one chook comin' up!

Kim, that book sounds fascinating. I wonder if there was some wish fulfillment going on with the murdering the Oxford academic thing! After all, Tolkien spent most of his life teaching at Oxford, didn't he?

Actually a couple of Tolstoy's descendants are writers. I remember thinking when I saw the books, ouch, that's one albatross of a name to carry around your neck!

Helen said...

Hey Christie I hope you and the GR stay cool today have a great day with him.

This books sounds really good I have always loved Agatha Christie's books I will keep an eye out for it.
If I could write who would I like to be related to I think I would choose Kethleen Woodiwiss her books are just so good.

Have Fun

jo robertson said...

Hi, Kim. Interesting blog. Sorry I'm late today; my internet has been down all day! Whatever did I do before the wide world of the web??

I find literary families, like acting families, very intriguing. Another writing son of a famous father is Joe Hill, whose father is Stephen King. Can't get much bigger footsteps to follow in.

Barbara Monajem said...

Thanks for posting this, Kim. I'll be keeping an eye open for this book. It sounds different from what I've been reading lately -- a huge plus.