Then it crossed my mind that I couldn't possibly say anything that hasn't already been said, more eloquently, by someone else. For anyone born after the mid-1960s, it's just about impossible to write fantasy outside Tolkien's influence -- and it's been analyzed in minute detail for decades.
So I will have to make this a very personal post about what Tolkien taught me.
I read The Hobbit young, of course, and Lord of the Rings before I graduated from high school. And of course they were an influence on me. But the subtler lesson that Tolkien gave me came from The Silmarillion, which I read in college.
That book told me not to be afraid of diving into deep world-building. Tolkien poured much of his life into developing The Silmarillion, and the four novels were an outgrowth of that work -- rather than having written the story and then backfilled the structure necessary to support it. My belief that story, characters, and world-building are inextricable is rooted in this. Change one, and the other two must adjust to accomodate.
I believe that world-building is like an iceberg, in that 90 percent of it is invisible to the reader but still necessary. You don't have to read The Silmarillion to enjoy The Hobbit, but it's ballasting the story nonetheless.
I'm familiar with about the first 20 feet below water, of Disciple's iceberg, which gives me a good idea what the rest is like. I keep diving and learning more; and I'm grateful to the master world-builder for leading the way.
Disciple, Part I is on sale for 99 cents
in honor of Tolkien Reading Day. Find it marked down