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Old 07-20-2006, 01:45 PM   #1
davem
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'Spun Candy' anyone?

(Ok, I found a reference to this statement of Philip Pullman on another board)

In an essay in the New Yorker Pullman states

Quote:
At one point, Pullman and I stopped by the Eagle and Child, an Oxford pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet regularly with a group of literary friends. (They called themselves the Inklings.) A framed photograph of Lewis’s jowly face smiled down on us as we talked. In person, Pullman isn’t quite as choleric as he sometimes comes across in his newspaper essays. When challenged, he listens carefully and considerately, and occasionally tempers his ire. “The ‘Narnia’ books are a real wrestle with real things,” he conceded. As much as he dislikes the answers Lewis arrives at, he said that he respects “the struggle that he’s undergoing as he searches for the answers. There’s hope for Lewis. Lewis could be redeemed.” Not Tolkien, however: the “Rings” series, he declared, is “just fancy spun candy. There’s no substance to it.”
Now, what's interesting is that Pullman thinks the Narnia Chronicles are 'redeemable' while LotR is not. I wonder what he means by 'redeemed' here? Is he saying that the Narnia books could be changed to fit in with his own philosophical position while LotR could not? Apparently Lewis is asking the right questions, but getting the 'wrong' answers, while Tolkien is not asking any questions at all.

Is this in any way correct? Is Lewis asking difficult questions & Tolkien merely producing an 'entertainment'?

What's interesting is that Tolkien effectively said in the Foreword to LotR that he was writing an entertainment, a long tale that would move his readers, but that it was not an allegory, or an attempt to explain the nature of life, the universe & everything. Lewis called his Narnia books a 'supposal' - 'suppose the Son of God had appeared in a world like Narnia - what would happen?'

So, is it correct that Tolkien was not asking 'questions', & therefore not offering 'answers'? I suppose one could argue that he was presenting us with the harsh facts of life & death, without offering answers (how could he if he was not asking any questions?).

But if Lewis is 'redeemable' does that mean that there is a fundamental difference between the works of the two friends? And if Pullman is correct what does this say about the difference between the Middle-earth & Narnia?

Personally, I was never 'convinced' by Narnia or the worlds of HDM - both seemed fake, made up - perhaps because in each case the author is using their story to ask questions (& offer answers), while Tolkien was not.

So, is LotR 'spun candy' in the sense that it is not a didactic work? Perhaps - reading both HDM & the Narnia books I always felt I was in a classroom, being 'taught' something, while reading LotR was like the Summer Holidays, runnng through the fields, exploring the woods, having adventures.
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Old 07-20-2006, 02:32 PM   #2
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I'm not familiar with the HDM series or Pullman at all, and so I have little to offer on that front. From the article though, it would seem that he takes the same route that most atheists (take no offense if you are one) take: that is, they regard anything having to do with religion as a mistake. Which is ironic, because atheism is a religion in itself. I mean, it takes some serious conviction to say for certain that is no God.

Was Tolkien asking questions? I think he was asking just one: "How far can I take this world?" Was his work filled with religious themes? That's been debated here before, time and time again. (My personal favorite is still the "Is Eru God?" thread.)

The difference between Tolkien and Lewis? Lewis was an ardent defender of Christainity and an apologeticist (someone who uses reason and logic to defend faith). Tolkien wasn't. He never bothered arguing with anyone about his beliefs. He just had them. Some may have spilled over into his writings, but it seems apparent that he was writing because he loved to write. Lewis loved to write, but he used his skill to explain and defend what he believed.

Personally, I think Pullman is mistaken about Lewis. I don't Lewis was struggling for answers when he wrote Narnia. I think he had the answers and was trying to explain them to everyone else in a parable, much like Christ did. Tolkien wasn't trying to explain anything.
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Old 07-20-2006, 02:33 PM   #3
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Before I post any answers (I'm definitely considering writing a post up), I was wondering if you could tell me what HDM meant?

-- Folwren
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Old 07-20-2006, 02:40 PM   #4
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In the sense that Pullman calls LotR 'spun sugar' he means that it has no depth, but if we mean thatl a 'spun sugar' book is simply not didactic then that's a different question.

I reckon we'd all agree that Pullman is wrong and LotR does indeed have a lot of substance. I happen to think LotR is not didactic at all, so I might be entitled to call it 'spun sugar'; but this leads on to questioning whether a book must be didactic in order to be 'worthy' and to have depth.

Pullman I think is being deliberately provocative, as he knows that literature does not have to be didactic in order to have substance. The whole history of folklore and mythology is filled with what seem to be simple stories that conceal a great deal of meaning, as is the Bible. Poetry can also seem to be simple 'froth' and entertainment but is actually filled with meaning - Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience might seem to be simple poems at first reading but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Tolkien simply lays out a story upon a page and then leaves the reader to get on with the reading, and they may or may not find the deeper substance. I know many readers who do not, but they enjoy the books all the same and can talk about all the detail; they simply prefer not to analyse, just to enjoy. I think that this is a big factor in why Tolkien is so popular; his work appeals to a huge range of types of reader.

If he had written an allegory, his audience would have been very different. The Chronicles of Narnia have a big audience, but I'm sure I'm not alone in finding that Lewis lets me down as a reader of fantasy by telling me what to think. Just knowing that the books have this 'message' puts me off. I find it takes me out of the secondary world created and dumps me back in the real world. Likewise I found that HDM was spoiled by including God and Angels. Maybe its personal preference, but I find Tolkien's work much more subtle; a 'message' can be found for all kinds of people there. I suppose rather than being 'spun sugar', the writing style found in Tolkien's work is the subtly flavoured three course meal as opposed to the Big Mac and Fries style you often get from the book with an overt 'message'.
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Old 07-20-2006, 02:44 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Folwren
Before I post any answers (I'm definitely considering writing a post up), I was wondering if you could tell me what HDM meant?

-- Folwren
The 'His Dark Materials' series (Northern Lights - or Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass)
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Old 07-20-2006, 03:35 PM   #6
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Oh. His Dark Materiels. I read The Golden Compass and didn’t like it. Too brutal and too full of evil for my taste.

Spun Candy? No. Bad description, I’d say. And as for Lewis giving wrong answers. . .well, you can’t imagine how many people have said that about a lot of his stuff, but I’d disagree entirely. Lewis is one of the best, in both writing and in theological matters.

I have heard Tolkien’s writing bashed quite a few times. There was one critic (and the book is at home, so I can’t quote him exactly), who said that the LotR was a childish fairy tale - empty, shallow, and ridiculous and not worth reading. I’d as soon believe this fellow as Pollman, who describes it as ‘spun candy.’

Lewis and Tolkien wrote for two different reasons and neither of them are wrong reasons. One is simply better than the other. Lewis’ reason for writing was to enlighten people, to help them, to make them understand - lift them up out of this dark world and place them in a better place with more hope. This is a spectacular reason to write - especially if you can put it into such charming stories as the Narnia books or his other fiction, as The Space Trilogy or Till We Have Faces. Tolkien wrote for the mere pleasure of it, but he didn’t leave out all the redeeming value. There are many, many, many authors out there today who write for the mere pleasure of it (that young chap who wrote Eldest, for instance, and got his book copied millions of times) and who’s books hold no value in it and no depth. These books (excuse my language) are trash. Most fantasies are like that. And some people, if they don’t know what good writing is and what depth is, might think that all fantasies are the same thing.

Tolkien may have written for entertainment, but who’s to say the books didn’t teach you anything? He did not write specifically to teach about Christ, Christianity in general, or anything like that, but he did happen to put into his books a lot of truths that can be used in our world.

No, Tolkein’s works are not ‘spun candy’, nor are Lewis’ books not redeemed already - they passed the test when his pen left the paper.

– Folwren

P.S. I realize this post somewhat strayed from the point. I won't deny I didn't quite understand the initial question, but upon further reading and looking up some words, I think I did, in the end.
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Old 07-20-2006, 04:16 PM   #7
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Clearly there is depth & meaning in Tolkien's work - if you look for it. Certainly it is moving, but principally it is Art, not didiacticism. I think this is what Pullman fails to grasp. To him the purpose of literature is to teach. The author is a teacher, passing on his wisdom to his readers, telling them the way things are - or should be. Hence, he doesn't argue with Lewis intention, only with the answers he offers. I suspect this is why he has a greater animus against Tolkien - because Tolkien isn't attempting to teach anything in LotR. He is attempting to create a work of Art. Pullman, therefore, cannot argue with Tolkien in the way he can argue with Lewis (hence Lewis is 'redeemable' - ie Pullman feels that if Lewis were still around he could be argued into adopting Pullman's point). What Pullman realises is that he cannot argue with Tolkien, because Tolkien would be simply standing by his Tree & smiling.

Of course, my real problem with Pullman is that what he has to 'teach' is so trivial, so inherently silly & 'PC' that he mostly bores me (I like the daemons, the armoured bears & the witches, but I suspect Pullman would say I was missing the 'deeper' meaning & relevance of the story - though actually those three creations are among the most interesting aspects of his novels).There's nothing more irritating than someone coming up to you & trying to impart their 'wisdom'.

Its the same with the way he always seems to have to keep sticking the boot into Lewis & Tolkien. Who is this guy anyway? He's written one novel that has been taken 'seriously' by a handful of pseuds. Its eqivalent to some amateur dramatist suddenly finding some play of his picked up & performed in the West End & proceeding in every interview to say how terrible & worthless Shakespeare is.

But now I'm digressing.
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Old 07-20-2006, 05:50 PM   #8
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It's sticky! What is it?

If spun candy = cotton candy, yum! No wonder I love LotR so much!

I think the very fact that Tolkien does not ask questions is a reason why his secondary world is so convincing. The "real world" does not work in allegories or symbols; questions about life, the universe, and everything are not offered, but arise as a result of living in that world. With LotR, the reader can come away with questions even though they have not been asked, and perhaps those questions have more merit because they expand the work in a sense. Instead of the author asking certain questions and offering answers (or expecting the reader to find his/her own answer), the reader can process what s/he has read and then build upon it. I think that is more important and inspiring than any question-and-answer session between a book and its reader, expecially because such a Q&A session is a one-way process. I daresay the reader could even be the questioner, and then search in the book for an answer that suits him/her -- after all, LotR is meant to be applicable rather than allegorical.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roa
Which is ironic, because atheism is a religion in itself. I mean, it takes some serious conviction to say for certain that is no God.
With risk of digressing into an inappropriate topic (for this forum, anyway), I'd just like to say that atheism is not a religion. It often requires faith, yes -- but faith in reason rather than a deity.
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Old 07-20-2006, 09:01 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Its the same with the way he always seems to have to keep sticking the boot into Lewis & Tolkien. Who is this guy anyway? He's written one novel that has been taken 'seriously' by a handful of pseuds. Its eqivalent to some amateur dramatist suddenly finding some play of his picked up & performed in the West End & proceeding in every interview to say how terrible & worthless Shakespeare is.

But now I'm digressing.
And Tolkien never had any axes of his own to grind. *cough*Shakespeare*cough*
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Old 07-20-2006, 09:42 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Encaitare

With LotR, the reader can come away with questions even though they have not been asked, and perhaps those questions have more merit because they expand the work in a sense. Instead of the author asking certain questions and offering answers (or expecting the reader to find his/her own answer), the reader can process what s/he has read and then build upon it.
Exactly, they're sometimes called significant insights. Tolkien was insightful, and dare say, brave enough in the field of literature to decide upon this marvelous idea of writing a tale, maybe for his own entertainment, and what could be shared with his readers.
He didn't have to have an exact, precise goal in mind that he expected all of his readers to be repeating about with each other. He most likely was being conscious of his audience, while still having a good crack at creating something that flew like a comet into the horizon of literature. The idea of a writer sparking questions and thoughts made from their work, to their readers, is not a new one. It is more like a guideline if you are planning on ever catching a reader's attention with your work.
Even so, Tolkien was genius enough to be able not only to keep this thought in mind, but to create something completely new and mind-opening while experiencing the tale's journey himself.

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Old 07-20-2006, 09:45 PM   #11
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Tolkien

That guy is crazy, obviously deserves the gallows of Mordor.

Beth, about that Shakesphere comment, what did Tolkien think of him?
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Old 07-20-2006, 11:45 PM   #12
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His Daft Maunder

Pullman is a simple case of association through notoriety, here is a man with limited skill who is taking a potshot at the king of the hill, in the vain hope that everyone will take note of him scuttling around with the rest of the pack of copyists at the bottom.
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Old 07-21-2006, 02:41 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bęthberry
And Tolkien never had any axes of his own to grind. *cough*Shakespeare*cough*
Well, he passed the odd comment re the way Shakespeare handled Fairies & the 'Birnham Wood to Dunsinane' thing, but I don't think he was actually 'anti' shakespeare - in fact Lewis & Currie have shown that Tolkien's feelings towards Shakespeare were not really all that negative at all. Certainly he didn't seem to seek out every opportunity to attack him.

I'm also wondering whether Tolkien's antipathy towards the Narnia books was in part due to Lewis didacticism...
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Old 07-21-2006, 06:41 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Clearly there is depth & meaning in Tolkien's work - if you look for it. Certainly it is moving, but principally it is Art, not didiacticism. I think this is what Pullman fails to grasp. To him the purpose of literature is to teach. The author is a teacher, passing on his wisdom to his readers, telling them the way things are - or should be. Hence, he doesn't argue with Lewis intention, only with the answers he offers. I suspect this is why he has a greater animus against Tolkien - because Tolkien isn't attempting to teach anything in LotR. He is attempting to create a work of Art. Pullman, therefore, cannot argue with Tolkien in the way he can argue with Lewis (hence Lewis is 'redeemable' - ie Pullman feels that if Lewis were still around he could be argued into adopting Pullman's point). What Pullman realises is that he cannot argue with Tolkien, because Tolkien would be simply standing by his Tree & smiling.
Firstly let me say that I loved HDM, it's one of my favourite books (well, sets of books, strictly speaking) and it had me very upset at points. Pullman conjoured up some truly startling creations, a wonderful main character and a vivid world. But he almost ruined it with the ending and all this business with God and Angels. That to me is argument enough to prove that 'message' novels can in fact sometimes be less worthy than 'entertainment' novels.

I would never claim that one type of book is better than the other, but a novel can be ruined by a heavy-handed or overbearing 'message'. Primarily we read fiction for pleasure; unless we're students of literature there's little point in wasting precious leisure time on a dull book. But likewise we don't always want to read frothy tripe. Unfortunately Pullman is of the school of thought that thinks literature (and no doubt films and TV too) must be 'worthy'; there are plenty of people in the opposite position who seek out the most mindless entertainments they can find.

Anyway, one thing we are overlooking is that Pullman must sell his books, and he seems to have identified a market. Those in the UK will recognise the middle-class, left-leaning type of person who likes to scoff at 'popular' entertainments and will know how much these types profess to despise Tolkien - usually coming up with the same tired old argument that Tolkien is 'racist' . Pullman is merely pandering to the audience he seeks, who will flip open the papers gathered around the Aga in the Islington 'farmhouse' kitchen on a Sunday morning and like to read cosy reviews they feel comfortable with. Exactly the sort of people who were booing like children who'd just seen the Pantomime Villain, at the Big Read final when Tolkien won bestest book ever.

Fact remains that Pullman wrote HDM which was amazing, and then almost ruined it by clumsily trying to make a point towards the end. HDM is also the only work he's put out that's broken out of the kids' corner at the library so I suspect he's been into the sour grapes a bit and is trying to intellectualise simple dislike.
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Old 07-21-2006, 09:46 AM   #15
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I have to say that I often amuse my friends by enjoying movies that don't always have a decent plot line (ie, Once upon a time in Mexico). And I am often amused by thier dislike of such movies. The difference is that they go to a movie to think, while I just go to fight off boredom. While I enjoy an intellectual satire as much as the next, and I can never get into slap stick humor, I don't go with the intent of being taught anything.

It can be the same way with books. (Though, admittedly, the plot line is far more important there.) If I want to be taught something, I'll head over to the non-fiction section and find a book on the subject I want to learn about. If I just want something entertaining to read, I'll wander into the fiction section and pick up something that looks like it will enterain me. While I enjoy Lewis, I find his storeies more enjoyable if I just ignore the lesson behind it.

I do remember starting the Golden Compass. I think I stopped at the 11th chapter, since nothing was getting anywhere and too many new plot lines were being introduced. I did pick up a distinct dislike of the Church, though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Enca
With risk of digressing into an inappropriate topic (for this forum, anyway), I'd just like to say that atheism is not a religion. It often requires faith, yes -- but faith in reason rather than a deity.
A religion is a set of beliefs or pricncipals that one follows with conviction and zeal. And they don't have faith in Reason- they have faith in Science, which is entirely different. I won't carry the debate farther than this here, but I'd be happy to continue it in private with anyone who feels like it. (I'm studying apologetics, much like Lewis did.)
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Old 07-21-2006, 10:16 AM   #16
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Religion requires the supernatural. Debate over.

I agree with Lal about the ending of HDM. I thought it was a pretty good story until the last book, where it just got very messy and unsatisfying and lame.

Pullman reminds me of those kids (and, who am I kidding, adults too) who dislike a certain band, and try to explain to everyone who'll listen why they are so bad. They often don't notice that the exact same criteria can be applied to another band whom they do appreciate.

Ok Phil, you don't like The Lord of the Rings. That's fine, lots of people don't like it. Just leave it at that and stop talking about it. Don't scramble about, trying to find justification and persuasive arguments to present to other people. When it's something as trivial as a storybook, just accept your likes and dislikes.
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Old 07-21-2006, 10:51 AM   #17
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Oh yes Pullman... sigh
"real wrestle with real things.."
To me, it's all about what writers want to right, and what readers want to read. The spectrum of fiction is so broad, it's pointless to rank one variety over the other. I suspect Pullman is aggrevated by the fact the JRRT was and is more popular \ successfull than Lewis, his obvious favorite between the two. But to take a literary stance on the argument to forward the validity of the position is silly.

When comparing both works, I would say that LOTR is a purer form of fiction. One can easily see that both authors collaborated and conversed on the subject, on the macro and smaller themes. I see two approaches on the same strategy. Not in the "lesson of the story", or the "wrestle", rather the basic ingredients of the structure. Past that, we see 2 different authors with vastly different goals in mind. LOTR, by not having a wardrobe, elevates the reader (or, to put it another way, with LOTR - the reader is the wardrobe). Much more elegant and subtle. Finer craftsmanship. Many out there are like Pullman - themes in fiction need to have a point, and that point needs to be backed up via the story. The author needs to tell the reader the message, and then prove that the point of the message is valid and correct. And of course it's correct, why else would the author write the story about the grand point in the first place... ugh

Its apples vs oranges, rather than steak vs candy...

Originally Posted by Bęthberry
And Tolkien never had any axes of his own to grind. *cough*Shakespeare*cough*

dont forget to add all things French to the grinding
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Old 07-21-2006, 11:55 AM   #18
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The odd thing is that Pullman is so angry about LotR. Its not simply that he dislikes it - if he did he would just ignore it. It seems that he has set himself up as some kind of 'Dragon-slayer', & wants to destroy it, convince us its trivial, meaningless, bad. Yet he's not taking the 'Its all racist' tack, but rather the 'Its all pointless & silly' tack. Yet he refuses to explain why it speaks so deeply & powerfully so so many people.

It seems that his view is that unless a work of Art has a message to preach, it is valueless. He even values a book with a message he disagrees with (Lion, Witch & Wardrobe) more highly than a book with no 'message' (LotR). This is utilitarianism, materialism, taken to its extreme. If it has no practical use it must be destroyed. It is exactly the kind of 'Machine' thinking that Tolkien presents us with in Saruman & Sauron. I could see Saruman writing HDM In fact the 'message' of HDM could be summed up in Saruman's words to Gandalf in Orthanc.

Pullman's condemnation of Tolkien: "He’s interested in maps and plans and languages and codes.” sums up his attitude perfectly - 'maps and plans and languages and codes' are unnecessary in his opinion - they serve no practical purpose, & hence are BAD THINGS. They do not communicate a message to the reader, so they are 'sinful' & 'irredeemable'. Pulllman's final 'vision' of a new world is one where other realities are forever cut off & people get down to practical things & forget all that 'fantasy' stuff - trying to access those other realities (those 'secondary worlds') is dangerous, a threat to the worlds' survival. Fantasy is not necessary is Pullman's message. He even stated in an interview that he was using fantasy to undermine fantasy. Lewis wasn't wrong to open the wardrobe for children - he was wrong because at the end he didn't have the Professor turn it into firewood & send the children back home to dodge the bombs, because the bombs are real, practical things.
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Old 07-21-2006, 12:10 PM   #19
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Well, he passed the odd comment re the way Shakespeare handled Fairies & the 'Birnham Wood to Dunsinane' thing, but I don't think he was actually 'anti' shakespeare - in fact Lewis & Currie have shown that Tolkien's feelings towards Shakespeare were not really all that negative at all. Certainly he didn't seem to seek out every opportunity to attack him.

I'm also wondering whether Tolkien's antipathy towards the Narnia books was in part due to Lewis didacticism...
That's interesting, I was wondering that because I personally do not like Shakesphere, and I'm happy to see Tolkien may have felt the same.
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Old 07-21-2006, 10:41 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by MatthewM
Beth, about that Shakesphere comment, what did Tolkien think of him?
Here's a brief rundown of the more accessible Will-whatnots in the Letters. Then on to the harder candy. There are two areas that are tantalizing in terms of the imaginative space Tolkien created from reading Shakespeare .

Tolkien Sr. writes some fasinating comments about Hamlet to his son Christopher in Letter #76, comments which demonstrate clearly that Tolkien was very familiar with Shakespeare's work. Wise in the ways of theatre, he offers an opinion that, in light of fans' responses to Jackson's film (and the musical debacle), is fascinatingly ironic.

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Originally Posted by Tolkien
But it [the production] emphasised more strongly than anything I have ever seen the folly of reading Shakespeare (and annotating him in the study), except as a concomitant of seeing his plays acted. . . . Could one only have seen it without ever having read it or knowing the plot, it would have been terrific. . . . But to my surprise the part that came out as the most moving, almost intolerably so, was the one that in reading I always found a bore: the scene of mad Ophelia singing her snatches.
Letter #163 to W.H. Auden (who had been one of Tolkien's students at Oxford) gives us in a note a wonderful example of a tendency quite common in many authors: a seeming denial of obligation which really speaks to a profoundly moving experience of inspiration, influence, anxiety, first steps.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tolkien
I had very little particular, conscious, intellectual, intention in mind at any point [... but was driven to it (ie, the writing) by the scarcity of literature of the sort that I wanted to read... [Here the text of the letter is amended by a long note, which follows]

Take the Ents, for instance. I did not consciously invent them at all. The chapter called 'Treebeard', from Treebeards' first remark on p. 66, was written off more or less as it stands, with an effect on my self (escept for labour pains) almost like reading some one else's work. And I like Ents now because they do not seem to have anything to do with me. I daresay something had been going on in the 'unconscious' for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when struck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at time to wait till 'what really happened' came through. But looking back analytically I should say that Ents are composed of philology, literature, and life. They owe their name to the eald enta geweorc of Anglo-Saxon, and their connexion to stone. Their part in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dusinane hill': I longed to devise a setting in which the trees might really march to war. . . .
Later in this same Letter #163 Tolkien provides a brief overview of his experiences as a schoolboy:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tolkien
I went to King Edward's School and spent most of my time learning Latine and Greek; but I also learned English. Not English Literature! Except Shakespeare (which I disliked cordially), the chief contacts with poetry were when one was made to translate it into Latin.
It is in the lecture/essay On Fairy-Stories that Tolkien expresses his fundamental objection to what Shakespeare with with fairy creatures. In part Tolkien's objection is due to his thought that Fantasy is best left to words rather than to other forms of representation. He also dislikes the idea that Fairy is determined solely by the appearance as characters of elves, fairies, dwarves, trolls, giants, dragons. Here he greatly chastises Drayton's Nymphidia especially but also mentions that modern ideas about the nature of fairies derives from Midsummer Night's Dream. Yet it is the witches from, again, the Scottish play, that also draw his regrets.

Quote:
Originally Posted by You know who
In Macbeth, when it is read, I find the witches tolerable: they have a narrative function and some hint of dark significance; thought they are vulgarised, poor things of their kind. They are almost intolerable in the play. They would be quite intolerable, if I were not fortified by some memory of them as they in the story as read. . . . To be dissolved, or to be degraded, is the likely fate of Fantasy when a dramatist tries to use it, even such a dramatist as Shakespeare. Macbeth is indeed a work by a playwright who ought, at least on this ocassion, to have written a story, if he had the skill or patience for that art.
It is fair to say that these comments from Tolkien about Shakespeare are not quite the argumentative, inflamatory rhetoric that Pullman uses about both Tolkien and Lewis. What interests me is why these authors make these claims about their predecessors.

Lal and others have suggested that Pullman is playing to an audience. This could well be. Certainly these days 'in your face' and edginess are the favoured styles du jour. However, I wonder if there isn't something else also at play, something which actually is common to both Pullman and Tolkien.

Pullman cannot be immune nor silent about Tolkien, for Tolkien's presence as a precursor in the development of fantasy is vast, huge, blinding to lesser lights. Similarly, Shakespeare's presence also thunders through the ages of Eng lit. After all, Shakespeare still is produced on the stage, around the world. Few people see productions of Milton's literary plays and few people read of their own volition Paradise Lost. Shakespeare, in our day as in Tolkien's day, is still a writer with a contemporary presence.

So both Tolkien and Pullman had a major literary ghost to dispel--and all the more so since those ghosts had, I suspect, profound influences on their own writing. I'm not talking about dry-as-dust-pedantic "sources". I'm talking about a writer whose work acts as a stimulus to a later writer, a catalyst. And in this case, perhaps both Pullman and Tolkien resist that catalyst, almost as if, in speaking denial, one were erradicating the very nature of something which influenced one so much as a writer. Is this part of what it means to carve out one's own personal space as a writer? Rather than 'completing' their forefathers, perhaps Tolkien and Pullman both found/find themselves bound to find fault with a writer who profoundly influenced his own work? The tone of that fault varies, as the tone of the ages each man lived in varied, but essentially are they both, when they comment upon his fabled predecessor, trying to put his own ideas in a prominent light? In order not to appear to be repeating, they propound upon a writer who in fact gave them the very materials which they use to hew their own space in the forest of words.

In other words, if Tolkien weren't so great a mark, would Pullman throw stones at him? If Shakespeare hadn't 'done' elves so famously, would Tolkien feel the need to correct him? For both writers, Tolkien and Pullman, there are some fascinating parallels that can be found between their new and original work and the work of a forefather.
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Old 07-22-2006, 12:11 AM   #21
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So both wish to kill their 'father'? But if we're getting all Oedipal here, what is the 'mother' they seek to possess?
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Old 07-22-2006, 04:40 AM   #22
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This is purely speculative, so feel free to disagree with me or to ignore my post altogether.


I would say that the 'mother' is their own writing. Of course this means in a way it's not their mother but their children, so the analogy doesn't exactly work with this approach.
Following Bethberry, their 'fathers' had a major influence on their own work. Now they might fear that others notice this influence and point it out, maybe even to the extend to say they copied parts. To themselves, this may seem as if their work is degraded in others' eyes and this they cannot and do not suffer. To overcome it by pointing out and explaining why they and their work weren't influenced like this is not enough, as it may be objected with good arguments. That is why they have to attack their fathers themselves with opinions and tell everybody just how much they dislike them. Now, in their eyes, they have their creation back for their own and unspoiled.

Though, I don't think I can go this far with Tolkien and Shakespeare, as Tolkien never publicly voiced his dislikes.


About the question "Why does Pullman criticise Tolkien the way he does" one more thing came to my mind. Especially the "real wrestle with real things" has me thinking and reminded me of the "Is Fantasy a dream or an escape?"-thread. Pullman would certainly have answered: none of the two, fantasy has only so much value as it is directly connected with reality. So my question is: Is Pullman a jailer?
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Old 07-22-2006, 05:53 AM   #23
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In this context I'm reminded of Tolkien's words in the Essay he wrote on Smith:

Quote:
BUT Faery is not religious. It is fairly evident that it is not Heaven or Paradise. Certainly its inhabitants, Elves, are not angels or emlssares of God (direct). The tale does not deal with religion itself. The Elves are not busy with a plan to reawake religious devotion in Wootton. The Cooking allegory would not be suitable to any such import. Faery represents at its weakest a breaking out (at least in mind) from the iron ring of the familiar, stilI more from the adamantine ring of belief that it is known, possessed, controlled, and so (ultimately) all that is worth being considered - a constant awareness of a world beyond these rings. More strongly it represents love: that is, a love and respect for all things, 'inanimate' and 'animate', an unposessing love of them as 'other'. This 'love' will produce both ruth and delight. Things seen in its light will be respected, and they will also appear delightful, beautiful, wonderful - even glorious.
Pullman, it seems, is aware of a world beyond these rings, but considers it to be dangerous & wishes to instill a fear of it in his readers & so attacks any work which presents it in a positive light.
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Old 07-22-2006, 07:44 AM   #24
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Tolkien All's well that ends...

I'm enjoying the various ideas and contributions which this topic produces! It's been awhile since I read HDM, and I don't own it, so I can't go back to check up my memories. As I recall, I enjoyed it, especially the first two books, very much, (though I did not agree with the author's basic premise concerning faith) but found its ending less satisfying. It was a let-down for me; Pullman's view of the end of human life was without hope, since it led to nothing, more or less.

Lewis' Narnia series ends clearly allegorically, and I don't enjoy rereading it as much as I did years ago, but there is a fascination in "further up and further in"! "The inside is larger than the outside" is a hopeful view of future beauty.

Tolkien manages to give each character in his story a different ending - no stereotyped sugary closing for anyone! Aragorn's was a fairy-tale ending - he got the kingdom and the bride, to keep at least until we read Appendix A. Frodo got the "escape from this world" ending, with the hope of healing. Sam got the "back home" ending, coming full circle to stay where he began, though changed. We could go on with each character, with each one finding what is appropriate for him/her. How could "spun candy" have so much differentiation?! There is depth there - and hope.

There is also so much wisdom in LotR, whether the common sense of Sam's Gaffer or Gandalf's speeches (think of his answer to "I wish it hadn't happened in my time" or the closing words "I will not say, do not weep", to mention only two). Those are not sermons, trying to convert anyone, but they give us readers something to ponder and to take with us that enriches our lives.

Of all three books/series, which would I take to the proverbial desert island? My presence here answers that question, I'm sure.
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Old 07-22-2006, 08:42 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by davem
So both wish to kill their 'father'? But if we're getting all Oedipal here, what is the 'mother' they seek to possess?
One need not 'apply' the family romance to the idea that great minds read more closely into things, so closely, that they produce new, original readings for us. There are many other metaphors one may use.

Besides, it is interesting to note that both Tolkien and Pullman lost their fathers early in life.

What a different world academe was before the "publish or perish" madness! And before our modern glut of journalism and marketing/advertising.

It might really be interesting to know what Tolkien's teaching style and methods were and contrast them to Pullman's.

Esty, that's a lovely witness to your love of Tolkien!
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Old 07-22-2006, 10:24 AM   #26
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I wonder if the comment in OFS is actually 'criticsm' of Shakespeare as a playwright. Tolkien seems only to be criticising Shakespeare's use of fantasy in Macbeth (& also by extension in A Midsummer Night's Dream & The Tempest, I suppose.) Certainly he never goes as far as Pullman in calling his 'father's' work 'infantile'. Tolkien at least offers a valid reason for his criticism, & doesn't resort to mere insult. He states he disliked reading Shakespeare, but also states that he was moved by Ophelia's singing. In short his problem seems to be with the reading of Shakespeare as opposed to watching it, & when Shakespeare puts fantasy on stage. His statement that Shakespeare should have written Macbeth as a story implies that he respected his narrative talents but felt that in that case they were misapplied.

Anyway...

Pullman's statement that LotR is 'infantile' clearly sets out Pullman's position - fantasy is inherently 'childish' & it is the 'duty' of an author to help his child readers 'grow up' & put away childish things. So Pullman uses fantasy to undermine fantasy (in his own words). The end of HDM is the end of fantasy. The worlds seperate forever, & the children proceed to get on with the 'grown-up' task of 'building the Republic of Heaven'. Now, being that 'Heaven' is essentially a metaphysical concept, its difficult to work out what this statement actually means, or how it could be achieved.

What Pullman seem s to mean is that everyone should work to make the world a better place, where everyone is nice to each other all the time & they all live happily ever after. And this is a 'grown up' novel according to the Literati (among whom Pullman presumably numbers himself!

Of course, this 'Republic of Heaven' is anything but 'Heaven' in the sense we understand the term. It is 'Heaven' without any spiritual aspect at all - yet Heaven is spiritual if it is anything. We have to conclude that the whole 'building a Republic of Heaven' idea is a meaningless phrase. To have read a thousand page novel & end up with a piece of nonsense like that as the author's final word is enough to make you throw the book across the room & demand those lost hours of your life back. To compare the words 'build the Reublic of Heaven' with Sam's final words: 'Well, I'm back' is to experience a real shock - the power of Tolkien's simple statement (what Pullman would describe, one assumes, as 'infantile’ with Pullman's bland & meaningless rhetoric, is almost overwhelming & shows that if either work is 'infantile' it is certainly not Tolkien's.

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Old 07-23-2006, 06:18 AM   #27
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Tolkien Is there a text in this forumroom?

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
I wonder if the comment in OFS is actually 'criticsm' of Shakespeare as a playwright.
Well, I suppose we could quibble over what you mean by criticism, but I had used the words 'objection' and 'correction' and suggested that the main point of Tolkien's comments derived from the question of the nature of fairy. Clearly the quotations available show that Tolkien thought Shakespeare worth 'doing'. The signficant issue I think is that Shakespeare provided Tolkien with a valuable 'place' from which to consider fairy. Tolkien's thoughts about fairy are, to my mind, substantial and significant and clearly Shakespeare played some part in helping him think about how to represent the land--or at least in part how to explain the lay of said land to his audience. It was, then, a very important and complex relationship, one which allowed Tolkien to develop his thought.



Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Anyway...

Pullman's statement that LotR is 'infantile' clearly sets out Pullman's position - fantasy is inherently 'childish' & it is the 'duty' of an author to help his child readers 'grow up' & put away childish things. So Pullman uses fantasy to undermine fantasy (in his own words). The end of HDM is the end of fantasy. The worlds seperate forever, & the children proceed to get on with the 'grown-up' task of 'building the Republic of Heaven'. Now, being that 'Heaven' is essentially a metaphysical concept, its difficult to work out what this statement actually means, or how it could be achieved.

What Pullman seem s to mean is that everyone should work to make the world a better place, where everyone is nice to each other all the time & they all live happily ever after. And this is a 'grown up' novel according to the Literati (among whom Pullman presumably numbers himself!

Of course, this 'Republic of Heaven' is anything but 'Heaven' in the sense we understand the term. It is 'Heaven' without any spiritual aspect at all - yet Heaven is spiritual if it is anything. We have to conclude that the whole 'building a Republic of Heaven' idea is a meaningless phrase. To have read a thousand page novel & end up with a piece of nonsense like that as the author's final word is enough to make you throw the book across the room & demand those lost hours of your life back. To compare the words 'build the Reublic of Heaven' with Sam's final words: 'Well, I'm back' is to experience a real shock - the power of Tolkien's simple statement (what Pullman would describe, one assumes, as 'infantile’ with Pullman's bland & meaningless rhetoric, is almost overwhelming & shows that if either work is 'infantile' it is certainly not Tolkien's.
With Tolkien, we have a very fine essay in OFT and the "minor works" to help us discuss his thoughts on fantasy. What we have of Pullman in this thread is nothing like that and your comments seem to be moving back and forth between reported statements and HDM for analysis. What I think would really give us something substantial to compare would be Pullman's actual lectures themselves rather than a few choice phrases reported by a journalist.

For instance, the first post for this thread starts with:

Quote:
Originally Posted by first post

In an essay in the New Yorker Pullman states

Quote:
At one point, Pullman and I stopped by the Eagle and Child, an Oxford pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet regularly with a group of literary friends. (They called themselves the Inklings.) A framed photograph of Lewis’s jowly face smiled down on us as we talked. In person, Pullman isn’t quite as choleric as he sometimes comes across in his newspaper essays. When challenged, he listens carefully and considerately, and occasionally tempers his ire. “The ‘Narnia’ books are a real wrestle with real things,” he conceded. As much as he dislikes the answers Lewis arrives at, he said that he respects “the struggle that he’s undergoing as he searches for the answers. There’s hope for Lewis. Lewis could be redeemed.” Not Tolkien, however: the “Rings” series, he declared, is “just fancy spun candy. There’s no substance to it.”
Yet Pullman here is himself quoted, and the actual passage itself is written by the journalist Laura Miller. It is Miller who makes those statements, not Pullman himself directly. We are certainly right to take umbrage with such characterisations, yet it seems to me that 'sound bites' aren't always the full story. I would much rather prefer to read Pullman's thought in its entirety, in his own words and then to take issue with him.

Laura Miller's article is fascinating for it seems to me to suggest subtly connections between Pullman and Tolkien and those connections stand in contrast to Pullman's antipathy to Tolkien and Lewis. Pullman chooses to buy organic bacon? Sounds like something Tolkien would do today. Telling stories and jokes? Sounds to me a fair bit like our Tollers. She's up to something here--not a bad thing by any means--but what she is up to isn't necessarily what Pullman himself may be up to.

The passage which davem quotes from Tolkien's essay on Smith has a fascinating comment, which I don't think we've really explored much:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tolkien
BUT Faery is not religious. It is fairly evident that it is not Heaven or Paradise. Certainly its inhabitants, Elves, are not angels or emlssares of God (direct). The tale does not deal with religion itself.
Would Pullman say this, that fairy (or fantasy) is not religious? Or his his 'story' not the same thing as 'fairy'? We need to examine these kinds of differences between their thought, I think.

So, I suggest that, before we really get our knickers all in a knot, we try to track down Pullman's full statements and then give him due process.
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Old 07-23-2006, 11:24 AM   #28
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Thanks for the Letter quotes Beth, but I didn't understand anything Tolkien was saying on Shakesphere, as he usually speaks in riddles. I couldn't tell if it was for or against. Maybe it was neither? Ah well, it's not what the topic is about anyway.
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Old 07-23-2006, 12:10 PM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MatthewM
Thanks for the Letter quotes Beth, but I didn't understand anything Tolkien was saying on Shakesphere, as he usually speaks in riddles. I couldn't tell if it was for or against. Maybe it was neither? Ah well, it's not what the topic is about anyway.
It seems to me that Tolkien feels the same way as I do about studying drama texts from books, that it just isn't satisfying, and it does the plays an injustice. I always found myself frustrated reading plays out of books, I wanted to see the plays and hear them. I had to ask myself if people in Shakespeare's day would have sat in earnest groups reading his plays from the page. No, they would have been in rough, bawdy, crowded theatres watching the action, listening to these lines being said aloud, and probably shouting and heckling and stuff too.

I can't read Marlowe's Doctor Faustus without constantly stopping to visualise it, and wish there was a modern film of it to watch with all the mad stuff made real on the screen. I've seen the Revenger's Tragedy performed where they handed out plastic capes for the front row audience to wear as the actors flung around fake blood and raw meat. That's what Drama's about, noise and action, and singing and hearing someone read the poetry aloud. I think that is exactly what Tolkien's getting at.

Anyway, back on topic...

Tolkien's work exists within its own world, its own universe. Arda is a different place. Pullman's world however, exists alongside our own world. I wonder just how much Pullman hates the notion of an entire other world? He mentions Narnia which is also accessible from our own world. I wonder if he is reacting against this detachment from the Real World that Arda has? And I wonder if he has read (or even is aware of) Tolkien's experimental fictions such as The Lost Road which tried to link Arda to the Real World? I suspect he never will know about this as he has no desire to explore Tolkien's work further.

What he is missing with the accusation of 'spun sugar' aimed at Tolkien's writing is something important in literature, subtlety. Tolkien's work has a grip on and deals with some of the biggest issues of the modern age, such as environmental disaster, totalitarianism, war and the enslavement of mankind to the 'machine' of society. He also has incredible characters such as Gollum who make us stop and think about who and what is 'good' and 'evil'. In Tolkien's work, this is all put across with subtlety. His style is poetic, and by that I mean his work works on many levels like a poem does; there is the surface 'plot' but underneath are the layers - language revealing history, events having several interpretations, dialogue revealing character rather than internal monologue doing so (the usual modern form).

This may reveal a lot about the two writers' reading preferences - certainly Tolkien was fond of old epics, usually in the poetic form, where a few lines can reveal a whole host of details and allow for many speculations.

What I found in HDM was a wonderful work, which itself had a lot of potential for speculation and mystery, but which fell down towards the end with some very shaky storytelling; it was clear that the 'point' was more important than the 'story' towards the end as so little of it rang true. I do suspect that he began in much the same way that Tolkien did, just writing, and the 'point' only became apparent at a later stage, at too late a stage to correctly tie it in with the plot. In any case, he clearly could not let go of the 'magic' himself as he later produced a short story about Lyra and a 'Book Of Dust' may be written; holding true to his own 'point', surely Lyra should just now 'grow up'? So he's not that different to Tolkien after all.
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Old 07-23-2006, 12:12 PM   #30
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Well, isn't this fortuitous...

Whilst reading Letters yesterday, I came across some interesting excerpts that go with this topic pretty well. The particular letter is #183, "a comment, apparently written for Tolkien's own satisfaction and not sent or shown to anyone else, on 'At the End of the Quest, Victory', a review of The Return of the King by W. H. Auden in the New York Times Book Review, 22 January 1956.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JRRT
I believe that it is precisely because I did not try, and have never thought of trying to 'objectify' my personal experience of life that the account of the Quest of the Ring is successful in giving pleasure to Auden (and others). Probably it is also the reason, in many cases, why it has failed to please some readers and critics. The story is not about JRRT at all, and is at no point an attempt to allegorize his experience of life -- for that is what the objectifying of his subjective experience in a tale must mean, if anything.

[...]

Men do go, and have in history gone on journeys and quests, without any intention of acting out allegories of life.
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Old 07-25-2006, 08:02 AM   #31
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I haven't read these links yet, but here are Pullman's lectures in full.

Miss Goddard's Grave


Isis Speech


Guardian article on teaching


The Dark Side of Narnia
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Old 07-26-2006, 02:03 AM   #32
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I also thought this might be helpful. It's the full text of an interview in which Pullman discusses a number of topics, including his views on Tolkien and Lewis.

Here.

I find the man fascinating! There are things about him I love and many others I can't stand. I love what he says about the teaching of literature and how children should be allowed to enjoy things and not just be forced to analyze them. That was one of Bethberry's links. I think he must have been a fly on the wall during some of the classes that I've taken!
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Old 07-26-2006, 02:51 AM   #33
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briefly

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Is this part of what it means to carve out one's own personal space as a writer?
No, I don't think it is that delibarate or conscious.

[I believe] 'Tolkien vs Shakespeare' is not that much open dislike but rather a regret - 'The Great who surely could, and could well, [deliberately] did not' kind of feeling

[I believe] Pullman vs Tolkien is 'play for audience' for sure, but more than this it is rather utter opposition of worldviews. 'There are enemies, and this is the greatest. Let us beat him on his own ground' kind of feeling
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Old 07-26-2006, 07:10 AM   #34
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The Isis Lecture is very interesting.

He points out that teaching in English schools is now very mechanical and he is correct; there is very little room for creativity on the part of the teacher and is one of the reasons I'd never ever go back to that job. I hate the way kids only read extracts of books, and do meaningless analysis. Vile. But I used to show kids how to structure a story, and there is nothing wrong in teaching how to do this - it not only can have benefits in structuring creative work but helps in essay writing for other subjects; discipline of thought is not always bad. However, there is indeed a time and a place for this, and I used to show that structures don't always work, and I certainly wouldn't allocate time slots for that kind of work - that's madness, or else the spectre of HM Inspectors breathing down the neck of the teacher. I once had a run in with one of the early inspectors who challenged me for writing in capitals on a blackboard (yes, we did call them blackboards). I pointed out that in a freezing, tumble down old shed in the wilds of Barnsley some of the kids were a very long way from the blackboard and couldn't see otherwise.

It's all the result though of utilitarianism. Nowadays, education is there not to turn us into fey little poets or freely expressive dancers but into insurance brokers and hairdressers and IT support officers. I know this because I'm right at the middle of it all. Some kids actually do want that though; I've a friend who hated anything remotely artistic at school, she just wanted to learn to type and do office work. The problem is that any child who is not bright, not a swot, is poor, black or male will be steered into the path of usefulness.

What's this got to do with Pullman Vs Tolkien anyway? What amuses me is that Tolkien clearly did not 'plan' his writing, he just sat down and let rip (so to speak ) and he's even said things about him 'finding out' what really happened, which suggests the kind of joyful free for all authorial chaos that Pullman advocates. Yet Pullman does plan his writing! What he says in the article posted by Tevildo demonstrates this.

The other amusing point is that Pullman in the Isis lecture calls for more story telling in the classroom, for more narrative. He also calls for more narrative in Tevildo's article, and bemoans modern literary experimentation. Yet this is what he does not like about Tolkien.

I find it frustrating really. From what he says, he ought to love Tolkien, but he does not. Is this just another case of someone intellectualising simple dislike?
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Old 07-27-2006, 07:37 PM   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HerenIstarion
No, I don't think it is that delibarate or conscious.

[I believe] 'Tolkien vs Shakespeare' is not that much open dislike but rather a regret - 'The Great who surely could, and could well, [deliberately] did not' kind of feeling

[I believe] Pullman vs Tolkien is 'play for audience' for sure, but more than this it is rather utter opposition of worldviews. 'There are enemies, and this is the greatest. Let us beat him on his own ground' kind of feeling
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lal
The other amusing point is that Pullman in the Isis lecture calls for more story telling in the classroom, for more narrative. He also calls for more narrative in Tevildo's article, and bemoans modern literary experimentation. Yet this is what he does not like about Tolkien.

I find it frustrating really. From what he says, he ought to love Tolkien, but he
The more I look back at HDM, the more I become very curious about Pullman's attitude towards Tolkien's brand of fantasy.

HI, I think you are on to something in the way Tolkien regards Shakespeare. He does admire the man's writing and talent. Otherwise, why would he bother going to see performances? Yet what I think is significant is how Tolkien's view of elves and other creatures of fairy differed substantially from Shakespeare's. It is possible that these depictions grated enough on Tolkien to cause him to reuminate upon the way to represent fairy. In that sense, Tolkien stood on Shakespeare's shoulder to see farther. You are right that this differs in quality from Pullman. I rather think that Tolkien still had very much the old gracious politeness about him, a sense of courtesy and fair play, the social civility which our age lacks to a very great extent.

Difference of world view. Admittedly, Pullman is a declared atheist, but many Christians have come to the defense of HDM as an attack not on true faith but on the wretched consequence of dogma and religious oppression, the misuse of church power and authority. As far as I can recall from HDM, it is the wrongful use of authority which draws Pullman's great ire. Yes, he eradicates this woeful and oppressive figure The Authority, but what does it mean if we interpret this figure as God?If we say that Pullman is attacking Christianity, does that mean we accept as right and true the depiction of the Church and The authority? In some measure I think Pullman's attitude towards authority, while differing from Tolkien's, might not be radically opposite.

As for Pullman not loving Tolkien, I took a look at the final chapter of volume three last night. It ends in the Botanic Garden in Lyra's Oxford, which of course is not "our" Oxford. Yet Lyra's daemon runs up his favourite tree, a large old pine. Now that I've visited the Botanic Garden in Oxford, I know this tree, as it was Tolkien's favourite tree also and the last known photograph we have of him shows him standing beside it and touching it. I cannot help but think that Pullman knows of this. Why do this? Why the pine and not any of the several other trees in the Botanic Garden? Also, on his third planet there are trees that are silver and gold. I'm sure that if one went through HDM one could find some very fascinating perspectives of Tolkien's work, worked into Pullman's.

Yet Pullman bemoans Tolkien. Why? When I look closely at Pullman's writing, I see a great many metaphors and comparisons and references to the natural world, the natural world which science has made known to us. He talks about cell growth, he talks about nuclear engergy, he talks about many kinds of scientific knowledge. Is it that Tolkien's fantasy does not partake of this materialism which draws his ire?

Pullman certainly has a particular respect for Imagination, but perhaps it is a different imagination than that of Tokien's? To say that their differences relate to Pullmann's atheism might be barking up the wrong tree. That is incidental to the more profound difference, a difference between views of what fantasy and imagination are.

I'm not sure how valid this, but I thought I would throw it out for discussion.
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Old 07-28-2006, 01:11 PM   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
I'm sure that if one went through HDM one could find some very fascinating perspectives of Tolkien's work, worked into Pullman's.
And of course, Will loses two fingers to the Subtle knife - Pullman always has to try & go one better than Tolkien it seems

Found this [/QUOTE]here

Quote:
Philip Pullman, author of the trilogy collectively entitled His Dark Materials, denies that he is a fantasy author. Rather, his books are works of “stark realism” illuminated by fantastic elements (as Daniel P. Moloney notes in his deadly accurate review in these pages, May 2001). The fantastic elements are easily integrated into the ordinary life of Lyra’s world and plenty of other parallel universes, if not our own: witches, subtle knives, alethiometers, archangels, and specters all have their place without the slightest self–consciousness about their magical properties.

But the trilogy’s conclusion imitates, in an odd and truncated sort of way, the other fantasies considered here. The heroine Lyra is prophesied from the beginning to be “the end of destiny” in her role as the new Eve. Here it means the long–overdue disintegration of God the Authority and the defeat of Metatron the killjoy angel—no more dictation from on high of the fates of men below. Yet this happy victory necessitates an unhappy ending (for reasons not entirely clear): the subtle knife, which cuts passageways between the universes, must be broken once and for all and its windows permanently closed. No more adventures, but no more bad guys (or gods), either.

Predictably enough, the conclusion is absurdly moralistic. Now that the persecuting church has been subdued and hell emptied out, sentient beings are free, and not just free but obliged, to pursue the Republic of Heaven, Pullman’s embarrassingly anticlimactic solution to his trilogy’s dilemma. On the last page of the last book, Lyra muses to her daemon Pantalaimon that the Kingdom of Heaven is blessedly finished, so now all the people can devote their energies to this life on this earth rather than worrying about the next. And it entails, she realizes in a convenient flash of insight, being “all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we’ve got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds.” This goes well beyond the philosophical fallacy of deriving an “ought” from an “is.” It’s deriving an “ought” from an “isn’t.”

The problem of His Dark Materials is the same as that of The Dark is Rising: power, in itself, is the ultimate good. The winners are the ones with the most power, and so they (and their author) can define their goals as righteous. Power is not forsaken but democratically distributed, and the excesses of power in pursuit of that distribution are never seriously addressed. The disturbing questions that remain are quietly covered over in the name of the brotherhood of all mankind. The knife is broken and then it’s back to the age–old conundrum of how we live together. It is deliciously ironic, though, that a series so determined to disprove original sin is forced at the end to demonstrate its unassailable existence with a concluding ethical plea.
Not saying I agree with all the author's points on Fantasy literature but I think her analysis of HDM is spot on.

I think its clear that for alll his arguments to the contrary Pullman is not simply attacking organised religion in HDM but the desire for (as well as the hope in) anything 'beyond the Circles of the World. All Pullman offers us instead is the 'task of

Quote:
being “all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we’ve got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds.”
Now, to me. this is Tolkien's starting point in LotR. In other words, Tolkien's Epic starts at the point Pulllman's leaves off. Pullman's 'solution' to our human dilemma is Tolkien's 'Question' - the Question he takes over a thousand pages to propound, & never really answers (because there isn't an answer). Simply put, Pullman believes that there is a solution to all Mankind's problems - 'Let's be nice to each other & read some books so we'll get clever & then everything will be Ok' (till we all die & are forgotten). Tolkien doesn't belives the solution to our problems is so easy. There is only stark courage in the face of the Dragon & the willingness to fight the Long Defeat. And for Tolkien the Dragon is a reality - the most real of all reallities. For Pullman the Dragon is a delusion - it doesn't have to be fought because it doesn't exist - or if it does its simply 'selfishness' & the refusal to read enough proper books & apply ourselves to our studies & be 'nice' to each other.

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Old 07-28-2006, 02:10 PM   #37
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I am enjoying reading this thread.

Just a side comment....

It's intriguing to me that Pullman had one of his chief nasties live in Limefield House in Headington: Sir Charles Latrom (mortal spelled backwards) also known as Lord Carlo Boreal. He's the one whose daemon is a serpent with a pointed tongue. Of course, Tolkien lived at 76 Sandfield Road in Headington Hill when he was writing LotR. Lewis also had a house there at one time.

This could just be coincidence--Pullman lives in Oxford and certainly knows the area. But I've also read somewhere that the description the author gives of the house in The Subtle Knife is very close to the house that Tolkien actually lived in. Even the people on the Pullman website indicate that the Headington the author mentions is undoubtedly Headington Hill. They also note that elsewhere in the book Pullman gives very specific Oxford addresses, but in this case he has chosen to be vague.... Somehow I doubt the use of this location for the villain's house is purely coincidence.

I enjoy HDM but sometimes Pullman comes over as petty and combative in his interviews when he is not even being attacked. I think he could use a dose of hobbit politeness.
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Old 07-30-2006, 01:42 AM   #38
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Found a link to this speech by Pullman, & I think it gives a real insight into his approach to fantasy & his feelings about LotR. Some quotes:

Quote:
It's not just character-drawing, either; it's moral truthfulness. I can't remember anything in The Lord of the Rings, in all that vast epic of heroic battles and ancient magic, that titanic struggle between good and evil, that even begins to approach the ethical power and the sheer moral shock of the scene in Jane Austen's Emma when Mr Knightley reproaches the heroine for her thoughtless treatment of poor Miss Bates. Emma's mortification is one of those eye-opening moments after which nothing is the same. Emma will grow up now, and if we pay attention to what's happening in the scene, so will we. That's what realistic fiction can do, and what fantasy of the Tolkien sort doesn't. ..

Because when I thought about it, there was no reason why fantasy shouldn't be realistic, in a psychological sense - and it was the lack of that sort of realism that I objected to in the work of the big Tolkien and all the little Tolkiens. After all, when I looked at Paradise Lost, there was plenty of psychological realism going on there, and the fantastical elements - the angels and the devils, the landscapes of hell, Satan's encounter with Sin and Death, and so on - were all there to embody states of mind. They weren't unreal like Gandalf; they were nonreal like Mary Garth - convincing and truthful in every way except actual existence....

Tolkien, by contrast, didn't question anything: it didn't occur to him to do so, because for him, as a Catholic, all the big questions were settled. The Church had all the answers, and that was that. Is there any doubt anywhere in The Lord of the Rings, even for a fraction of a second, about what is good and what is evil, what is to be praised and what is to be condemned? Not a flicker. No one wonders what the right thing is: they only doubt their own capacity to do it. The whole thing is an exercise in philological and social nostalgia, a work of immense triviality, candied like fruit in an Edwardian schoolboy's idea of fine writing.
The final quote is, for me, the silliest thing Pullman says. The idea that Tolkien didn't question anything because all the big questions were settled by the Church is just wrong. Certainly he made a moral & philosophical choice to accpet the teacjings of his faith, but to imply that was a simple thing for him is a statement based on ignorance of the facts. No-one could go through what Tolkien did could make a simple decision to just believe everything he was told from a pulpit. He was way too intelligent for that.

Yes, in Middle-earth there is no question about what is Good & what is Evil. This was the core of Tolkien's philosophy - Good & Evil are absolutes: our task is to find the strength to do what's right, not to agonise over what good & Evil actually are. There isn't any struggle about what a good person should do, only over how to find the strength to do it.

Pullman actuallly contracicts the final statement in his 'epic' here. He has Lyra state that the task of everyone in the post 'Death of God' era is

Quote:
being “all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we’ve got to study and think and work hard, all of us, in all our different worlds.”
Pullman has a very clear idea of what is 'Good' & what is 'Evil'. Organised Religion & all its restrictions, is 'Evil', Human freedom of thought & the freedom to build a better world is 'Good'. Now, this view of what is Good & what is Evil, may be different from Tolkien's but it is there in Pullman. What Pullman doesn't like about Tolkien is not that Tolkien believes in Moral absolutes where Pullman doesn't, but that Tolkien's moral abolutes are different to his own. Pullman no more questions his own views of what is Good & what is Evil than Tolkien does.

Whatever. Tolkien has created a world in which Good & Evil are (& must be) moral absolutes, which cannot be questioned. Pullman presents us with a world in which moral absolutes must be defined & then lived up to. Tolkien presents us with a world where moral absolutes have already been defined & must be lived up to. As I said earlier, Tolkien begins where Pullman ends.

EDIT

I have to wonder what Pullman thinks there is to agonise over in the sense of 'what is good, what is Evil' in Tolkien's world - should one wonder whether to side with Sauron of not, whether to claim the Ring & become a Monster or not, whether to desert ones friends or not, the value of mercy, etc. In fact, Tolkien & Pullman seem to share a sense of what's right & what's wrong in terms of basic ethical behaviour. Both have a belief in objective moral standards & the requirement to try & live up to them. I think the difference between them is that for Pullman these objective standards, if they are to be truly, morally, Good, must be seen, & stated in no uncertain terms, to come from Humans themselves, whereas for Tolkien, if they are to have any validity they must have an external, objective origin in 'God'/Eru. For Tolkien Humans are fallen & therefore fallible & require Divine guidance . For Pullman they are not - they just fail to do all they can, to achieve their full potential - by not living up to Pullman's own ideal standard for them. Pullman himself takes the place of Eru in his own Secondary World, lays down the moral standards for his characters. Tolkien lays down the standards of his own Judeo-Christian faith for the characters in his Secondary world.

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Old 07-30-2006, 10:08 AM   #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Yes, in Middle-earth there is no question about what is Good & what is Evil. This was the core of Tolkien's philosophy - Good & Evil are absolutes: our task is to find the strength to do what's right, not to agonise over what good & Evil actually are.
I daresay that this is too simplistic. A key theme of Tolkien's is of a desire to do good which ends in evil, great or small. You have the characters who are obviously deluding themselves, like Saruman, but then you also have Sam snapping at Gollum at a critical moment -- to help Frodo, but perhaps with the ultimate effect of tilting Gollum away from redemption forever. Good and evil are not so clear in Tolkien as Pullman would like to think they are.
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Old 07-30-2006, 11:29 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by Mister Underhill
I daresay that this is too simplistic. A key theme of Tolkien's is of a desire to do good which ends in evil, great or small. You have the characters who are obviously deluding themselves, like Saruman, but then you also have Sam snapping at Gollum at a critical moment -- to help Frodo, but perhaps with the ultimate effect of tilting Gollum away from redemption forever. Good and evil are not so clear in Tolkien as Pullman would like to think they are.
I would say that Good & Evil are clearly defined in Tolkien's world. Though individuals may not be entirely clear on how to do the right thing they are clear on what it is. Where they fail, as in the examples you cite, they have either decided that the end justifies the means (Saruman), so that they are free to commit evil acts in order to bring about ultimate Good, or they are so focussed on the Good (Sam) that they fail to take into account the effect of their actions on present circumstances.

So, my position is that Good & Evil are clearly & sharply defined by Tolkien, but the moral choice each individual faces is how to do the right thing, not what the right thing is (I'm speaking here of the bigger picture, the ultimate goal). Sam knew he had treated Gollum badly - he apologises to him after his outburst. Saruman knew he had taken the wrong road & rejected his chances of repentance.

To say that 'good & evil are not clear in Tolkien' is to imply that there is an objective question over what, exactly, is Good & what is Evil. Certainly there is a subjective question (if I may put it as awkwardly as that). In the conclusion to HDM any objective moral system, imposed from on high, is removed & it is down to individuals to determine what is Good & what is Evil, come to a consensus, & attempt to make that ideal a reality. In Tolkien's world Good & Evil are sharply defined by Eru. The individual's struggle is to do Good, not determine what, exactly Good is - what I mean is that it is for the individual to discover what (objectively existing) Good is, not to decide for themselves what is Good (which in all probability means what is good for them).
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