[Marxism] Re: Tolkien

Bob Hopson bobhpsn at yahoo.com
Thu Nov 16 09:33:55 MST 2006


I guess this Tolkien thread brings out the defensive nerd in me; what I find annoying is the sense of snobbery displayed by critics of Tolkien or other speculative fiction or genre writing.  Often you see an argument along the lines of "Tolkien is unreadable, he's a terrible writer, such and such modern writers were far better" which I translate as "I'm better read than you and have better taste in literature".  OK, fine; but if you can't stand speculative or fantastic fiction, why try and convince those of us who do that we have bad taste?
 
 The 'maps' blogger writes:
 
 Rings may have a fantastic setting, but its prose style is ultra-traditional, drawing on Norse legend and Chaucer and completely ignoring the innovations that modernist writers like Joyce, Proust, Hemingway and so many others had given to the novel form in the first decades of the twentieth century. To my mind, Rings is a very dour piece of realism when set beside a novel like Joyce's Ulysses, even though Joyce tells his story in twentieth century Dublin rather than a fantastic land of elves and hobbits. 
 
 I mean, name drop much?  How many people read Proust or Ulysses for fun, outside of a classroom? (of course a bunch of you will now post that you do :) )  My point being: Tolkien may not be a great prose stylist or literary innovator, but he had a tremendous imagination and that's why people will be enjoying his stories for years to come.  And there's more than just the setting; someone once commented that Tolkien's evlves were one of the very few sublime literary creations of the 20th century, and I suspect that's true.  But of course, 9 out of 10 critics agree that fantastic/speculative fiction can't be good.
 
 The ex-academic John Dolan really nailed it, in my opinion, with his essay on Philip K. Dick: http://www.exile.ru/2002-May-29/book_review.html
 Sure, Dick was a paranoid anti-communist, but a fascinating read nontheless.
 
 I was aware that China Mielville had slammed Tolkien; as a fantasy writer, I sure he's sick of fans who expect Lord of the Rings clones. The point I was trying to raise about Mielville is that he has said that he only enjoys reading stuff with a speculative or fantastic element in it, and I think many people feel the same way.  Why does this type of fiction get such little respect?  I was reading a review of Walter Moseley where the writer was raving about what a genius he is for being versatile enough to write a science fiction novel.  I was thinking: why does someone like Dan Simmons, who's won major awards for science fiction, fantasy and mystery writing, get so little critical acknowledgement?  Oh, right, if you're a genre writer you can't be 'serious'.
 
 Finally, I know it's our sacred duty to be all ruthlessly critical of everything, but I find the killjoy aspect of trashing everything positive about pop culture (e.g. this thread on Stan Goff's blog: http://stangoff.com/?p=357 for a prime example) kind of disheartening. Guess that's just my inner nerd tired of getting beat up by my inner cadre.
 
 Sorry for the rant, folks.

 
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