“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” — Franz Kafka
The Eye of the Hunter is a fantasy novel by Dennis McKiernan that was first released in 1992. It’s the generational tale of two little people called warrows on a quest to find and destroy the world’s most heinous foe. It’s a controversial book for some, mainly because of its many similarities to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. (Hey, if you don’t like it….write it better.)
Tolkien has Middle Earth. McKiernan has Mithgar.
Tolkien has hobbits. McKiernan has warrows.
Tolkien has Elves. McKiernan has…well, also elves.
Clearly, there are similarities between these two fantasy series, but The Eye of the Hunter was a standout book for the entire genre. Personally, it was a milestone in my literary reading history. This was one of the first epic fantasy novels I had ever read, and it was truly EPIC. The adventure story trekked across the entire known world, going from frozen mountains to arid deserts, from side story to side story. In fact, anybody who actually finished the book should have won a medal. It was a long read, but well worth it.
Dennis McKiernan clearly read Tolkien’s novels and decided what was best and worst about them. It’s like revenge fiction, not fan fiction. Most noticeably, The Eye of the Hunter provides a greater depth to the different races of Mithgar. There is more focus on the long-lived nature of the elves. There are different races of humans in Mithgar. The vulgs are much nastier and horrifying creatures. The warrows also have more depth than Tolkien’s hobbits. Instead of being shy little humans with large feet, the warrows are more like a mythical class of creature all their own, with talismans and spellcraft worthy of any fantasy race.
The reason for the mythic and scenic triumphs of this weighty novel is McKiernan’s writing style. Although some would call it overdone and tedious, others would say it’s highly-detailed and descriptive. McKiernan is a master at using description to heighten suspense. Each scene is thoughtfully set up and the reader is placed so firmly in the setting that it becomes real. There were tense moments throughout the storyline that were magnificently written in terms of pacing and readability.
Like most people, I never read the other ten or so books in the Mithgar series. Yet I always came back to The Eye of the Hunter. It’s a standalone hit. I’ve read it nearly half a dozen times and can’t wait to introduce this fantasy tale to my little brave warrows in the future.