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Literary Inheritance

By Alyssa Rosenberg

"Literary Inheritance"

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I just started reading the mystery novel The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien. Yes, Tolkien, as in J.R.R. This is a grandson, and his second middle name is Reuel too. He’s the son of Christopher, who edited the original Tolkien’s posthumous work, and is reportedly estranged from his father because of his (Simon’s) support for the Lord of the Rings films. And now he’s writing novels.

Publishing under the same name as a famous parent or grandparent may be easier in some ways – having a name like Tolkien can presumably open some doors – but also takes a certain amount of courage, as literary talent is not necessarily inherited, but the pressure and expectations are there regardless. Stephen King’s son Joe publishes as Joe Hill, which takes some of the pressure off, but his son Owen wrote a book under Owen King. Both of mystery writer Jesse Kellerman’s parents (Faye and Jonathan) write in his genre, but that hasn’t seemed to faze him. And then there’s Mary Higgins Clark: her daughter Carol Higgins Clark is a successful mystery novelist, and so is her former daughter-in-law Mary Jane Clark, whose books are often designed to look eerily like Higgins Clark’s own. (Gossip in the bookselling world says that this is not a coincidence.)

I’m not far enough into The Inheritance yet to know what the title means in the context of the plot, but I can’t imagine that Tolkien and his publishers didn’t realize that the title could also be read as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the author’s ambiguous literary inheritance of name and reputation. And I must admit that I picked the book up at the library partially to find out if he was related to the Tolkien. Fair enough. If you’re going to be held up to the standards set by your famous grandfather, you might as well use his name to get me to read your book.

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