Heroic Fantasy tends to come in series. It’s a well known fact. Only look at the classics. Lord of the Rings. Elric. Earthsea. Notable stand-alone fantasy books are quite the rarety.
In fact, it’s hardly a new observation to point out that the biggest-selling fantasy series of the last decade or two seem to be of more volumes than ever, and those volumes thicker than ever. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire – slated to be 7 books of apparently ever-increasing girth. Goodkind’s Sword of Truth – 10 doorsteps of fantasy. Jordan’s Wheel of Time – 12 huge big books. Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series (not as big selling perhaps, but certainly very well rated among the fantasy in-crowd) – 10 whacking volumes. In the core market of epic fat-fantasy, therefore, the trend seems to be for series that are fatter than ever.
Which is why it has often struck me as odd that the most common criticism I read of The Blade Itself is one along these lines, from King Rat (and I’m really hoping he’s a human that calls himself a rat, rather than actually a rat that types) over at Rat’s Reading:
“I will say right up front, that this book has no conclusion. That’s not always a bad thing in series fantasy writing. I know several people who prefer long series with no conclusion until the end. I don’t like it, but I can put up with it for good writing. I’d prefer my series to be separate yet intertwined stories. This is not a story in itself. It is the first part of one.”
On occasion the responses to this perceived lack of closure are slightly … more intense. These from my worst two reviews on Amazon.co.uk:
“I know loads of people seem to love this book but I just don’t see it. It is the most blatant ‘read on in book 2’ opening novel that I’ve ever read. When I read a book, I like it to have a story that is completed. Nothing is completed within these pages. Shame, really.”
“It’s all set up for something to happen in later books but I read a book for something to happen now, not in volume six. If this novel actually had a plot and a satisfying conclusion I would have been tempted to buy later volumes. I don’t really know if the plot is any good, because it isn’t here. Maybe it’s in volume six?”
Well, very sorry about that, kind sirs, but, you know, it does say Book One on the cover, and … and … there are only going to be three books actually … so … I mean … sirs? Sirs! Please come back sirs!
Of course, there are many different ways to write a series as far as continuity and long-term plotting go. You don’t necessarily have to leave your readers hanging, at least, not that much. Two extremes of approach suggest themselves. One is perhaps close to a classic crime or western series – a set of books that feature the same central character or characters, often in similar settings and situations, each time tackling a new and self-contained problem. A TV example might be one of my old favourites, Star Trek: Next Generation. Each episode is a self-contained scenario, neatly wrapped up after an hour, and the status quo is pretty much always regained at the end, ready for the next adventure. Long-term story arcs and character developments are kept to a minimum, and usually there’s nothing to stop you jumping in at the start of any episode and still having a pretty good notion what’s going on. Scott Lynch’s celebrated Gentleman Bastards sequence (first book – Lies of Locke Lamora) would seem to be close to this approach. That isn’t to say that it lacks long-term arcs or development necessarily, just that each book is a single, self-contained story, but linked and featuring the same central characters.
At the other extreme are series that make minimal attempts at narrative closure with each book or episode, perhaps just ending at a suitably important event, but leaving very little resolved in terms of overall plot. Often with these type of series long term development of characters is to the fore. Examples from TV? Why, none other than my favourite SF/F show of recent years, Heroes, or my favourite TV show of any kind, the utterly masterful in every department The Wire. In the case of The Wire each series is a single, sprawling investigation, with numerous threads left running between series. It’s confusing enough if you’ve seen every episode, let alone if you try and jump in halfway. The First Law is much closer to this approach. In effect, the trilogy is a single book, split into three parts at (relatively) suitable moments.
Of course, there are many positions between these two extremes. Not-quite as good as the Wire but pretty damn bloody-good cop show thankyou very much the Shield is one example. Each episode tends to revolve around a single case, often tied up before the hour is up, and you could probably still jump in anywhere and still basically get the picture, but each series has its own long-term plotlines, developments and themes. Most fantasy series would seem to occupy this middle ground to some degree.
So what approach is best? An impossible one to answer, since every book or TV series includes a whole range of different factors and every reader or viewer brings different tastes to the table. Plus series both of books and TV often develop as they go along, starting more episode-orientated and becoming steadily more series-orientated. There are certain advantages to both approaches, though. In the case of the self-contained book or episode, there is definitely a satisfaction for the reader or viewer in reaching the end of a part and seeing the various plot-threads come together. They are not left irritatedly drumming their fingers for a week to see the next episode (by which time they may have forgotten some of the previous one) or a year for the next book (by which time, fantasy being generally pretty complicated, they are sure to have forgotten quite a bit of the detail). There is therefore an instant pay-off. With the more drawn-out story, there can still be a satisfaction to the characters and the situations as you go, but the big pay-off really comes at the end (providing it’s done well, of course), as the reader sees the disparate plot threads come together and appreciates the way the journey has gone. With the Shield you enjoy every episode, with the Wire you find yourself a bit non-plussed after the first few of a series, intrigued after the next few, and then stunned by the ingenuity of the writers as the apparently unrelated components come together in unexpected ways.
Now in TV there has been a definite shift in recent years from the Star Trek ‘episode based’ approach, to the Heroes ‘series based’ (or even longer term) approach. Shows like The Sopranos have been hugely successful, despite often not resolving plotlines at all, let alone tying off an episode neatly. The focus here is much more on the characters, and their responses to situations, rather than the resolutions of plot. It isn’t really about what happens to Tony in the end, it’s about what he does on the way there, and why. Broadening the discussion to include a review of an author other than me (which of course I never like to do), this from John Berlyne over at SFRevu onPatrick Rothfuss’ highly successful debut The Name of the Wind:
“More of an issue for me though is the way in which The Name of the Wind fails to adequately resolve its plot lines … It seems to me that currently there is change going on in fantasy – the concept of the trilogy is being redefined. It used to be that such a sequence of novels would tell three separate, but linked and above all complete stories, events overlapping and influencing each other, but with each narrative having a definitive and satisfyin
g resolution at the end. This is not so with The Name of the Wind … it reads as the long first act in a story split three ways and the impression it left me with, after 650 pages, was of something unfinished and therefore unsatisfying.”
The shift Mr. Berlyne observes seems similar to the one taking place in TV, and I wonder if the two are related at all and part of a larger trend – if there is a general shift in entertainment towards more long-term story arcs and away from more traditional one story per episode entertainment. Certainly I feel that recent TV shows like The Sopranos have been a big influence on the way that I put my stories together – possibly a much greater influence than other recent genre books which (honestly) I don’t tend to read that much of.
But it is worth noting that there has been a corresponding shift in the way that TV is watched – a lot of people now download programs or buy them on DVD, perhaps then watching whole series in a few days, rather than spread out over a dozen weeks. This approach particularly favours shows like The Wire, where one can more easily take in the complexity of the whole series in a few sittings. There has been no corresponding shift with genre books. They’re still published, in general, no faster than one a year. In the case of many of the more popular series, they’re published an awful lot slower than that. Waiting a week for the next installment in an unresolved plot can be a pain. Waiting five years for one is something more serious.
But then The Lord of the Rings, surely the sun around which all epic fantasy orbits, makes little effort to wrap up its individual books on anything more than a relatively important moment. No-one ever seems to criticise Fellowship of the Ring for leaving a lot of threads dangling. Perhaps that is the key thing about long arcs. They can be frustrating while readers drum their fingers waiting for the next installment, but once the series stands complete, and the reader can just go and get the next one off the shelf (providing the author didn’t make a balls-up of the ending) such issues are soon forgotten.
With respect to The First Law, at least, I guess only time will tell …
Man that was long. Really better do some actual writing now.
26 comments so far
I’ve got Game of Thrones on my shelf but I doubt I’ll ever get round to reading it – the length is too offputting. Perdido Street Station remains unread. Pandora’s Star marks the start of another Peter F. Hamilton monolith. To be honest, and despite having read both books, I’m already a little tired of the Gentlemen Bastard sequence. Seven books? And then seven more? What I liked about your own books Joe is that they were concise, lean and character driven Even Lord of the Rings is overlong and the films could do with a bit of an edit.
You’re on the right track and The Wire and The Sopranos are perfect of examples of perfectly pitched and timed stories. Then again, someone asked me yesterday whether it was worth watching The Sopranos now that the final series is airing. When I pointed out that there’s a total of 83 hours of programming to catch up with, they looked a little bewildered. I wonder whether these long-running series are only good for those early adopters? A finite series or a simple trilogy might be all you need after all.
An interesting take, Joe.
Is there any reason in particular you chose to go the route you did with The First Law? I will say that I was mighty relieved when I finished The Blade Itself that I had its sequel sitting on my bedside table. I’m also relieved that the final volume is only a few months away.
I do like that you decided to keep your novels contained to short trilogies and stand alone novels contained within the same world, with the same characters, instead of one long multi-volume story.
This is an interesting topic, I think I’ll head on over to my blog and write up my own article about it in response.
One thing, though. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a single, standalone novel and it was only because of his publisher’s insistence (and much to his chagrin) that it was divided into it’s current three volume format. This would explain why there is little to no wrap-up at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, not to mention that anyone reading The Lord of the Rings nowadays has immediate access to the entirety of the novel and can read it as Tolkien originally intended.
Though I’m sure you knew that… 😉
A Dribble of Ink
On the internet, no one knows you are a rat…
I have a ton of thoughts about fantasy novels as series. I’ve got a long post about this half-written, and perhaps I’ll get it done sometime.
Anyway, the gist is: everyone likes different stuff. I’m generally not a fan of “high fantasy” for many reasons, one of them being the neverending nature of the series. But I have close friends who love the epic nature that is created by a series. It’ll be very hard to write something that pleases both of these types. My guess is that if an author writes to please me in fantasy, that author will probably lose more readers than if he/she wrote to please my friends. I am in the minority, and I’m okay with that. I worked in B&N; last year, and I watched Martin, Jordan, and Williams all fly off the shelves.
One thing about long series that can happen. They take a longer time to write generally. There’s a greater chance that they will “jump the shark” before the end. The story leads the author (or vice versa) into all sorts of weird alleys and before the end all the magic that was there at the beginning no longer exists. A case in point is Card’s Alvin Maker series. I loved the first few books. But by the time he got around to the last books he’d turned into a different person. It showed in the stories. They didn’t have the magic anymore.
That all being said, I quite liked your book despite it being more of a Sopranos-style than I generally like. I will pick up the next two books when they come out.
I think you’re right about the overall length. Really long series do tend to sprawl and very often decline in quality. With some you can actually see the books getting fatter as they progress down your shelf – a good indicator of a bit of a loss of focus. Perhaps that’s the real issue some readers have with books that don’t resolve – they’ve seen series decline so often and never really reach a satisfactory conclusion that they’ve come to expect it.
For me, if you can’t get a story told in three big-ass books you may need to do some serious self-editing. I say that now, of course. When I’m bogged down in the midst of my twenty-book cycle you can all throw vegetable matter at me. Or maybe some of you would like to do that now?
I’m a big fan of mysteries, of crime writing, of narrative twists an unexpected resolves, and a long single story seemed to be the best way to work some of these ideas into a fantasy setting. There’s a natural development and pace to three volumes that I like (beginning, middle, end, you know). Also, The First law is kind of my take on the classic fantasy epic, and the classic epic comes in three big books…
Having said that, I must admit that I never really thought that deeply about any of this when I started. I just plunged in and did what seemed natural.
As far as Tolkein goes, looking at my edition it appears they were published between July ’54 and October ’55, so with smaller gaps than we’re used to these days. Still enough to frustrate the reader, though. It’s not really his intention that interests me so much as the response to it. I wonder if folks complained then about being left in the lurch, or if a lack of ‘series fatigue’ made it a null issue.
Your rodential majesty,
Cheers for visiting. I totally agree that you’ll never please everyone, and that shouldn’t be an author’s aim in any case (however much any negative opinion may burn like the surface of the sun). All you can really hope to achieve is to write the kind of book that you like yourself, and hope that at least a few readers will agree with you. Better to be loved by a few, than blandly tolerated by many.
I hope you’ll like the way the series develops.
I wonder if writers plan ahead the number of books that turn out to be a saga? A trilogy seems about the right size to me for most sort of genres. Usually the first book is an introduction to the characters/world/plotlines etc and leaves you on tenterhooks for the next instalment, I see nothing wrong in that in itself (as long as some closure is achieved to bring the first book to an end satisfactorily) that method has been used for ages and ages, you only have to think of the Saturday Matinees I used to go to in the cinema, The Lone Ranger episode would always end up with him going over a cliff in a runaway stagecoach etc and you just knew you’d have to go back the following week to see the outcome. The second book perhaps brings in sub-plots, expands upon the original plot and leads up to the final of the three where the conclusion of the main story is achieved. However, when the trilogy begins to expand into the bloated decalogue(or whatever a ten book saga is called!), or perhaps even more, I’m sure the quality of the story suffers. Case in point for me is Jordan’s WOT. Initially I enjoyed the saga but as things progressed and diverged, numerous side characters were introduced, each with their own sub-plot, the mainstream plot that drove the story seemed to get lost and finally I became bored with it. Book 8 or 9 was bought, can’t remember which, languished on my ‘to read shelf’ for months and finally ended up unread and put onto Ebay. It’s almost as if the writer can’t bring him/herself to a conclusion and again I wonder, did they initially plan to write such a large tome?
Personally, when I wrote Flames of Herakleitos it was meant to be just the one book, but towards the end I realised that the characters had more to say and although it concluded with what I hope is a satisfactory ending there is a hint that perhaps more is to come. Perhaps that is the trap that saga writers fall into? They can’t bear to let their characters go?
With both Blade and Hanged I thought the endings were fine, I understood it was a trilogy and therefore the main plot would only conclude in the third book, to want otherwise seems to me that the reader didn’t pay enough attention to the sub-title The First Law – Book One.
Actually, Rothfuss appears to be in the same boat as Tolkien. The Kingkiller Chronicle (originally called A Song of Flame and Thunder) was written as one work and chopped in three for publication. However, I’m not sure if this is much of an excuse: Tolkien knew in post-war, cash-strapped 1949 when he finished LotR that no-one was going to publish a 1,000-page novel in one volume as it would be too expensive, and Rothfuss knew in 2005 or whenever he finished that no-one was going to publish a 2,500-odd-page novel in one volume either. The Name of the Wind’s total absence of any kind of ending, not even a cliffhanger, is the book’s weakest feature. It just stops and presumably The Wise Man’s Fear will just start again with no preamble.
As for GRRM, I think that the series kind of works as a nearly self-contained trilogy (A Game of Thrones through Storm of Swords) followed by a four-volume sequel series. This seems to be the way to go for very long series: Feist’s 30-volume Riftwar series is divided into something like seven or eight sub-series; Bakker’s 7+ book series is divided into three sub-series; and Erikson’s 10-book saga actually contains three somewhat separate storylines which touch upon the others in various ways.
When it comes to very long individual books, GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire books, Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn books (but NOT his Commonwealth books, which are overlong) and Lord of the Rings are just about the only ones which justify their lengths. Erikson nearly does, but most of his books could do with a hundred pages or so shaved off them.
I agree, for my taste, three is plenty, but as king rat observes, we are clearly in the minority, since most fantasy fans seem to be going for the big series.
Hey, man. Do you think of the Lord of the Rings volumes as very long? They seem quaintly clutch-bag sized by comparison with some of today’s big hitters.
Rothfuss’ refusal to end his book doesn’t seem to be doing him any harm commercially. I guess the majority are well-used to books in many parts by now, and more than happy to wait if they like what they’ve seen thus far.
A Song of Flame and Thunder, huh? My own series was originally called A Hymn to Hot and Cold.
The publisher was not keen.
I meant more the overall 1-volume size of Lord of the Rings rather than the three individual volumes (or the seven-book version, for that matter!). The irony of Lord of the Rings being considered a huge book yet is smaller than some individual volumes of a series is something that I’ve seen some critics comment on, and is quite amusing.
As I noted on my blog, I think the reason Naomi Novik won the Hugo is that she got three books out in just a few months because she’d completed the trilogy beforehand (a luxury most authors do not have), meaning her ‘market presence’ had more impact than other authors (Lynch comes to mind).
Yeah, it’s interesting that on the one hand, a lot of fantasy fans seem to want the genre to be taken more seriously by mainstream readers, but on the other the core of fantasy seems to be moving into ever-less generally accessible territory of the enormously long and complex.
I think Novik’s three books out is important, but as far as I can tell (and I don’t have accurate figures by any means) she’s also sold a real shed-load of books. Lynch is without doubt a great favourite with the hardcore fantasy crowd, and gets ten times more attention than Novik on most of the message boards that you and I frequent, but I suspect a lot of the silent majority of the wider genre crowd still don’t really know that much about him. I’m really not sure why that should be, but the same seems to be true of Rothfuss – from what I can tell he’s had less attention than Lynch from the hardcore community, but he’s selling pretty huge by all accounts. Perhaps it’s all down to the marketing in the US – that’s pretty hard to judge from my armchair in London.
For me, the length of the book/series doesn’t really matter all that much. So long as the books have good plots, characters, etc., I’m willing to go through all 12 volumes.
The only frustration I get from them is that the next one can’t get there fast enough (like how I’m oh so patiently waiting for Before We Are Hanged to arrive in our shores).
The vastness of some series can be daunting to the latecomer. A sense of despair can set in when a series seems to be repeating itself (Jordan) or splitting fractally into countless plotlines (for me, Martin.) It’s interesting that there are fairly few ongoing open-ended series in fantasy along the western lines as you describe (I think comics work in the same way, eg Batman started in 1939 and has yet to end…) I can only think of the Conan pastiches at the moment. Somehow fantasy readers seem to want closure at some point.
I like gorging on DVD series retrospetively, and the literary equivalent, but there’s a pleasure with a really compelling series like yours in being in on it from the start and waiting for the ‘event’ of a new volume…
I have become leery of the “mega-series” as I call them, and I tend to not exactly give up on them, but move onto other things. I started all three of the series that you mentioned in your original post, enjoyed them all (for the most part), but probably won’t get around to finishing any of them. Too many other books (like yours) are attracting my attention! That’s why I’m glad you have written a trilogy.
I am accustomed to trilogies leaving me in mid-story, so I don’t think I’ll find that off-putting.
I just got your comment on my review, and I responded, but chances are you’ll be avoiding my blog at all costs now, I just wanted to say thanks for the laugh. I had a feeling you were awesome. 😉
I think that you have touched some really interesting topics in your article, Joe. First of all is the difficulty to have to wait for years to complete a trilogy, or cuadrology or so… I supposse part of it is marketing. It’s like music in the 70’s, nowdays it will be impossible to peolple like elton John to publish 5 great discs in one year and a half, like he did in 1970.1971, you have promotion, you have to open market abroad, in resume, you have to sell, and when I say you, I don’t mean you, Joe, but your publishing company. But is this really a good Idea? I stopped reading George RR martin because I had to wait sooooo long to read the next book. I think one year as you have done is “waitable” (sorry for my english, i’m from Spain).
Said that, the reason to like ended plots in books or not is that, a question of tastes, you can wait for 10 years and you will have all george rr martin books finished (or more), you are not obliged to buy the books now, as you said in your post, Joe, you wrote in the cover…”Book I…” there are a lot of books to read in meanwhile you finished your third, and if you liked (as I did, it will be an expectation, as having to wait for the next chapter of the wire, next week). honestly I think that having or not having resolved the plot is not worth to be raised in a review (in the same league as to prefer a blonde main character).
It’s the same with the Wire, I have the luck (or not) that in Spain The Wire is not aired, so I buy the complete series and have the oportunity to watch the complete episodes in full, or as in Heores that Is aired, but I chose not to watch, and would rather to buy the DVDs now that are out. Is a matter of own choice, and I can’t charge it on David Simon or the creators of heroes…
Logen Ninefingers and Macnulty… oh Joe, next thing is that you are a fan of the Real Madrid…
Thanks, all, for your comments.
Perhaps part of the difficulty with series is that fantasy fans are so used to seeing these things drag out and/or decline that they’ve come to expect it, and the alarm bells start ringing when a book doesn’t cut off cleanly. Can’t say I really blame anyone for thinking that way – I’ve been burned myself as a reader on occasion.
You are correct, I am awesome. Why didn’t you say that in your review? In all seriousness, I thought it was a thoughtful and balanced piece. I’d argue the toss with you about the style, but that’s the thing about style, you either like it or you don’t, and if you don’t, there’s no convincing you.
Sorry, not a Real fan, but MacNulty, MacNulty, what a character.
I like when a new author I want to try out has a stand-alone novel. I can spend less time and cash seeing if I like a new author.
Of course, if an author gets rave reviews from reviewers I respect, then I’ll buy anyway. I did that based ona lot’s of reviews for the First Law and so far am enjoying it immensely.
Grasping for the Wind
Well, Joe, nobody’s perfect.
I read the other day about The Wire, that it should be a matter of study to all the people that likes to write, as an example of how to write characters, plot and settings, in any media.
And although I would never have thought that you are a The Wire before when I read your books (why should I be?), I am not surprised that you are once I know it, and I have enjoyed your first two books.
I think a novel not “ending well” if it is part of a series is a completely moot and pointless… erm, point. Maybe my brain just kicks in and realises that the story continues and I await the next instalment with bated breath.
Certainly a good, wrapped up ending to a novel is satisfying but I don’t find it ultimately necessary. However being a fantasy fan for 20 years now beginnning the waiting game with The Mallorean’s “Guardians of the West” when I was 9, lately I have held back from starting any new series unless it is fully published. Since book 7 I’ve only bought Jordan and have stopped reading the books until they are all out, same for Hobb & Douglass. I wish I’d done the same for GRRM but at the conversely they’ve just been too good to do so. A friend recently introduced me to Erikson and the only reason I started the series – despite it not being finished yet – was that RG was just about to come out and my friend was begging me to read them, so I caved (and am damn glad I did despite now eagerly awaiting book 8 with crossed legs!).
So, sorry Mr Abercrombie, Rothfuss, possibly Lynch, Durham and others – you may be getting rave reviews but frankly I can wait. And since in the last 2 decades there has literally been dozens of series released that I didn’t touch and they’re all now completed – and with a good name to them – I have enough material to fill in the gap. Heck I’ve only just started Glen Cook’s Black Company series!
Of course I’ll always purchase the next Erikson, Pratchett, Feist and GRRMartin no matter if they’re a standalone tale or a continuation of a series, but no more I tell you! No more…
“nowdays it will be impossible to peolple like elton John to publish 5 great discs in one year and a half, like he did in 1970.”
Well, John Fruiscante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers did release six albums in six months in 2004 (reputedly pretty good), but interestingly he did use old-school recording techniques to do it.
Well, the last of The First Law is out in March, so I guess you can decide then whether you’d like to read it or not…
John Frusciante has a prodigious solo output. He also nearly destroyed his arms shooting up and had to have skin grafts.
I’ll settle for a book a year and no abcesses…
Trust me, based ont he reviews I have read and the buzz, I shall be doing just that Joe.
Sorry, I didn’t know about Frusciante (and my sister probably will kill me), but you will agree that it is not what we are used to nowdays, which is more, an author that tends to be “prolific” is always in doubt of being in good quality vs, quantity…
One thing you continually miss when comparing Tolkien to other fantasy serialists is that Tolkien wrote The Lord of The Rings as one whole novel and his publisher split it into three. That’s why Fellowship ends with the inconclusive sundering of the group and TTT ends with Frodo half-dead. Note that by the time you’re finished (and given the March ’08 publication date for your book 3, that means you likely are all-but-done), The First Law will be longer than LoTR.
As for your notion of novel writing in a manner similar to The Sopranos and The Wire, the author closest to achieving that is Goodkind — surely you don’t want that parallel?
There’s some discussion higher up the comments about the fact that Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings as a single book, but I doubt that he would ever have been naive enough to suppose it would be published as a single volume, and it certainly wasn’t. Readers still had to wait for their next installment, just as they are having to do for mine, or for Pat Rothfuss’, who also wrote his trilogy as a single book. I don’t see the huge distinction. I’m not sure of the relevance of the length of the First Law as compared to Lord of the Rings, either – I’d say they’re in roughly the same ballpark, as the scale and structure of fantasy series go. Obviously I wouldn’t lay claim to an equivalence of quality, but that’s a very different argument.
I don’t really have a clue what you mean by the Wire being like Goodkind. Maybe you could enlighten us further on that point. I’ve never read any Goodkind, so I don’t have much to offer on that score, but I certainly wouldn’t complain about sales parallel with his.
Relevance of length comparison stems from the common notion that LoTR is a long story. It is, but not in this genre — after all, Tolkien mused that it may have been too short and if he wrote it today (assuming another groundbreaking writer preceded him) LoTR would be 2000 pages if written tersely. LoTR is really about the same size as The Count of Monte Cristo and War and Peace, therefore the notion that he would not conceive it would be published as a single book may not be accurate — I have single-volume unabridged versions of each (although, to be fair, Monte Cristo first appeared as a serial novel).
You mentioned the overarching theme pitched and set through separate books — that’s what Goodkind does. Each volume is a small episode within a larger sequence tied together by certain themes (his devotion to Randian Objectivism) instead of a single story written in multiple volumes like Jordan or Martin. Although Goodkind’s sales figures are large, the opprobrium he has rightly received from numerous fans of the genre is probably not something you would strive for. Nor do you deny that you are writing in the genre, Goodkind denies that he writes fantasy fiction.