In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik says some sharp things about how modern fantasy, particularly young adult fantasy, makes otherwise dull and dreary mythology potent and appealing to children. Here’s something about Tolkien’s “bright foreground” — the Hobbits and pipe-weed layered over his more abstruse legendarium:
This is surely the most significant of the elements that Tolkien brought to fantasy. It’s true that his fantasies are uniquely “thought through”: every creature has its own origin story, script, or grammar; nothing is gratuitous. But even more compelling was his arranged marriage between the Elder Edda and “The Wind in the Willows” — big Icelandic romance and small-scale, cozy English children’s book. The story told by “The Lord of the Rings” is essentially what would happen if Mole and Ratty got drafted into the Nibelungenlied.
His comments about Christopher Paolini and Stephenie Meyer are similarly illuminating.