[Marxism] Re: Tolkien

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Fri Nov 17 08:46:12 MST 2006

Bob Hopson wrote:
> 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?

(I read Proust, Pound, Austen, Milton, & Rochester for fun.) I agree
that the name-dropping here is repugnant, but I wouldn't agree that
name-dropping is _always_ repugnant. See the name-dropping in Canto 4 of
Dante's _Hell_, the passage concluding with "so that I was the sixth
among such sages." Dante is name-dropping for positive reasons, to
create a context for his proud (and correct) placement of his own work.
That is not mere boasting because part of the intelligibility of Dante's
poem depends on its being placed in such copany; it is either in such
company or it is trash -- no middle ground. But 'maps,'  as you note,
uses name-dropping to denigrate Tolkien, a mug's game, because it opens
up an infinite regress of counter-punching name-dropping.

There is of course no law of literature that a writer MUST attend to any
particular bunch of writers, and it says nothing whatever about Tolkien
to say he doesn't attend to Joyce or Proust. Such a point might have
been relevant had Tolkien written in the style of the Victorian
prose=translations of Homer, but in "ignoring' Joyce & Proust he doesn't
simply fall back on a precedent style but develops one he clearly thinks
is decorous for the tale he has to tell (as the style of Joyce or
Faulkner certainly would not have been). And so Bob's next point is
clearly correct:

> (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.<

People have already enjoyed it for 50 years! As an empirical claim one
can't dispute this. And _as a marxist_, I would like to claim moreover
that there exist no grounds within marxism to write such sentences as "X
is a bad book." In fact, for marxist purposes, _all_ sentences of the
form "X is bad" are iffy. Let's leave such empty moralizing to our
bourgeois opponents.

What does it mean, anyhow, to say that Rings is a bad book: (a) that
only stupid people will enjoy it? (b) that it will turn anyone who reads
it into a stupid person? (c) that the reader won't learn anything new
from it? (d) that time is so precious in every human life that 10
minutes enjoyment of the trivial is a mortal sin?

What! Because Lenin asked WITBD shall there be no more cakes and ale?

	For Anne Gregory
		(quoted from memory so don't trust the punctuation)

'Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.'

'But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.'

'I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.'

Why the fight over Tolkien anyhow? Does it really corrupt anyone who
reads it? Or, from the opposite side, is anyone who fails to read it
henceforth incapable of understanding humanity?


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