The date is of particular importance, because nearly every discussion of the role of Tolkien's work in influencing Gary Gygax is based on evidence from a much later date, after the threatened lawsuit against TSR by the Tolkien estate. Indeed, many commentators presume, based on this fact, that Gary had to have been, at the very least, disingenuous when he downplayed the influence of Tolkien and that his doing so was based primarily on his desire to distance TSR from its having infringed Tolkien's copyrights. I've never bought this theory, feeling that the bare text of D&D, even in its original form, with all those references to hobbits and ents and orcs, pretty clearly showed that Tolkien was, at best, a superficial influence on the game as Gygax conceived it.
The article probably won't settle the matter definitively -- we gamers like to argue, after all -- but I do think it'll go a long way toward putting to rest the notion that Gygax was lying when he later claimed that Tolkien's work mostly provided a handful of creatures that he gleefully looted in an effort to ride the coattails of their popularity during the 1970s. Here's what Gygax says -- in 1974, remember -- about the role of Tolkien as compared to other authors:
What other sources of fantasy can compare to J.R.R. Tolkien? Obviously, Professor Tolkien did not create the whole of his fantasies from within. They draw upon mythology and folklore rather heavily, with a few highly interesting creations which belong solely to the author such as the Nazgul, the Balrog, and Tom Bombadil. All of the other creatures are found in fairy tales by the score and dozens of other excellent writers who create fantasy works themselves: besides Howard whom I already mentioned, there are the likes of Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, and Roger Zelazny -- there are many more, and the ommission [sic] of their names here is more of an oversight than a slight. In the creation of Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons the concepts of not a few of such authors were drawn upon. This is principally due to the different aims of a fantasy novel (or series of novels) and a rule book for fantasy games. The former creation is to amuse and entertain the reader through the means of the story and its characters, while the latter creates characters and possibly a story which the readers then employ to amuse themselves. In general the "Ring Trilogy" is not fast paced, and outside the framework of the tale many of Tolkien's creatures are not very exciting or different.Perhaps I am irredeemably biased but that passage sounds an awful lot like something Gygax could have written in 1984. Indeed, it's remarkably like his standard line about the influence of Tolkien on D&D and his critique of The Lord of the Rings as "boring." He goes on:
Tolkien includes a number of heroic figures, but they are not of the "Conan" stamp. They are not larger-than-life swashbucklers who fear neither monster nor magic. His wizards are either ineffectual or else they lurk in their strongholds working magic spells which seem to have little if any effect while their gross and stupid minions bungle their plans for supremacy. Religion with its attendant gods and priests he includes not at all. These considerations, as well as a comparison of the creatures of Tolkien's writings with the models they were drawn from (or with a hypothetical counterpart desirable from a wargame standpoint) were in mind when Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons were created.Gygax then goes on to cite numerous examples of where Tolkien's creations were and were not a model for those in Chainmail and D&D, in addition to pointing where he borrowed just as heavily from other sources, notably Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. Throughout, his repeated point is that, while both games "owe a great deal to him," "fantasy wargaming goes beyond Tolkien" because, in fantasy, "there are no absolutes or final boundaries simply because it does draw upon all of these sources with the bonus of individual imagination added by those who play it."
Take several of Tolkien's heroic figures for example. Would a participant in a fantasy game more readily identify with Bard of Dale? Aragorn? Frodo Baggins? or would he rather relate to Conan, Fafhrd, the Grey Mouser, or Elric of Melnibone? The answer seems all too obvious.
As I said, the article settles nothing. If anything, it muddies the waters a little further insofar as Gygax readily acknowledges the debt both his games owed to Tolkien for some of their integral ideas. At the same time, I also think it clarifies beyond any doubt that Gary's repeated dislike for Tolkien and his denial that it was a good model for fantasy roleplaying was not merely a consequence of the threatened lawsuit by Tolkien's estate. Rather, it reflected a longstanding and heartfelt belief on his part, a belief that certainly ossified as the years went on and he grew ever more irritated by the extent to which Tolkien (and his epic fantasy imitators) were deemed the ne plus ultra of fantasy, an opinion Gygax never shared -- even in 1974, before he had any reason to claim otherwise.