Here we have a detail of (one version) of the cover art for the first book of the second chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. I must have read the first six books at least three times each over the years. I was first introduced to them by Jim B. in 8th grade. The cover looked kind of neat, so I picked one up and was blown away. This was of course the same time some friends and I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (the old fashioned way, with a lot of dice and imagination) so these books were right up my alley.
I had never read Tolkein until after the Lord of the Rings movie came out (I did see The Hobbit as a play in grade school, and the animated TV version). I was pretty disappointed- the characters aspired to be one dimensional in my opinion. The only cool thing was how the story melded so many old legends and monster types, etc. That is the real contribution, the basic framework for everyone else to follow. Donaldson’s books were very similar to LotR, but his characters were much more fleshed out, and as you read you fell in love with the Land and its characters.