Deuce Richardson, over at one of my favorite blogs, The Cimmerian, has done me an honor by devoting an entire post to my recent column at The Escapist. In his post, Mr Richardson takes issue with my assertion that the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien were not a primary influence on Dungeons & Dragons. This is a topic I've covered before and I know it's a controversial one in many quarters. I will simply reiterate here that my position is not that Tolkien's works had no influence on D&D, only that that influence was largely superficial, restricted mostly to some broad fantasy concepts, which Gygax and Arneson gleefully pilfered.
I don't deny that many D&D staples, such as the demihuman races, for example, are largely unthinkable without the influence of Tolkien. What I do deny, though, is that D&D would be impossible to imagine without the influence of Tolkien. I think a "de-Tolkienized" D&D is quite conceivable and, to my mind, much more philosophically coherent. Even if one doubts the veracity of Gygax's frequent claims about the degree to which the good professor influenced him, the simple fact of the matter is that Gygax clearly misunderstood Tolkien and his writings. He rather famously described The Lord of the Rings as an allegory about World War II, clearly ignorant of both Tolkien's feelings about allegory and that the story the novel tells predates the 1939-1945 war.
Tokien is, in my opinion, simply one influence among many that shaped early D&D. The game, after all, sprang up in the midst of the pulp fantasy revival of the late 60s and early 70s, when books that Gygax had read as a younger person were once again being made available to the mass market. That's why I find it quite credible that authors such as Howard, Leiber, Vance, and Merritt, all of whom Gygax regularly cites, had a far greater influence on him and the game he co-created. (Dave Arneson muddies this question somewhat, as players in his Blackmoor campaign attest to its strong Tolkien influences).
In the post, Mr Richardson also postulates that Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar and The Dwellers in the Mirage had more influence on Gygax than the books I alluded to. I'm willing to concede that point in principle, but I can only say that Gygax himself most frequently cited The Face in the Abyss, Creep Shadow, Creep!, and (especially) The Moon Pool as his favorite Merritt books. Again, I suppose it comes down to the extent to which one is willing to take Gygax at his word. I may be more credulous when sifting through his comments than I ought to be and, if so, I welcome correction. That said, I'm far from convinced regarding Tolkien and I look forward a future post on the subject by Mr Richardson, something he suggests he may tackle sometime later.