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Old 08-14-2006, 07:18 PM   #81
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
And now for a word or two from Michael Moorcock.
Moorcock is a far more formidable person and SF authority. It is interesting to see how he examines the context and implications of stories. Tolkien said that it was the experience of war, of the trenches and the conditions of the Battle of the Somme, which birthed his sense of fantasy, and I think--I could be wrong about this--he suggested that this sense of fantasy was shared with other soldiers. Was fantasy supplying something in the absence of hope? Perhaps this is different merely in tone from Moorcock, who sees a taste for this kind of epic fantasy as deriving from a moribund middle class who cannot look forward.

A starting point for discussion.

I really like Doug Potter's illustrations. They're a hoot!
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Old 08-15-2006, 03:43 AM   #82
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More from Mr M. http://www.corporatemofo.com/stories/Moorcock1.htm

As far as I'm aware neither Pullman nor Moorcock have been through the kind of experience Tolkien had on the Somme. Don't know if this is at all relevant, but it occurs to me that they would both be freer in their analysis of evil, not having seen it face to face – both Pullman & Moorcock have the luxury of playing with evil, with the idea of the devil as Byronic rebel against authority. Tolkien simply couldn't do that, due both to his wartime experiences & his religious background. His wartime experiences & the loss of his mother & his childhood idyll in Sarehole were obviously behind the 'idealisation' of the countryside, while his years in industrialised Birmingham were the cause of his hatred of industrialisation. Of course his personal experiences & beliefs would have shaped his fiction. Moorcock & Pullman miss the essential point that Tolkien could not have written in any other style or about any other subject in any other way. Their comments not only attempt to invalidate his work, but to invalidate his life & experiences as well. In short, what both are saying is that he should have shut the hell up, that if his life & his experiences meant he could only write what he did, he shouldn't have written anything at all.

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Old 08-15-2006, 06:59 AM   #83
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
Their comments not only attempt to invalidate his work, but to invalidate his life & experiences as well. In short, what both are saying is that he should have shut the hell up, that if his life & his experiences meant he could only write what he did, he shouldn't have written anything at all.
No they are not. They are merely expressing their opinion. As have you, concerning Pullman's works.

I am not surprised that these fantasy authors have expressed their opinion on Tolkien, given his standing within the genre. Particularly so in Pullman's case, given that it seems to be the frst question that journalists ask him (and as Bb, I think, points out, journalistic reporting of his response may not be the most reliable source of his views). They are entitled to express their opinion and to provide justification for that opinion, particularly when asked, and they are fully entitled to dislike Tolkien's works. Surprisingly ( ), it's not illegal to do so. I know many people to whom they do not appeal at all.

While I admire the works of both Pullman and (particularly) Moorcock myself, I do nevertheless find myself slightly at odds with their arguments, as expressed here. They both appear to take the approach that there is a particular way to write a fantasy/SF novel, namely the approach that each of them adopts. That assumes that all readers are looking (or should be looking) for the same thing in a novel, a stance with which I fundamentally disagree. It would be a dull world indeed if we were all to share the same tastes. It is difficult, I think, to make a qualitative assessment of differing authorial styles in a world where even the poorest writers (poorest, that is, in my opinion) can garner mass appeal.

Moorcock's arguments are to my mind the most compelling, being the more developed. I partly agree with him with regard to Tolkien's literary style, from a "technical literary" perspective. But, then again, technical expertise in the literary field is not always sufficent (or even necessary) to win the hearts and minds of readers, or indeed (as I have said) to garner mass appeal. I also partly agree with Moorcock's view on why tales such as LotR are so popular, but perhaps that is because I lean rather towards some of the characteritics that he defines in a Tolkien (and Pooh) reader, and unashamedly so.

Pullman's argument, in my view, is less convincing, although that is perhaps because we only have it secondhand. On that basis, what he fails to appreciate, I think, is that readers can enjoy his works purely as entertaining reads without feeling the need to identify, much less identify with, his "message", while other readers can find much meaning in Tolkien's works. On that level, his works are no different from those produced by Tolkien. It all comes down, again, to what appeals to the individual reader. (Do I hear echoes of the dreaded C-thread .)

My enjoyment of Pullman's trilogy primarily derives from my reaction to them as entertaining reads, and for many years I approached LotR on the same basis. I can discuss messages, authorial intent and the like. I think that both can provoke serious thought on the human condition. But I prefer to read them as enjoyable tales. As it happens, on an intellectual level, I find Pullman's view of human nature and good/evil the more acceptable, far morseo than Tolkien, whereas it is Tolkien who touches me at a deeper, more instinctive, level.

I have no issue with the basic premise behind the struggle depicted in Pullman's trilogy. Where, however, I do find him open to criticism, is in his attempt to portray this struggle as an all-encompassing one spanning the entire universe across multiple dimensions. It seems to me that he over-reaches himself and so loses credibility. My complaint about the latter parts of his trilogy, therefore, is more a technical one than a philosophical one. Tolkien, on the other hand, developed only one world, and concentrated in detail only on certain parts of it, both temporally and geographically. His works, therefore, come across to me as far more convincing (and thus engaging).

Overall, however, I find it refreshing occasionally to hear the views of those who do not regard Tolkien as the best thing since sliced bread, and I think it entirely proper (and indeed healthy) that those views be expressed, particularly when they are expressed intelligently and coherently (whether we agree with them or not), and especially on a Tolkien board such as this one.
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Old 08-15-2006, 07:17 AM   #84
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No they are not. They are merely expressing their opinion. As have you, concerning Pullman's works.
But surely the 'opinion' they are expressing is as I stated?
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Old 08-15-2006, 07:26 AM   #85
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Originally Posted by davem
But surely the 'opinion' they are expressing is as I stated?
No. You ascribe to them motives and desires which I do not think are justified by their opinions, as stated, at all, and you are attacking them on the basis of your interpretation of what they mean, rather than on the basis of their stated opinions.
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Old 08-15-2006, 07:36 AM   #86
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Originally Posted by davem
Of course his personal experiences & beliefs would have shaped his fiction. Moorcock & Pullman miss the essential point that Tolkien could not have written in any other style or about any other subject in any other way. Their comments not only attempt to invalidate his work, but to invalidate his life & experiences as well. In short, what both are saying is that he should have shut the hell up, that if his life & his experiences meant he could only write what he did, he shouldn't have written anything at all.
I don't think they are saying this, not Moorcock at least. Apparently, he met both Tolkien and Lewis in person and liked them as people.

What I think Moorcock is reacting to--and I agree with Sauce here that they have a right to express their opinion--is the depiction of fantasy as an escapist form of literature that glories a past. There are others who, when faced with the kind of experiences Tolkien's generation faced, did not look back but envisioned a different future. I don't think Moorcock is invalidating Tolkien's experiences so much as saying something about England.

I note that Moorcock no longer lives in England. He moved to Texas and apparently is thinking of dividing his time in France as well. He clearly has a frustration with what he perceives as the direction of English culture and society and I suspect that he feels Tolkien et al part of this. I really want to read Mervyn Peake now and compare him to Tolkien, to see if there is this juxtapostion which Moorcock suggests.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sauce
They both appear to take the approach that there is a particular way to write a fantasy/SF novel, namely the approach that each of them adopts. That assumes that all readers are looking (or should be looking) for the same thing in a novel, a stance with which I fundamentally disagree.
This is the point where I also tend to part company with Moorcock. The discussion of what fantasy is or what do readers of fantasy seek is interesting, I think, but like all literary manifestos, can overstate the case or overstep boundaries. I think it is refreshing to have one's sometimes unconscious or unexamined habits questioned and challenged. And even our conscious thoughts. I find absolute adoration of Tolkien--or of any writer--tedious and counterproductive in terms of helping me appreciate the writer.
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Old 08-15-2006, 08:21 AM   #87
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
I find absolute adoration of Tolkien--or of any writer--tedious and counterproductive in terms of helping me appreciate the writer.
Amen to that. I thoroughly agree, and I also find it counterproductive in terms of helping me to appreciate the writer's works. The more I hear how perfect and immaculate Tolkien was as a writer, the less inclined I am to delve into his tales again. He remains my favourite author, and I know that I will find myself once more immersed in his works when I do pick them up, but his works are not, in my eyes at least, above criticism. That's why it is refreshing, for once, to read an intelligent and thought-provoking critique of his style (as exemplified, in my view, by Moorcock's essay).

While there are some very well-expressed arguments made here against Pullman’s position, and I have no problem with that, there is also a slight undertone of “how dare he criticise Tolkien?”, an approach which automatically reacts against him simply because he does so. Fact is that there are an awful lot of people who do not respond to Tolkien’s works in the way that we do, and there is nothing wrong with that. To react against Pullman simply on the basis that he dislikes Tolkien, or dares to criticise him, or holds a different philosophical position from him (or you) is to make the same mistake that both Pullman and Moorcock make in assuming that their way is the “best”.
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Old 08-15-2006, 08:32 AM   #88
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Originally Posted by Bb
I think Moorcock is reacting to--and I agree with Sauce here that they have a right to express their opinion--is the depiction of fantasy as an escapist form of literature that glories a past. There are others who, when faced with the kind of experiences Tolkien's generation faced, did not look back but envisioned a different future. I don't think Moorcock is invalidating Tolkien's experiences so much as saying something about England.
I don't think Tolkien's work could be described as 'as an escapist form of literature that glories a past', certainly not in the simplistic sense Moorcock implies. If anything John Garth's theory re the Somme - that Tolkien in writing the Fall of Gondolin – was seeing the world & the horrors of war 'through enchanted eyes' is much nearer the truth. Both Moorcock & Pullman are misrepresenting Tolkien's works & attitude in order (particularly in Moorcock's case) to attack something else (the 'British Establishment' , the 'old school tie', British Imperialism or whatever). I think Moorcock has actually set up an Aunt Sally in both cases. His conception of 'English' culture is as wrong as his conception of Tolkien.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SpM
While there are some very well-expressed arguments made here against Pullman’s position, and I have no problem with that, there is also a slight undertone of “how dare he criticise Tolkien?”, an approach which automatically reacts against him simply because he does so.
No-one has taken the approach of attacking Pullman simply because he criticises Tolkien as far as I've read on this thread. We've attacked him because his criticisms have been ignorant, uniformed or simply insulting.
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Old 08-15-2006, 09:09 AM   #89
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Originally Posted by davem
No-one has taken the approach of attacking Pullman simply because he criticises Tolkien as far as I've read on this thread.
I am not going to pick out any names, but that is not the impression that I get, reading this thread.

Actually, I will pick out one name ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
We've attacked him because his criticisms have been ignorant, uniformed or simply insulting.
It is this kind of prejorative language that gives the impression of an overly-defensive, knee-jerk reaction against someone who is daring to criticise Tolkien. As far as I can recall, the only material available on this thread setting out Pullman's views on Tolkien are those reported by journalists. That's hardly a sound basis for the kind of asessment of him that you are making. And, even if they are accurate, I thoroughly disagree with your characterisation of them. You can engage intellectually, philosophically and even emotionally with his arguments and provide reasons why you disagree with them (as you have quite properly done). But to label him ignorant and insulting simply because you disagree with him is, to my view, wrong.
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Old 08-15-2006, 09:14 AM   #90
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If you click the link in my sig you'll be able to read a lecture by Pullman, not simply quotes taken out of context.
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Old 08-15-2006, 10:48 AM   #91
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I know of Moorcock mainly for his work in the New Wave SF but these links from davem are really inspiring me to read his most popular work, Elrick of Melniborné . From the Wiki article, it seems clear that an ideological bent causes Moorcock to favour Pullman. What I want to know is if Elric is as good a story as LotR.

Re: "seeing the world through enchanted eyes" Six of one, half a dozen of the other. If the enchantment causes men to forsake life and limb for an historical social order that is not only wiped away, but hypocritical, self-serving, and brutally abusive to the lower orders while demanding the sacrifice of the lower orders to keep the upper ones in power, then the fantasy offers a false sacrifice. Perhaps it all hinges on whether one bemoans the passing of the old European order? Or is something else involved?
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Old 08-15-2006, 10:50 AM   #92
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
If you click the link in my sig you'll be able to read a lecture by Pullman, not simply quotes taken out of context.
Thank you for that. I had overlooked it, although I had seen the excerpts on this thread referring to LotR.

I see nothing there to suggest that Pullman is ignorant. Indeed, I found that lecture and the interviews posted by Tevildo and Squatter earlier to be to be highly absorbing and I found myself agreeing with him on many points. I actually get the impression of a highly intelligent, thoughtful and reflective man, albeit one who is forthright in his views and who can clearly be provocative at times (reminds me of a certain Barrow-Downer ... ). Some of the language he uses in connection with LotR is, admittedly, slightly perjorative, but I see nothing to warrant the categorisation of his approach as insulting. As far as I can see, he makes no personal attack on Tolkien. He is merely setting out his opinion of Tolkien's published work (which is fair game) in order to explain why he wanted to achieve something different. As far as Lewis is concerned, he states that he has great respect for the man personally, but finds his Narnia tales grotesque. Fair enough. I have not read them myself, but I can understand the point that he is making.

The article linked to in Tevildo's post is actually vaguley complimentary of LotR, since he refers to the numerous Tolkien imitators as "sub-Tolkiens" (suggesting that he rates Tolkien more highly than those who have attempted to repeat his style) and to LotR as the "Everest" of the fantasy genre. Not only because it is unavoidable (being a bloomin' great mountain) but also because (as this suggests he recognises) it towers above much of the rest of the genre.

And it is in this analogy, and upon re-reading the thread, where I see why I am uncomfortable with some of what has been said here. There seems to be a general assumption that Pullman delights in criticising Tolkien, that he goes out of his way to do so, and that he actively seeks to discourage people from reading Tolkien's works. I don't see that to be the case at all. Inevitably, Tolkien's works come up in most interviews that he gives (courtesy of the journalists concerned). He cannot avoid addressing this Everest of the fantasy landscape. LotR did not appeal to him, and so he would be dishonest were he to pretend otherwise and neglectful were he not to seek to explain why it did not appeal to him. Moreover, in the lecture referenced in davem's signature (which concerns fantasy literature and so inevitably raises the spectre of Everest once more), he uses LotR to explain why he wanted to approach his own fantasy writing (to which he was compelled by his imagination) differently. I don't agree with his categorisation of LotR as "thin" and "trivial" (as my own opinion of it differs from his), but I can understand the point that he is making, given his own reaction to the book.

Is he insulting because he expresses his opinion of LotR when the circumstances require it? No, I don't think so. Is he ignorant because he found little in LotR that appealed to him? Categorically not.
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Old 08-15-2006, 12:59 PM   #93
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Re: "seeing the world through enchanted eyes" Six of one, half a dozen of the other. If the enchantment causes men to forsake life and limb for an historical social order that is not only wiped away, but hypocritical, self-serving, and brutally abusive to the lower orders while demanding the sacrifice of the lower orders to keep the upper ones in power, then the fantasy offers a false sacrifice. Perhaps it all hinges on whether one bemoans the passing of the old European order? Or is something else involved?
Not sure what you're referring to there. WW1? If so I think there's a bit of revisionism present in your analysis. It was as necessary to stop German expansionism in 1914 as it was in 1939. The tactics were beyond doubt both useless & inhuman - particularly in the early years, but the war was a necessary evil.

If you weren't referring to WW1 please ignore the above.

As to Moorcock's 'opinions':

Quote:
What I found lacking in Tolkien which I had found in, for instance, the Elder Edda, was a sense of tragedy, of reality, of mankind's impermanence...

Tolkien has the right elements of snobbery and escapism to make it a huge success. John Buchan for teenagers. A compendium of disguised bigotry and English high church snobbery. I hate it for exactly those qualities which made it so popular. It's a lullaby. Not sure we need lullabies at the moment. Unless we're all just going to give up, go to sleep and wake up dead. I really do feel contempt for Tolkien and a certain disgust for those adults who voted him writer of the century. ..

It has the same discomfort with cities, the same 'volkishness' you get in proto-Nazi stuff. It scares me a bit, but not that much because times have changed. It would have scared me more if it had been published the year it was conceived.
No sense of tragedy, of mankind's impemanence? That is the central theme of Tolkien's work! You could perhaps argue (if you wanted to be negative) that he does that particular theme to death, but to state it is not there can hardly be called 'opinion' - it is just not true. Only someone who had not actually read LotR or who was too thick to understand what he was reading could say that that element was missing.

The comment that he feels 'contempt & disgust' for those who voted for Tolkien as author of the century is hardly 'reasoned argument' or even 'opinion' - it is a nasty, petty insult.

Finally, its 'proto-Nazi'. Again, this is a man who either knows nothing about 'Nazism' or is just hurling an insult in order to be nasty.

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Old 08-15-2006, 02:11 PM   #94
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It has the same discomfort with cities, the same 'volkishness' you get in proto-Nazi stuff. It scares me a bit, but not that much because times have changed. It would have scared me more if it had been published the year it was conceived.
Sometimes these literary folk drive me bananas! So many categories and oversimplications that bear no relationship to reality..... I don't think they've read one page of actual history in their life. I suppose Thomas Jefferson's discomfort with cities also qualifies him as a "proto-Nazi"?

Seriously, some very legitimate criticisms of Tolkien can be made. But isn't it interesting how many of the more extreme opinions require the reader to subscribe to a particular set of values, one that essentially limits the set of possibilities open to consideration in a particular world. It would be so much more honest to say this: "I personally don't like X, and since Tolkien shows X in his writings, I simply don't like his approach." I could accept that statement of personal preference. Instead we are all asked to subscribe to a particular philosophy or point of view as if that was the only legitimate one in the entire universe.
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Old 08-15-2006, 06:05 PM   #95
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I know of Moorcock mainly for his work in the New Wave SF but these links from davem are really inspiring me to read his most popular work, Elrick of Melniboné.
I'm the opposite -- I know Moorcock almost exclusively from his Elric books. I recall that I enjoyed them and I recommend them to people, but with the caveat that I read them some twenty years ago or more now (how that can possibly be I'll mull privately). I probably should fish Stormbringer out of storage and see just what it is that I'm recommending. Also, the later books get a little bizarre. I remember thinking, even all those years ago, that Elric at the End of Time read like the work of a mental patient. Anyway, Moorcock is an interesting character. He obviously has a lot of ambivalence about the genre that he's most well known for working in -- most of his fantasy work seems to be a satire of, a reaction to, or an attempt to reinvent the work of the genre's stalwarts.
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Old 08-15-2006, 06:43 PM   #96
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Didn't get a chance to read the interview with Moorcock earlier, as it was blocked by office system (Adult/Sexually Explicit! ). It suffers in comparison with his article posted earlier, most likely because of its relative brevity which stifles the development of his argument.

Quote:
No sense of tragedy, of mankind's impemanence? That is the central theme of Tolkien's work! You could perhaps argue (if you wanted to be negative) that he does that particular theme to death, but to state it is not there can hardly be called 'opinion' - it is just not true.
Read in conjunction with the article, I think that it perfectly possible to understand what Moorcock is saying. He views Tolkien as reactionary, as someone who rejected development and change and was more comfortable with a rural, pre/part-industrialised society. In that sense, Tolkien's vision of mankind (in the real world, as opposed to his created world) is one "fixed" within a permanent order. It is certainly clear to me how Moorcock comes to that conclusion, particularly in Tolkien's depiction of The Shire and Aragorn's "right to rule" (and even the Elves). And we know that Tolkien was not at all comfortable with industrial development. In other words, while Man may be impermament (ie mortal) in Middle-earth, Moorcock is saying that Tolkien's vision does not reflect mankind's (society's) development, and therefore impermamence, in the real world. I rather agree with him, although that, for me, is part of Tolkien's charm.

To be honest, I highly doubt that Moorcock has read much more of Tolkien than LotR and, perhaps The Hobbit, and so probably has little understanding of the depth of history behind those two works. And, if he dislikes Tolkien's style, why should he read any more? It is perfectly acceptable to critique one particular work produced by an author, provided that it is taken as just that - a critique of that work, rather than the author's entire body of work.

I am not sure what he means when he says that LotR lacks tragedy. Again, this probably reflects his lack of knowledge of the entire "Legendarium", and also his approach that fantasy works should embrace "real life" issues rather than fantasy ones. When Moorcock describes LotR as "lacking weight" and Pullman describes it as "thin" and trivial, they do not mean that the characters and events described are under-developed within the context of the story. They mean that such characters and events do not reflect "real life", but are restricted in what they say about the human condition to the fantasy world which Tolkien created. In their view, therefore, characters such as Gandalf and Frodo, their reactions, motives and ambitions, lack real world applicabilty. I disagree with them on this, for I regard matters such as the friendship and loyalty between the Hobbits as perfectly relevant and applicable to real world relationships. Similarly, Tolkien's characters face temptations similar to Lyra's "seduction" by Mrs Coulter and the bright lights of London society life, even though the latter is perhaps more directly applicable to our daily lives. We may not struggle with a One Ring ourselves, but we can find the character's struggle with its seductive nature applicable to other things in our lives.

Nevertheless, while I do not subscribe to these opinions expressed by Pullman and Moorcock, I can understand where they are coming from.


Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
The comment that he feels 'contempt & disgust' for those who voted for Tolkien as author of the century is hardly 'reasoned argument' or even 'opinion' - it is a nasty, petty insult.
I agree that Moorcock oversteps the bounds of what I would regard as acceptable criticism here. It is a shame that he does so, given the eloquence he shows elsewhere. That said, I do rather agree with him about the nature of "popularity contests". I am sure that we can all agree that popularity is not necessarily an indicator of quality (even though it may be a factor). That is the point Moorcock was seeking to make, although he makes it rather badly.

Elsewhere in the interview, though, he expresses a rather more positive on Tolkien (the man).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Moorcock
I knew and liked Tolkien who in a bufferish sort of way was very kind to me and encouraging. I looked forward to those books coming out. I was deeply disappointed by their lack of weight and their lack of ambitious language.
It is Tolkien's work (specifically LotR) that Moorcock dislikes, not the man himself. Although, given his clear left-wing leanings, I doubt that he was particularly appreciative of the "reactionary establishment" with which he would have associated Tolkien (mistakenly, I believe, if Tolkien's Letters are anything to go by). And, disliking the work as he does, he is no doubt frustrated by its enduring popularity (and, again, I disagree with him that such popularity will not continue to endure - but who can know for sure?).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Moorcock
Finally, its 'proto-Nazi'. Again, this is a man who either knows nothing about 'Nazism' or is just hurling an insult in order to be nasty.
Again, Moorcock, unnecessarily I think, goes over the top in seeking to make his point. He clearly does not regard Tolkien as a Nazi, nor is he labelling LotR a fascist work. He is stating that, for him, the reactionary nature which he perceives in the work is akin to some aspects of fascist philosophy. Again, I can understand what he is trying to say, but I think that he is mistaken. Just because the Nazis made the trains run on time, it does not make punctual trains a purely fascist phenomenum.

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Originally Posted by Child
It would be so much more honest to say this: "I personally don't like X, and since Tolkien shows X in his writings, I simply don't like his approach." I could accept that statement of personal preference. Instead we are all asked to subscribe to a particular philosophy or point of view as if that was the only legitimate one in the entire universe.
That was my intitial reaction too, as I stated earler when I said that both Pullman and Moorcock seemed to be making the mistake of advocating that there was only one correct approach to fantasy writing. Having read what they have to say in more detail, however, I do not think that is what they are actually saying. I suspect that both would fully accept that they are stating opinion, rather than seeking to lay down "factual" principles of general application. That said, they are both rather dogmatic in expressing their views, which can be off-putting and is (perhaps purposely) prone to "putting noses out of joint" ...
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Old 08-15-2006, 06:47 PM   #97
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Originally Posted by Mister U
I'm the opposite -- I know Moorcock almost exclusively from his Elric books. I recall that I enjoyed them and I recommend them to people, but with the caveat that I read them some twenty years ago or more now (how that can possibly be I'll mull privately).
And I know Moorcock, the author, only from his Corum series (and one of the Cornelius series), which I would recommend with the same caveat. I remember particularly enjoying the Corum books and, as I recall, Corum is a far less morally ambiguous character than I understand Elric to be.
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Old 08-16-2006, 12:06 AM   #98
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Originally Posted by SpM
Read in conjunction with the article, I think that it perfectly possible to understand what Moorcock is saying. He views Tolkien as reactionary, as someone who rejected development and change and was more comfortable with a rural, pre/part-industrialised society. In that sense, Tolkien's vision of mankind (in the real world, as opposed to his created world) is one "fixed" within a permanent order. It is certainly clear to me how Moorcock comes to that conclusion, particularly in Tolkien's depiction of The Shire and Aragorn's "right to rule" (and even the Elves). And we know that Tolkien was not at all comfortable with industrial development. In other words, while Man may be impermament (ie mortal) in Middle-earth, Moorcock is saying that Tolkien's vision does not reflect mankind's (society's) development, and therefore impermamence, in the real world. I rather agree with him, although that, for me, is part of Tolkien's charm.
I don't see that 'not being at all comfortable with industrial development' makes one a bad person - one could even argue it makes one a good person. I prefer wild countryside to urban sprawl - shoot me.

It seems to me that what Pullman & Moorcock are complaining about is that Tolkien didn't tell them what to think. He refused to write 'allegory' - what he did set down was his own vision of 'life, the universe & everything', 'seen through enchanted eyes' which is not to say that he wrote 'fairy stories' or produced 'spun candy' in any way. Horror, pain, loss, sacrifice, are all there, along with love, friendship, honour & beauty, but they are mythologised in order to bring out their timeless & universal aspect so that they become applicable to us & our everyday lives (to the extent that we want them to be).

Its as if Pullman & Moorcock are listenening to Tolkien read LotR. At the end they ask Tolkien what the message was. He says, 'No message. Its a story, what did you think?' They respond 'But what were you trying to say to us? We have to know what the 'message' is before we can know whether we can allow ourselves to like the story. If the message is a bad one we will have to dislike the story'. And Tolkien replies, 'No, its a story set a long time ago, full of heroism & sacrifice, loss & love, beauty & ugliness - a great tale. Did you like it, did it move you, has it affected you in any way?' Moorcock & Pullman look at each other in exasperation & speak to Tolkien as if to a child 'But how are we supposed to know whether we were moved by it, or if so, how we were moved, whether it was good or bad, until you tell us what it means?'

Finally they decide that if there is a message it must be a bad one or Tolkien would be open about it, or that if there isn't a 'message' which they can either agree, or argue with, the story is worthless.

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Old 08-16-2006, 06:03 AM   #99
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Originally Posted by Mister Underhill
Moorcock is an interesting character. He obviously has a lot of ambivalence about the genre that he's most well known for working in -- most of his fantasy work seems to be a satire of, a reaction to, or an attempt to reinvent the work of the genre's stalwarts.
Interesting, isn't it, this attempt to reinvent the genre? Actually, I have a fair bit of sympathy for writers who are curious enough to want to seek alternate applications of the desire for fairey. If fairey is 'grounded' in human psychology, as Tolkien argued in OFS, then it is quite legitimate to try to seek how many ways this can be satisfied. I don't have to agree with an author in order to appreciate an honest and legitimate attempt to explore aspects which have not previously been explored. And I can also understand the frustration if writers feel that one aspect gets more attention. I suppose the real answer is to write stories with such readerly appeal that they succeed despite the new perspective.

And really, I don't think the point is the message or ideology per se. Or that there even has to be a message. Again, I go back to the idea that Moorcock is putting epic romance in a historical or cultural context and asking if that is the only form possible for fantasy. Tolkien operated within his own philosophical or theological beliefs--all writers do. Some simply foreground them while others prefer to let them colour the background, so to speak.

I go back to a question I asked earlier. Why was Tolkien unable to write stories for the fourth age and later? What inhibited his imagination? Was he merely tired, was it old age? I don't ask this as a criticism, but as a way to understand his writing better. I know people who say they would attend church if their church was a beautiful old gothic style. But what does it say if belief is so completely carved in stone? Is this feeling applicable to Tolkien?
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Old 08-16-2006, 06:15 AM   #100
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It makes me laugh when people who aim to be anti-establishment claim that all those who are against change are automatically 'reactionaries' or even 'proto-Nazis'. Why? Because in the modern world we are all constantly bombarded with 'change' and we are constantly reminded that we are not 'cool' if we do not embrace it, even that we are unemployable if we do not accept it. But all this embracing of 'change' is just being done to encourage us to be forever unhappy and hence to work even harder and buy even more stuff, buy a bigger house in a better area, get a better holiday next year, go somewhere different (even if it destroys the environment), accept a bigger workload when staff are cut, be bored and restless all the time until we die.

Any prospective anti-establishment writer would do well to think about why change is a big con.

The other little rant that's been provoked by this thread is that yet again another writer has seized on this quasi-medieval 'thing' about Tolkien. Well, I always read LotR as an incredibly modern book with quite stark and bleak themes. If people are associating it with the medieval period then it's that they have this in their own heads. Certainly The Shire is more like early 20th century England, and Rohan isn't Medieval. It's just readers' romantic notions of a colourful period in history imprinting themselves on their ideas of what Tolkien was writing.

Here's another rant. A lot of these writers (Moorcock, Pullman being the ones in mind given this thread) have understandably got a dislike of the formulaic, cliched fantasy that came after Tolkien (so have I - why eat burgers when you can have steak?) but the memories of and notions about this formula fantasy impinges on what Tolkien wrote, on Tolkien's style, which was very different and unformulaic as it actually set the agenda for the whole genre to follow. I don't know, but it seems pretty unintelligent to blame Tolkien for being so damn good that many other writers decided to copy him or use him as inspiration. Am I to criticise Jane Austen for spawning a thousand sickening chick-lit novels? Or Salvador Dali for inspiring a million tacky 1980s Athena posters?

There will always be a market for 'stuff' produced for people who quite pointedly do not like 'other stuff', that need has created a hundred and one different youth movements (punk as reaction to prog rock, grunge as reaction to yuppies etc). Well it seems there are people who love the rollicking good narrative provided by a fantasy novel but who pointedly do not want to be seen reading Tolkien, who want to be different, alternative. Writers who fulfill that need will no doubt sell more books by being vocal, vituperative, and perhaps we should read their criticism as marketing blurb rather than valid analysis?
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Old 08-16-2006, 06:51 AM   #101
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Originally Posted by -davem
I don't see that 'not being at all comfortable with industrial development' makes one a bad person - one could even argue it makes one a good person. I prefer wild countryside to urban sprawl - shoot me.
I don’t think that either Pullman or Moorcock are saying that it does make anyone a “bad” person. They are expressing their opinion about a socio-political approach to life with which they disagree in seeking to explain why they dislike a work which reflects that approach. Personally, I am rather split on this one. Tolkien’s approach to technological development is one of the few points upon which I do fundamentally disagree with him. That said, I do prefer a rural outlook to an urban one and dislike the overcrowded nature of urban areas. I suppose that, while I recognise the value of urbanisation to society, I prefer not to have to experience it myself. In this respect, my tastes have changed markedly since my early 20s, when I positively relished living and working in the city.

Unlike Pullman and Moorcock, however, whatever disagreements I may have with Tolkien on these issues, as reflected in the society which he created, I do not find that these impair my enjoyment of his tales. Partly because I do not expect them to speak directly to my “real life” experiences. And partly because I do not subscribe greatly to Moorcock’s (and, I suspect, Pullman’s) political leanings. Which makes me wonder. Is LotR a fundamentally right wing work (and I am not talking about the extreme right here)? Is it more likely to be appreciated by those with conservative, traditionalist political leanings? Spiritually and socially, Tolkien does come across as rather orthodox but, from his Letters, he seems to be rather politically radical (although his politics seem closer to anti-big state “enlightened Toryism” than anything else).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lalwendë
It makes me laugh when people who aim to be anti-establishment claim that all those who are against change are automatically 'reactionaries' or even 'proto-Nazis'. Why? Because in the modern world we are all constantly bombarded with 'change' and we are constantly reminded that we are not 'cool' if we do not embrace it, even that we are unemployable if we do not accept it. But all this embracing of 'change' is just being done to encourage us to be forever unhappy and hence to work even harder and buy even more stuff, buy a bigger house in a better area, get a better holiday next year, go somewhere different (even if it destroys the environment), accept a bigger workload when staff are cut, be bored and restless all the time until we die.
Ah, but change is a fundamental aspect of human nature – the urge to strive for something different, something new, something “better”. Tolkien does address this, but not in the way that the likes of Moorcock can appreciate – not in LotR at least. This does make me wonder whether, were either of them to delve more deeply into Tolkien’s writings, they might appreciate what he has to say about Mannish adaptability and flexibility v Elvish immutability and desire to preserve, stifle even. Tolkien is critical of the Elvish approach, yet I think Moorcock and Pullman are right that he displayed a tendency towards this himself. There is a contradiction of sorts here, or does it reflect a perceptive self-awareness (and self-criticism) on Tolkien’s part?

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
It seems to me that what Pullman & Moorcock are complaining about is that Tolkien didn't tell them what to think. He refused to write 'allegory' - what he did set down was his own vision of 'life, the universe & everything', 'seen through enchanted eyes' which is not to say that he wrote 'fairy stories' or produced 'spun candy' in any way. Horror, pain, loss, sacrifice, are all there, along with love, friendship, honour & beauty, but they are mythologised in order to bring out their timeless & universal aspect so that they become applicable to us & our everyday lives (to the extent that we want them to be).
Disagree with the first part. Agree with the second. I do not think that Moorcock and Pullman expect Tolkien (or, indeed, any other author) to tell them what to think. I do think that they expect literature to speak to their real life experiences. They clearly feel that, psychologically, politically and/or socially, Tolkien’s characters are stuck in Middle-earth and have nothing to tell them about the real world. I disagree with them on that and agree with you about the applicability of Tolkien’s writings to our everyday lives.

I nevertheless do think that it is rather unfair to categorise Pullman and Moorcock as rejecting stories for their own sake. What Pullman says in one of those interviews about the importance of the story and his own trilogy almost writing itself sounds very similar to statements made by Tolkien in this regard. I am not sure that they expect a “message” in the sense of an allegory. They are perfectly happy to accept a story for its own sake, provided that they can find applicability in it. And they do not find that applicability in LotR. Fair enough. Not everyone does.
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Old 08-16-2006, 11:17 AM   #102
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It seems to me that both Pullman & Moorcock are criticising LotR for an absence of any 'message'. Pullman's comment that it is 'spun candy' that it is trivial, that it has nothing to say to us implies that he feels it should be saying something. Moorcock seems to feel that what it has to say is either trivial or reactionary. Moorcock seems so desperate for it to say anything that he will impose a meaning on it & then criticise that meaning.

Pullman stated in an interview on BBC radio (hosted by Germaine Greer) that he was 'using fantasy to undermine fantasy'. Greer, with her well known dislike of fantasy was having none of it & adopted a sneering tone all the way through & Pullman went off with his tail between his legs. Whatever. Pullman has also stated that he wishes he could write 'serious' novels but hasn't the ability (interview with Brian Sibley on Radio 4). Pullman clearly feels that fantasy as a genre is for children & inadequate adults & needs a damn good thrashing & putting in its place. Moorcock seems to feel that fantasy is all well & good as a vehicle for his politics & must subvert the status quo if it is to be acceptable. Both want to be accepted by the literati (Moorcock has even gone so far as to re-write the ending of one of his novels - Gloriana - to make it more 'PC' in response to a criticism by Andrea Dworkin: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/fantas...n/gloriana.htm )

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bb
I go back to a question I asked earlier. Why was Tolkien unable to write stories for the fourth age and later? What inhibited his imagination? Was he merely tired, was it old age? I don't ask this as a criticism, but as a way to understand his writing better. I know people who say they would attend church if their church was a beautiful old gothic style. But what does it say if belief is so completely carved in stone? Is this feeling applicable to Tolkien?
I'm not sure this is all that complicated. The idea for The New Shadow wasnot reallly one that could be taken anywhere. Personally, when I read it, with its villain a young man questioning authority & indulging in 'Orcish' behaviour on the sly, I couldn't help feeling that Tolkien was having a bit of a rant about 'the youth of today'. I don't think there was much potential there. As to why he couldn't write anything about later ages, I suspect he had taken the story to its logical conclusion in the departure of the Elves at the end of LotR. The LKegendarium is the story of the Elves principally. Any sequel would either have had to be greater & more spectacular than LotR (which would have undermined the impact of LotR, made it just one more story in the Legendarium), or it would have been merely another minor tale that went nowhere.

Of course, one could argue that Smith is also set in a later age of M-e...
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Old 08-16-2006, 11:33 AM   #103
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Perhaps we should invite Pullman and/or Moorcock to contribute to this discussion so that they can explain their respective positions, rather than continuing to speculate on the motives and intentions behind the points they make in connection with Tolkien's works and fantasy in general.

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Old 08-16-2006, 11:57 AM   #104
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Given that the King of Fairie in Smith is a prentice chef who excels at baking fancy cakes, and that the original name of the story was The Great Cake, the eating of which provides an opportunity for a chosen one to enter the realm of fairie unscathed, I suspect that Tolkien would not have looked askance at the 'spun candy' attribution.
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Old 08-16-2006, 12:26 PM   #105
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Just a minute here, SpM . If we ask Moorcock and Pullman, surely we must invite Tolkien as well! I enjoy the writings of all three authors, but my personal sympathies are closer to Davem's on this issue.

Quote:
Is LotR a fundamentally right wing work (and I am not talking about the extreme right here)? Is it more likely to be appreciated by those with conservative, traditionalist political leanings? Spiritually and socially, Tolkien does come across as rather orthodox but, from his Letters, he seems to be rather politically radical (although his politics seem closer to anti-big state “enlightened Toryism” than anything else).
This has always been a fascinating question to me. Years ago, when I first read the books, those who enjoyed the stories tended to be people who could be labelled "leftish", at least by the standards of American culture in the sixties. This was at a time when the environmental movement was just starting up, and many sympathized with Tolkien's "green" views. Perhaps this is in contrast to the situation today, when many Christians read Tolkien and see echoes of their beliefs in his writing. At least some of these readers would probably regard themselves as conservative on many social issues.

Still, we have to be careful with this labelling. The odd thing is that, a work labelled reactionary in one era can be viewed as liberal in another. Even in the same time period, one critic can have a different take than another. Tolkien's "pro-rural, anti-technology" message can be regarded as reactionary. Yet, another critic might argue that Tolkien was one of the earliest authors who challenged readers to consider the implications of man's indifference and/or manipulation of the environment.
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Old 08-16-2006, 02:36 PM   #106
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The only reason we are hearing from anyone (including those who are critical) with an opinion on the works is because of the massive end result (impact) to the reader. And not just one particular reader. Massive, meaning the incredible size of the swath that it cut through society. The beauty of it was that it wasnt written with this, or any other high-falutin literary end in mind. Yet, such an incredible result.

Now, long after the fact (of creation) comes supporters and detractors, certain that they know how\why, or how not \ why isnt. Would anyone care to opine if the end result didnt exist? Or, perhaps denying it existed in the first place works better for some..? Much like those who would tear down a thing to not only see how the thing works, or others who would tear down a thing to build their own shabby facsimile in defiance or jealousy, or spite.

I would daresay there are few out there like me who have spent a lifetime enjoying the works, and the reason I (we) do isnt the underlying thesis, or the political social message. An ingredient, which, taken out of its context, reveals many defects and flaws. The writing style is stilted and out of date. The narrative of the action is curt. Character development could have been better. Yea ok - but I would submit that any deviations from what we have would lessen the impact of the work for me.

Perhaps it was that JRRT was merely the first to take Faerie seriously. All I know is that what my mind's eye sees is what the author intended, and it's a good thing that he took me seriously. I begin to know Faerie, thanks to JRRT.
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Old 08-16-2006, 02:50 PM   #107
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry
Given that the King of Fairie in Smith is a prentice chef who excels at baking fancy cakes, and that the original name of the story was The Great Cake, the eating of which provides an opportunity for a chosen one to enter the realm of fairie unscathed, I suspect that Tolkien would not have looked askance at the 'spun candy' attribution.
Oh, but the sugar icing on the cake was symbolic for making Faery childish and overly sweet - Alf Prentice wasn't enthusiastic about it. And the story's change of name goes hand in hand with Tolkien's change in the focus of the tale. The cake was no longer the "main character" or "hero" of the story! I suspect that Moorcock and Pullman would side more with the inadequate cook, Nokes, than with Alf Prentice, the King of Faery...
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Old 08-16-2006, 03:09 PM   #108
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry
Given that the King of Fairie in Smith is a prentice chef who excels at baking fancy cakes, and that the original name of the story was The Great Cake, the eating of which provides an opportunity for a chosen one to enter the realm of fairie unscathed, I suspect that Tolkien would not have looked askance at the 'spun candy' attribution.
He may enter Faery unscathed, but he certainly doesn't leave it that way. It changes him & those around him & on his final return from Faery he is filled with loss & regret & a knowledge that 'there is no real going back'. Frodo cannot go back to the Shire, Smith cannot go back to Faery, both end bereft.

Smith had lived two lives since he came of age, & intgrated them well enough, though his family & fellow villagers have had to share him with the OtherWorld. In the end, when he is an old man, he is cast out, his passport taken away from him & he is left to share his final years with his family. How much did they miss of his life? What did his wife & children have to sacrifice, knowing that they were excluded from so much that was of central importance to him? How much did he miss of their lives while travelling in Faery, knowing they could never share that aspect of his life? And all the time he knew that he did not belong there, was only a visiting wanderer beneath the trees.
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Old 08-16-2006, 04:13 PM   #109
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Originally Posted by The Saucepan Man

Unlike Pullman and Moorcock, however, whatever disagreements I may have with Tolkien on these issues, as reflected in the society which he created, I do not find that these impair my enjoyment of his tales. Partly because I do not expect them to speak directly to my “real life” experiences. And partly because I do not subscribe greatly to Moorcock’s (and, I suspect, Pullman’s) political leanings. Which makes me wonder. Is LotR a fundamentally right wing work (and I am not talking about the extreme right here)? Is it more likely to be appreciated by those with conservative, traditionalist political leanings? Spiritually and socially, Tolkien does come across as rather orthodox but, from his Letters, he seems to be rather politically radical (although his politics seem closer to anti-big state “enlightened Toryism” than anything else).
No, I would not put Tolkien's work on the right hand end of any political scale. But I wouldn't say he was particularly left leaning either. He does deal with political issues such as the environment and corruption/power (both often go hand in hand ), he even tackles feminism to some extent with Eowyn (though admittedly arguable), and racism in the suspicion that Elves and Dwarves have of each other. Of course, there is the slightly anarchistic/Utopian nature of The Shire, and then there are Monarchies and totalitarian states, together with what might be seen as theocracies (like Iran) in the form of Valinor!

Tolkien is not politically unaware, but I firmly believe he is politically ambiguous. It would be wrong to confuse his status as middle class white Catholic male with what he wrote, as the text does not bear out the kind of writing we might expect from that stereotype. The main thing to remember is the incredible subtlety of Tolkien's writing. This is why I react when people claim it for their own 'agenda' - whether political or religious, as his work is far too subtle and ambiguous to shore up any creed, apart perhaps from environmentalism.

Just from reading about the Hobbits, their characteristics, society and the different personalities a lot is revealed. Tolkien is a little Englander - concerned with what surrounds him, with the small but nevertheless important things in life (the welfare of a neighbour - e.g. the Gaffer getting his new smial, young people being led astray e.g. the young Hobbit shirriffs who Sam brings down a peg or two). But like any little Englander he is not ignorant of the Big Issues, war, power, destruction. Little Englander is no insult, far from it! It's an apolitical term, and refers to someone not interested in right or left dogma, but in the issues and what matters.

Maybe this is why people like Pullman and Moorcock don't like Tolkien. He isn't taking a party line of any kind, just going with what is important regardless of any agenda.

And like Child has said, the fact that Tolkien's work appeals to so many diverse people and can be read in so many different ways suggests that there is indeed no agenda there.
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Old 08-16-2006, 07:03 PM   #110
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Just a minute here, SpM . If we ask Moorcock and Pullman, surely we must invite Tolkien as well!
Ah, but there are surely more than enough people here to speak up on Tolkien's behalf - with a far greater inclination to "take his side" and to take the time to consider carefully the materials available in this regard.

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Originally Posted by Child
I enjoy the writings of all three authors, but my personal sympathies are closer to Davem's on this issue.
My sympathies too lie more with Tolkien on these issues. Yet I would rather engage constructively with what the likes of Pullman and Moorcock have to say than simply shout it down. And I do find much of what they do have to say (Pullman in particular) of interest, even if I do not agree with all of it. The parallels betwen what Pullman has to say on the nature of writing and what Tolkien himself said in this regard are, as has been pointed out previously, fascinating.

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I would daresay there are few out there like me who have spent a lifetime enjoying the works, and the reason I (we) do isnt the underlying thesis, or the political social message.
I would count myself in that category too. While I can see applicability in Tolkien's works, they are to me, first and foremost, entertaining and engaging reads. I do not think, as Pullman and Moorcock appear to, that novels necessarily have to tell us something about our world (on a direct and conscious level at least) in order to have literary merit or value. Funnily enough, though, I enjoyed the works of Pullman and Moorcock in much the same way as I enjoyed Tolkien's works - as entertaining reads. I wonder what they would make of that? They must accept, surely, that many of their readers will approach their works in the same way, particularly as their greatest appeal will be among younger readers.

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Originally Posted by Lalwendë
He does deal with political issues such as the environment and corruption/power (both often go hand in hand ) ...
Yet not, for Tolkien, inevitably so. In Tolkien's works, power corrupts if employed in the service of evil. But power and authority can be exercised in the service of good, too, as in the case of Aragorn's rule. Manwë's rule is another example. I suspect that Moorcock and Pullman would take a different view, namely that power and authority is almost always a corrupting influence. I find myself rather in agreement with that approach, when considering the "real world", although I do not find Tolkien's treatment of the issue as lacking credibility, in the context of Middle-earth.

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Originally Posted by Lalwendë
It would be wrong to confuse his status as middle class white Catholic male with what he wrote, as the text does not bear out the kind of writing we might expect from that stereotype.
I think that it does, to a degree, including in some of the ways which Moorcock identifies. But I agree that this is not comprehensively the case. Tolkien was a complex character (but aren't most of us?). I take the point made by Child about different values within the text being ascribed differing value over time and between different readers/critics. And I also take the point which both of you make concerning Tolkien's enviromentalist leanings. Both Pullman and Moorcock gloss over those aspects of Tolkien's works with which they might have some sympathy, were they to consider them, and focus on those elements which they find disagreeable. That's understandable, I suppose. Given that the works do not appear to appeal to them on an insitinctive level, it is natural for them to look to why this might be.

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Originally Posted by Lalwendë
Maybe this is why people like Pullman and Moorcock don't like Tolkien. He isn't taking a party line of any kind, just going with what is important regardless of any agenda.
But, as I understand it, on the basis of Tolkien's own statements (as expressed in his Letters) and on many commentators on his works, he did have an agenda of sorts. Not political, maybe, but certainly religious (consciously so in the revision) and, to a degree, social/environmental. That is not to say that he wrote LotR to "preach" or to persuade anyone to his own viewpoint. But, to my mind, his agenda certainly influenced what he wrote. Pullman and Moorcock dislike LotR not because they perceive no agenda but because they see it, at best, as irrelevant and, at worst, as dangerous.

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Originally Posted by Lalwendë
No, I would not put Tolkien's work on the right hand end of any political scale ... And like Child has said, the fact that Tolkien's work appeals to so many diverse people and can be read in so many different ways suggests that there is indeed no agenda there.
I do not disagree about the diverse appeal of Tolkien's works. But I do wonder why his most vociferous critics (Greer, Hari, Moorcock etc) are those with left-wing leanings. I also wonder why it seems to be the case that those who seek to criticise Tolkien's writings are always so vociferous in doing so. Is it, as has been suggested, a consequence of frustration at their widespread and enduring appeal? Are there any critics of Tolkien who adopt a more reasonable, constructive approach? Based on what I have read, Pullman would appear to be the most reasonable of them all ...
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Old 08-16-2006, 07:23 PM   #111
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Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar
And the story's change of name goes hand in hand with Tolkien's change in the focus of the tale. The cake was no longer the "main character" or "hero" of the story!
Ah, 'spun candy' here belongs to summer ritual, part of carnivals and exhibitions and wild rides, as important to my culture as the old carnival was to European culture (although perhaps the perilous element is missing)--and so it also signifies a special event, a rare time, fleeting--"fairs" in all the special meanings.

However, you have read that intriguing essay in the new edition, Esty, so you will have a more expansive understanding of the story. I am really intrigued by the original idea that the baker/cake was a metaphor for writer/story but grew into a metaphor for the passing of generations, with the ritual celebration.

I wonder, could you verify my source, which suggested that the title was changed (when the story was published in Redbook) to imply a PG. Wodehouse story or a Boy's Own story. Does Flieger mention this at all?
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Old 08-16-2006, 07:43 PM   #112
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I think one reason that the criticisms of Pullman and Moorcock come across as petulant (at least to me) is that it's the work that is the ultimate argument. The way to really "defeat" Tolkien and win your argument over him is to write a book that is so much better (imaginatively, technically, ideologically, or whatever) that it transcends LotR so completely as to reduce it to irrelevance or at least quaintness (in the most dismissive sense of that word). For those guys -- who are at least moderately successful in their own right, but who still live in the shadow of Tolkien -- to write essays bashing him is like Charles Barkley writing essays on why Michael Jordan is overrated. No. If you want to prove that Jordan is overrated, you've got to prove it on the court where it counts. Talk is cheap.
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Old 08-16-2006, 09:12 PM   #113
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I think one reason that the criticisms of Pullman and Moorcock come across as petulant (at least to me) is that it's the work that is the ultimate argument. The way to really "defeat" Tolkien and win your argument over him is to write a book that is so much better (technically, ideologically, or whatever) that it transcends LotR so completely as to reduce it to irrelevance or at least quaintness (in the most dismissive sense of that word). For those guys -- who are at least moderately successful in their own right, but who still live in the shadow of Tolkien -- to write essays bashing him is like Charles Barkley writing essays on why Michael Jordan is overrated. No. If you want to prove that Jordan is overrated, you've got to prove it on the court where it counts. Talk is cheap.
You are, of course, right as rain, Mister Underhill. It is the imagination that must be gained.

Yet, SF is one of the most gabbling of genres, perhaps because its status was once so often dismissed. And with the advent of the fan convention, authors can hardly be blamed for becoming engaged in the discussion of the beast. The talk is simply a symptom of the popularity of the genre and the access which fans have to writers. To say nothing of internet discussion forums.

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Originally Posted by Lal
Maybe this is why people like Pullman and Moorcock don't like Tolkien. He isn't taking a party line of any kind, just going with what is important regardless of any agenda.

And like Child has said, the fact that Tolkien's work appeals to so many diverse people and can be read in so many different ways suggests that there is indeed no agenda there.
Umm, I don't think it is quite that easy to dismiss an 'agenda' in Tolkien, although I would call it a perspective. Sauce mentions the religious element which came to the fore in Tolkien's imagination as he aged, but the elements which hold LotR together are mythology and linquistics/philology. This is similar to, say, Ursua K. LeGuin's use of an anthropological perspective. For Tolkien, it is an historical world view which permeates his writing, a world view writers like Pullman and Moorcock find intrudes upon their enjoyment of the books.

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It changes him & those around him & on his final return from Faery he is filled with loss & regret & a knowledge that 'there is no real going back'. Frodo cannot go back to the Shire, Smith cannot go back to Faery, both end bereft.
See my previous post in reply to Esty for how spun candy fits with the ritual passing of generations, life, time.

I wonder if it is only the SF authors who use the archetypes of science and technology as the basis of their fantasy who have such difficulties with Tolkien? I've been looking at Le Guin's attitude towards Tolkien, which is not only different from those of Pullman and Moorcock, but more subtle as well.

Here are a couple of links with Le Guin's comments on Tolkien.

NPR discussion of Tolkien, with Le Guin, Shippey et al

Tributes from Le Guin at Green Books

This second one is an amalgamation of her comments in The Language of the Night, which I have at hand and will skim to see what else one can provide.
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Old 08-17-2006, 04:22 AM   #114
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I don't think it is quite that easy to dismiss an 'agenda' in Tolkien, although I would call it a perspective.
Perspective is inevitable. But I think Tolkien's perspective is that change is inevitable, yet it is change away from perfection (it is an 'Elvish' perspective as Flieger has pointed out). The implication is that that is a tragic but inevitable situation. Tolkien accepts that change is unavoidable but he doesn't like it. He will not entirely reject the possibility that there is hope, that the future will bring good things, but he won't reject the past as a time of ignorant savagery, or of superstition which we have grown out of & are now free to move on to bigger & better things.

It seems to me that both Moorcock & Pullman do see the past in that light & their message is that the future can be made better than the past, that, in fact there is an 'evolutionary trend' towards things improving – if we can just break free of the past. In this sense, their perspective is 'Mannish' & Tolkien's Elvishness is holding fantasy (& humanity perhaps) back.

I think a conflict is inevitable but I'm not sure Moorcock & Pullman actually understand the true nature of the conflict, that both sides reflect aspects of human state or, most importantly, that Tolkien's work is actually an analysis/exploration of that very conflict within the human psyche.
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Old 08-17-2006, 04:51 AM   #115
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that Tolkien's work is actually an analysis/exploration of that very conflict within the human psyche
It seems to me that even in that conflict, ultimate hope of both Elves and Men and even Dwarves is to the future - the making of Last Music and singing in the Last Choir. As seen from the perspective of those placed inside the circles of the world, it is future affair. Incarnation hinted at as an ultimate relief is also future affair for the ME of both Silmarillion and LoTR.

So it seems to me that conflict here lies in a bit different plane - as both P and M believe (mark wording) that the ‘paradise’ is achievable on earth/within solar system/galaxy/whatever trough our own efforts, and even more so - that such a paradise is not only achievable, but inevitable (unless we fail ultimately through folly such as religion in Pullman’s case) as the general trend of the world is evolution from simpler to more complex and from worse to better, and Tolkien believes just the opposite (at least about own efforts. Of course own efforst are of vast importance with Tolkien, but something extra is to be there always - it is joint effort, to put it crudely, that counts). Hence conflict inevitably shifts to become issue of religion (not necessarily organized religion, but in the sense of faith for sure).

Edit: davem, I'm just halfway through the lecture you link to in your signature: (http://www.sofn.org.uk/Conferences/pullman2002.htm). Interesting key-phrase, said in unobtrusive way, almost like a slip of the tongue: Like God, they [characters in any story] are nonreal. Thanks for interesting read, too. But deary me, why can't these people just live and let others live, I can't help thinking - why pull out some kind of yardstick and aggressively compare things at all? 'This is better than that, and that is worse than this' seems to be the motto, but most annoying is an addedum running like '...and therefore you too should like this more than that...'
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Old 08-17-2006, 05:50 AM   #116
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Yet not, for Tolkien, inevitably so. In Tolkien's works, power corrupts if employed in the service of evil. But power and authority can be exercised in the service of good, too, as in the case of Aragorn's rule. Manwë's rule is another example. I suspect that Moorcock and Pullman would take a different view, namely that power and authority is almost always a corrupting influence. I find myself rather in agreement with that approach, when considering the "real world", although I do not find Tolkien's treatment of the issue as lacking credibility, in the context of Middle-earth.
Yes Tolkien gives us some examples (of Men in particular, but its not isolated to them as a race) of figureheads who do not allow thier power to corrupt them. But they are quite pointedly rare, and even with Aragorn we see occasions which demonstrate how easily such a great Man could tip into arrogance. I think Tolkien makes it clear that power can even corrupt a very good man (or elf). Even where power is ostensibly being used for 'good' as in the case of Galadriel and Lothlorien, scratch the surface and there is a nasty side. So I think Tolkien is not that far away from Moorcock and Pullman in this respect, though he will allow that sometimes, just sometimes, a person might come along who isn't like that - Tolkien allows some occasional, fleeting hope.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SpM
I take the point made by Child about different values within the text being ascribed differing value over time and between different readers/critics.
This, I like to think, is because Tolkien's work goes beyond mere prose in style. It is poetic and visual; the images, characters and ideas he draws can be quite mercurial as opposed to the fixed images we sometimes get from fiction.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SpM
But, as I understand it, on the basis of Tolkien's own statements (as expressed in his Letters) and on many commentators on his works, he did have an agenda of sorts. Not political, maybe, but certainly religious (consciously so in the revision) and, to a degree, social/environmental. That is not to say that he wrote LotR to "preach" or to persuade anyone to his own viewpoint. But, to my mind, his agenda certainly influenced what he wrote. Pullman and Moorcock dislike LotR not because they perceive no agenda but because they see it, at best, as irrelevant and, at worst, as dangerous.
If Tolkien had any clear religious agenda then it would be more apparent and obvious - I think the fact that people are still arguing over this is proof that his text was not meant to be taken as some kind of religious lesson or allegory. Yes it might be there, I don't think we can deny that his Catholicism influenced much of what he wrote, but it is not there as part of a religious agenda. Tolkien may have gone over his work at a later stage and identified the religious analogies (especially when questioned by letters from readers), but this has to be put into the context of his public image as a Catholic academic. Though I don't want to go opening cans of worms about Religion in LotR - I'll leave it at saying that yes, his religion must have influenced what he wrote, but any 'agenda' was sketchy and indirect at best/worst.

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Originally Posted by SpM
I do not disagree about the diverse appeal of Tolkien's works. But I do wonder why his most vociferous critics (Greer, Hari, Moorcock etc) are those with left-wing leanings. I also wonder why it seems to be the case that those who seek to criticise Tolkien's writings are always so vociferous in doing so. Is it, as has been suggested, a consequence of frustration at their widespread and enduring appeal? Are there any critics of Tolkien who adopt a more reasonable, constructive approach? Based on what I have read, Pullman would appear to be the most reasonable of them all ...
Why are they vociferous? Because you'd have to shout loud to be heard over all our fan-worship, over the massive sales and over the lists which have placed Tolkien as 'the best....ever!" Anyway, about those with leftist leanings. Having leftist leanings myself I can honestly say that there is a sector on 'that side' who are terribly earnest and like everything to be as PC as humanly possible; they also like 'challenging' Arts - which sadly often translates into cruddy poetry, unwatchable films and inedible food. However, there is also a significant 'leftist' grouping who are likely to be Tolkien-obsessed - the New Agers, the greenies and not least, the outdoorsy types, those who like nothing better than nearly being killed by high gales halfway up Helvellyn on a weekend.
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Old 08-17-2006, 05:57 AM   #117
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Pullman & Moorcock are clearly 'mannish' in their approach both to fantasy & 'real life'. This leads them, I think, to be blind to the faults inherent in an overly Mannish approach to life. Tolkien can see the faults & the virtues of both approaches. He can see the good in Elvishness – its preservation of what was valuable in the past, but he can also see that that desire to preserve things at all costs effectively puts a halt to change & development & ultimately leads to embalming & stagnation. However for all the 'freedom' inherent in the Mannish approach there is a downside which both Pullman & Moorcock in their idealism of it cannot see. They, rather than Tolkien, take a black & white approach. They fail to see that in breaking away completely from the past we become rootless & have inevitably to view the past in a negative, light, the past is ignorant, savage & superstitious. It becomes for them associated with 'evil' & everything evil is associated with the past. To preserve anything is dangerous, & ultimately restrictive of humanity.
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Old 08-17-2006, 06:14 AM   #118
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It's much more interesting, because much more realistic, when there's a struggle between different goods
Another key-phrase from that lecture by Pullman. Denethor and his guards' loyalty, and dead key-warden come to mind, though.

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To preserve anything is dangerous, & ultimately restrictive of humanity
I can't help recalling the story I've read some years back (though I can't remember the name of the author (nor the title of the story), as I did enjoy it at the time of reading - it was a short story of the man smuggling something trough the city at great personal risk. The story is placed at some future time when advertising and manufacturing companies are the same. The result is that not a product lasts more than couple of hours (be it clothing or furniture or vehicle). Social and economical structure is based on constant change, automata sell and sell things to people who are forced to constantly buy them. The nature of the thing protagonist is smuggling along is not revealed until the very end, but than the reader finds that it was not a weapon or bomb, but merely a stool (or maybe a chair) made of real wood.

It seems to me that Messers M. and P. do not like wood. They think it's too crude, greatly inferior to, say, plastic or something even more complex like kevlar...
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Old 08-17-2006, 07:28 AM   #119
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..... that novels necessarily have to tell us something about our world (on a direct and conscious level at least) in order to have literary merit or value.
Conscious level being the key term. well put


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Funnily enough, though, I enjoyed the works of Pullman and Moorcock in much the same way as I enjoyed Tolkien's works - as entertaining reads. I wonder what they would make of that?
Their accountants send thank you notes on their behalf. Another difference between they and JRRT.

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Talk is cheap.
Perfect. Exquisite. And for the past 60+ years of publishing history I'm still waiting.... for even a close contender.


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This, I like to think, is because Tolkien's work goes beyond mere prose in style.
A transcending effect that is common among masterpieces.

Quote:
It is poetic and visual; the images, characters and ideas he draws can be quite mercurial as opposed to the fixed images we sometimes get from fiction.
Reaching very, very, very, far back, in order to awaken sleeping Muses that reside in all of us.

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. However for all the 'freedom' inherent in the Mannish approach there is a downside which both Pullman & Moorcock in their idealism of it cannot see.
Regardless of their personal beliefs, they also take a Mannish approach to religion in LOTR. Its there, and some of it can be translated by the reader into a contemporary nuance. But it is (of course) a religion that the author presents that predates Mannish influences and organization.

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Old 08-17-2006, 08:05 AM   #120
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[Their accountants send thank you notes on their behalf. Another difference between they and JRRT.
This is a bit of rhetorical unfairness if you are implying that P & M are hacks writing for profit only. Pullman was a teacher for most of his adult life and did not depend upon royalties for an income. Moorcock has worked and toiled considerably in the SF world to increase its respect--work and effort that is highly regarded and respected. Tolkien wrote for his private pleasure but he also has said--sorry I don't have the Letters to hand now--that he harboured a desire to publish. They are all credible writers.


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Originally Posted by drigel
And for the past 60+ years of publishing history I'm still waiting.... for even a close contender.
I'm glad you are so inspired and enthused by Tolkien. However, not everyone is as you are and there are many readers who love Tolkien who have also found other writers who they would regard as close contenders. Reading is highly subjective. Without denigrating Tolkien, it surely must be possible to enjoy other writers.

But aside from this, what I find fascinating is how Tolkien seems to produce this kind of split in readers: deeply passionate, committed fans and readers who cannot stand him. Is this a trait of Tolkien readers only or does it happen with other readers? What causes this great divide?

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Originally Posted by drigel
Its there, and some of it can be translated by the reader into a contemporary nuance. But it is (of course) a religion that the author presents that predates Mannish influences and organization.
Umm, my understanding is that Tolkien wanted to depict a world prior to divine revelation. Perhaps I am not understanding what you mean?
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