Epic Pooh - Moorcock Review of Tolkein/Lewis

GOLLUM

Moderator
Joined
Mar 21, 2005
Messages
9,034
Location
Australia
Yes as you say JD, it's quite amazing how this thread still throws up such passionate responses. All well and good I say as long as they can be backed up by rational argument.

For the record Moorcock is one of my favourite authors and I'm always interested to see what drops out of his mouth next. He generally knows very well what he's talking about and as such he's someone I like to keep an eye on. Getting back to Tolkien his influence is probably unparalleled in SFF, certainly fantasy. He isn't what I would consider to be a great writer but the sheer depth of worldbuilding is IMO not likely to be equaled or surpassed.
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,397
I havent read enough of Tolkien or Moorcock to have definite views on their writing but when i first heard of Epic Pooh and saw some qoutes from it i thought it was a low thing for some reason.

Now that i know the fantasy genre more and have seen what Tolkien imitators has done to the genre i find it much more interesting. Not what he feels about Tolkien but that someone talks like that this about "Epic".

Instinctivly Moorcock is much more interesting writer to me than Tolkien. MM kind of fantasy and writing was much easier for me to enjoy than LOTR.


I like a good fantasy writer of the type REH,MM,Vance is much more than Tolkien and the rest of the good ones in his subgenre.
 

Sudo Nonimus

New Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2008
Messages
2
All well and good I say as long as they can be backed up by rational argument.
I didn't find MM's conclusions, or his arguments, 'rational'. Tolkien is a misanthrope? His work is?
He [Tolkien] isn't what I would consider to be a great writer but the sheer depth of worldbuilding is IMO not likely to be equaled or surpassed.
Just to gain some perspective here, would you consider MM a 'great writer'? Better than Tolkien? The same?
 

High Eight

Boggart
Joined
Dec 20, 2006
Messages
454
I didn't find MM's conclusions, or his arguments, 'rational'. Tolkien is a misanthrope? His work is?
Moorcock wrote:

Later, The Plague Dogs (1977) displayed an almost paranoid conservative misanthropism.

The Plague Dogs was written by Richard Adams (iirc, Tolkien was dead by 1977) so no, that's not what he was saying at all.
 

Siberian

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2007
Messages
170
I haven't seen any discussion related to Michael Moorcocks essay Epic Pooh. This is one of the only critiques of Tolkeins work, and highlights some of the failings that are so often overlooked.

The only failing I see is that of Moorcock as a thoughtful reviewer. He obviously didn't read LOTR right before writing the review, or at least not all of it, because most of his statements are simply untrue. Nor does he know much about Tolkien's life and beliefs (calling him Tory... Tolkien was not fond of the British government, tory or not).

- The prose of Tolkein and Lewis are similar to nursery rhymes. They lack tension, drama or real feeling and instead simply try to comfort and play nice with the reader.
Yes, I remember a very comforting journey of Sam and Frodo to Orodruin in the company of a very courteous guide who was fond of sushi ;)

- It contains very little humour or joy. The writing does not bring out characters, but simply describes actions.
Keeping in mind that LOTR was not meant to be a comedy, there're plenty of ironic, humorous or even laugh-out-loud moments. Especially those involving Gandalf and the hobbits. But I guess it's hard to find them if you only pick the quotes at random.

- Tolkein claims his stories contain no alegories or messages, while the story itself debates that claim as it is "deeply conservative and strongly anti-urban".

He has to define what he means by "conservative". If we're talking about being against any change, it's untrue. The story of the elves who created the rings to stop the time comes to mind. And even the hobbits, despite many of their merits, certainly lack in imagination and curiosity for knowledge which almost costs them their freedom.

"Anti-urban"? Sorry, but what does he think Minast Tirith is? A rustic village? And is anyone happy over the ruins of many other great cities of the Dunedain? Not to mention the Numenorean civilization.

- He re-inforces the fairy tale happy ending. "The great epics dignified death, but they did not ignore it, and it is one of the reasons why they are superior to the artificial romances of which Lord of the Rings is merely one of the most recent."

LOTR ignores death??? :eek: Like I said, he hasn't read the book at all. Even "Hobbit" has a few deaths, rather upsetting for kids. Someone should give him The Silmarillion. All kinds of gruesome death or torture, just to his liking. Of course, he will probably complain that there's not sex so it's juvenile :rolleyes:

- This kind of story telling (fairy tale, simplistic) and writing (lack of tension, feeling and character) show a lack of respect for both adult and young readers. Compared to other stories for young readers they pale in comparison (i.e. Rowling/LeGuinn).
The only legendarium book that talks down to children is The Hobbit but only in parts and I think Tolkien came to dislike it himself. So LOTR was written in more mature way from the beginning, even in the chapters closest in mood to Hobbit. Speaking as someone who read Hobbit first at the age of 7 and fell in love with it immediately, I never felt "talked down" or insulted by it. I actually had more issues with the Narnia stories. But then, I was older and already read LOTR.

And really, as I much as I enjoyed Harry Potter, they're very inconsistent, the protagonist lacks any individuality beyond generic "orphan with powers" and the last 3 books could have benefited from some serious trimming.

- Tolkein seems to yearn for a day long past, romanticising it without showing its faults. He is very anti-urban, anti-growth, anti-20th century. It tries to convince how much better life was before it was corrupted by modernity.
Once again, the whole history of Arda is about change, whether for better or for worse. Trying to arrest change only brings more suffering. And even Shire has to face changes in the end.

As for the 20th century, was everything that happened truly great? Yes, there were technological and democratic achievements that can't be overlooked. However, it's called the a century of war for a reason. And the environmental issues are more prominent than ever. Unlike Shire, we'll have do deal with various environmental disasters for many years to come. There's a price for everything. The price for destroying the Ring was disappearance of many of the world's wonders.

And what's wrong with poor Winnie? It's a very funny book even to adults, and children love it. Does a book have to be cynical or dark to be worthy of Moorcock's praise?
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,870
Part of this has been addressed above, in my pointing out that Moorcock is a polemicist; the approach taken here (as with his comments on Heinlein's Starship Troopers) is a deliberate literary technique intended to engender argument and debate.

As for certain specific points: When Moorcock refers to the books being "comforting", he is referring to a very traditional type of narrative, something which he feels (rightly or wrongly) does not challenge the reader's perceptions and worldviews, but rather reinforces them in the simplistic "good-vs.-evil" paradigm, rather than something which is more subtle and nuanced in philosophical approach. This is a common theme with Moorcock, and both a political and philosophical stance in much of his work. This point also relates strongly to his use of the term "conservative", as the Weltanshauung Tolkien presents is anything but radical; it is instead based very much on a reinforcement of traditional ideas and approaches to life, an approach which Moorcock has long viewed as dubious, to say the least. And again, this ties in with his use of the term "Tory", as it has several meanings beside the one you assign to it in your post. Specifically, it refers to the fifth definition as given below:

To·ry
Pronunciation: \ˈtȯr-ē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural Tories
Etymology: Irish tóraidhe outlaw, robber, from Middle Irish tóir pursuit
Date: 1646
1: a dispossessed Irishman subsisting as an outlaw chiefly in the 17th century
2 obsolete : bandit, outlaw
3 a: a member or supporter of a major British political group of the 18th and early 19th centuries favoring at first the Stuarts and later royal authority and the established church and seeking to preserve the traditional political structure and defeat parliamentary reform — compare whig b: conservative 1b
4: an American upholding the cause of the British Crown against the supporters of colonial independence during the American Revolution : loyalist
5 often not capitalized : an extreme conservative especially in political and economic principles
(from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

And yes, anti-urban, or at least anti-urban in any modern sense. Minas Tirith was, of course, a city of considerable size, but it, too, is a bastion of conservatism and is hardly complex in its presentation as a political unit in comparison to a modern, urban setting. The fact that Tolkien writes with such evident approbation of these settings puts him in the camp of those who support the past over the present or future -- something which is certainly backed by Tolkien's own comments in much of his work, including "On Fairy-Stories", for instance. Again, Moorcock sees this as at best a questionable stance, and at worst as positively unhealthy -- an evasion of coming to terms with real life and its problems in a humane yet realistic fashion. Tolkien was very lapsarian in his views of humanity; again, something which permeates nearly all his work; and Moorcock (again, rightly or wrongly) sees this as, frankly, a misanthropic view which is, ultimately, anti-human.

While I would agree that LotR does not ignore death, I can also see Moorcock's point, in that we have frequent intimations of death not being an ending: Gandalf's return from death; Frodo's seeming death (or near death) and revival both following the events at Weathertop and at Shelob's Lair, and his final sailing to the Undying Lands; and so forth. This sort of thing can (and, in fact, does, to a great degree) belittle death and its meaning, and thus it is a legitimate complaint. This, of course, has much to do with Tolkien's religious views, while Moorcock is a secularist; but nonetheless it remains a point to note in Tolkien's writings (whether or not one agrees with Moorcock's stance on it).

Ultimately, however, this boils down to an irreconcilable difference in views between the backward-looking, frankly nostalgic mediaevalism of such conservatism in literature; and the more radical, forward-looking, often overly-optimistic (though sometimes overly-pessimistic or at least overly-cautionary) approach of much fantastic -- and occasionally naturalistic -- literature of the twentieth century.

I certainly wouldn't accuse Moorcock of not having read the book -- the evidence is that he has read it (his views and comments on Tolkien and LotR are varied, depending on the venue and type of essay he is writing) with considerable attention... but with his own particular bias, as well. I tend, in the main, to be a bit closer to Moorcock's views politically and philosophically, but I also have a great deal of admiration and respect for Tolkien's abilities and intelligence... which makes for an... interesting... experience when I read an essay like this. I may not always agree with the man, but I see his points, and it does get me to examining things from a different perspective... which is really what such an essay is intended to do.

Incidentally, Moorcock knew Tolkien personally, as I recall; and even studied under him at one point. (He also knew and was in fact close friends with Mervyn Peake, another of the great fantaisistes of the twentieth century....)

EDIT: As the link in the first post does not seem to be working, you may want to take a look at the following; this is a revision of the essay, with some updating to take into account other writers in the field not covered in the earlier version(s):

http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=953

Also, I note that the points you comment on are the summation given in the post above, not quotations from Moorcock's own essay. I don't know whether you read it or not, but if not, perhaps it may prove helpful in making your arguments directly to his own statements....
 
Last edited:

Siberian

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2007
Messages
170
Ok, this urban vs. rural issue is quite interesting and I'll try to write a separate post about it, if you're interested.

As for Moorcock, I have a feeling that even if he read LOTR he didn't read it carefully, didn't try to understand it and analyze it as it is but instead applied his own ideas about what in his opinion is wrong with fantasy (and some other books he disliked). He dislikes nostalgia but doesn't notice optimism. Or maybe he does and think it's too cozy - a bit contradictory, is it?

As for tory etc., I still don't understand what's so "extremely conservative" about LOTR? The whole book is about change and renewal, with both good and bad things it brings about.

I suppose Moorcock doesn't realize that Tolkien's goal was to create mythology for England (together with languages and history). And any mythology deals with the past and has legends of the Golden age of men, a time of learning, peace and prosperity that was lost to the humankind later. So yes, there's always a sense of longing for that golden age. On the other hand, myth also serves as a source of inspiration with valiant and noble deeds (and cautionary tales, too). So nostalgia goes hand in hand with hope for the future, that things will get better and a new golden age will come (even if after the last big battle with evil). It's too bad Moorcock's own prejudices get in the way of enjoying Tolkien's great achievement. Or maybe he simply dislikes the writing style and tries to rationalize it :)

I read both versions of the essays so they're a bit confused in my head now. I could give you more examples of factual errors, such as calling Sauron representation of Chaos (nothing can be further from the truth, he's in fact quite the opposite, the ultimate totalitarian and controlling regime).
 

Siberian

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2007
Messages
170
Speaking about death: again, miraculous resurrection and near-death experience is part of mythology (and religion), and it reinforces the idea that the end of the flesh is not the death of the spirit, that there's something else "beyond the circles of our world". Tolkien doesn't overuse it or break his own rules: Gandalf is of maiar and can be sent back (Sauron's physical body was destroyed at least twice) while Frodo is only given a brief respite and rest (much earned) but still dies like all other mortals.

According to Tolkien himself, the question of life and death is one the most important in literature. You don't have to agree with his ideas but you can't say he doesn't take death seriously.
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,870
Well, here goes::rolleyes:

Ok, this urban vs. rural issue is quite interesting and I'll try to write a separate post about it, if you're interested.
It's not so much a question of whether I'm interested or not, but rather one of time. I'd be interested in joining such a discussion, but I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to devote to it and that, of course, decides the quality of my posted arguments.

As for Moorcock, I have a feeling that even if he read LOTR he didn't read it carefully, didn't try to understand it and analyze it as it is but instead applied his own ideas about what in his opinion is wrong with fantasy (and some other books he disliked). He dislikes nostalgia but doesn't notice optimism. Or maybe he does and think it's too cozy - a bit contradictory, is it?
What Moorcock seems to be objecting to is a false or forced optimism based on a return to an idealized past which, in reality, never existed. It's a somewhat naïve view of the past shared by many such retrospective writers (Morris -- as mentioned by Moorcock; Machen; Lovecraft -- yes, I know, I'm a big fan of HPL, but this sort of thing showed his own refusal to acknowledge, in his fiction and, to be honest, many of his letters, what the past was truly like; Buchan; etc., etc., etc.) This -- and the point about Tolkien's anti-urban stance -- are stated quite succinctly by John Clute in his "The Repossession of Jerry Cornelius":

Sf, which is the least urban of genres, likes to tell us how to live in the Wild West in case the need arises, and loves to show us how to hate Utopian city-states constructed by Utopian city-haters who live in suburbs behind hedges.
What I'd say Moorcock objects to in Tolkien is that sort of stance; which explains why it is that LotR is "deeply conservative": for all that it is purportedly about change, what you really have is the reestablishment of a traditional form of government, one which is bound to ideals of a mediaeval (feudal) or at best a late monarchical kind, rather than one which represents a liberal democratic principle wherein the people have more than a nominal voice. The optimism may be there, but it once again resides in having the people's "betters" decide what is best for them, rather than in the people themselves being presented as adults who can deliberate and act concerning such issues themselves.

I suppose Moorcock doesn't realize that Tolkien's goal was to create mythology for England (together with languages and history). And any mythology deals with the past and has legends of the Golden age of men, a time of learning, peace and prosperity that was lost to the humankind later. So yes, there's always a sense of longing for that golden age.
This is what I was referring to, in part, with my statement about Tolkien being a "lapsarian" writer. I'd say this is very heavily influenced by his religious views as well; but essentially, religious or not, he was a deeply conservative man in many ways (his views concerning Catholicism vs. the Anglican church being a very good example). This sort of mythology, at its heart, presents humanity as corrupt, debased, "fallen" from grace, etc.; which, as Moorcock notes, is at base thorougly misanthropic, even anti-human (and certainly anti-humanist) view -- hence his complaints about the hypocrisy inherent in such. Romanticism celebrated humanity and its potential; it was deeply humanistic in its approach, hence his comments about LotR being, essentially, an "anti-Romance".

As for Tolkien creating a "mythology for England" -- Moorcock, I am sure, was quite aware of that aspect of it. As noted, he knew Tolkien (and Lewis, for the matter of that), and in fact liked them personally -- it was their writing and their politics and philosophies which he took issue with. Betwen that and the fact that this aspect of Tolkien's work has been bruited about for decades, and in all sorts of venues, it would be difficult for him not to know this -- especially given the fact he has been in debates with people about this issue since at least the 1970s....

On the other hand, myth also serves as a source of inspiration with valiant and noble deeds (and cautionary tales, too).
Interestingly, this is a point that Moorcock makes quite frequently himself in his fantasy: that while it might be best were we to be able to discard the "need" for myth altogether, it is unlikely we ever will; therefore, it is better to celebrate those myths and legends which evoke our noblest qualities, and to use them to create a world in which such qualities are, at least, more prevalent.

So nostalgia goes hand in hand with hope for the future, that things will get better and a new golden age will come (even if after the last big battle with evil).
Again, this is the rub: nostalgia and such hope are, in many ways, antithetical; for the hope that things will get better by returning to patterns of the past -- patterns which, after all, led to the very conditions creating the problems we (or the protagonists in the fiction) struggle with now -- is both naïve and, in the end, self-defeating. Hope, indeed, lies in learning from the lessons of the past and in creating new conditions celebrating humanity (in the philosophical or ethical sense of the term) and our ability to build, create, and expand; not to withdraw into a nostalgic recapitulation in the mistaken impression that this is the way to a more humane, liberal future.

It's too bad Moorcock's own prejudices get in the way of enjoying Tolkien's great achievement. Or maybe he simply dislikes the writing style and tries to rationalize it.
That's a very debatable point, on different levels. One, as noted in my earlier post, is that his comments on Tolkien and his work vary depending on the context. Here, he is concerned with the political and philosophical (as well as literary) aspects of the novel; aspects he finds deeply suspect. In other contexts, such as Fantasy: The 100 Best Books (written with James Cawthorne), his comments, while not uncritically admiring, are much more generous; and in an earlier mention (recently reprinted in the first of the Del Rey Elric volumes), he has considerable praise for LotR -- though he was a young man when this was written, and his political views were not quite so thoroughly thought-out then, or his statements might have been more reserved. And, to be honest, quite a few of fantasy's best writers of the period were not fans of Tolkien's work: Poul Anderson seemed to vacillate at times between admiration and reserve; Harlan Ellison, while recognizing the importance of the book in the field, nonetheless had serious problems with it; Fritz Leiber, while not expressing critical disdain for it, made it clear that it was certainly not to his taste; and so on.

I read both versions of the essays so they're a bit confused in my head now. I could give you more examples of factual errors, such as calling Sauron representation of Chaos (nothing can be further from the truth, he's in fact quite the opposite, the ultimate totalitarian and controlling regime).
Perhaps that is in the earlier version of the essay (as I said, the link isn't working for me, and I'd have to dig out my copy of Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance to take a look at that version of the essay); I certainly don't recall it being in this version. The closest I can see are:

If the Shire is a suburban garden, Sauron and his henchmen are that old bourgeois bugaboo, the Mob - mindless football supporters throwing their beer-bottles over the fence the worst aspects of modern urban society represented as the whole by a fearful, backward-yearning class for whom "good taste" is synonymous with "restraint" (pastel colours, murmured protest) and "civilized" behaviour means "conventional behaviour in all circumstances".
and

because Tolkien cannot really bring himself to get close to his proles and their satanic leaders
Hardly calling Sauron the representation of Chaos.

Speaking about death: again, miraculous resurrection and near-death experience is part of mythology (and religion), and it reinforces the idea that the end of the flesh is not the death of the spirit, that there's something else "beyond the circles of our world". Tolkien doesn't overuse it or break his own rules: Gandalf is of maiar and can be sent back (Sauron's physical body was destroyed at least twice) while Frodo is only given a brief respite and rest (much earned) but still dies like all other mortals.

According to Tolkien himself, the question of life and death is one the most important in literature. You don't have to agree with his ideas but you can't say he doesn't take death seriously.
That is what I was getting at when I said that such views may not ignore death, but they certainly belittle it; for they rob it of its greatest sting: its permanence, and what that means in terms of being human. To ignore or, in Tolkien's case, to deny by such views as you present above, that aspect of it -- that fear of the dark associated with it not as a temporary thing, but as nonexistence, nonbeing -- cannot help but weaken the impact of death itself.

As for the comment about Frodo -- perhaps I'm just dense, but.. where do you get the idea of Frodo dying?:confused:
 

Siberian

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2007
Messages
170
What I'd say Moorcock objects to in Tolkien is that sort of stance; which explains why it is that LotR is "deeply conservative": for all that it is purportedly about change, what you really have is the reestablishment of a traditional form of government, one which is bound to ideals of a mediaeval (feudal) or at best a late monarchical kind, rather than one which represents a liberal democratic principle wherein the people have more than a nominal voice.
But then you have a very republican Shire ;) And self-governed Bree. And examples of self-rules homesteads in the first age.


The optimism may be there, but it once again resides in having the people's "betters" decide what is best for them, rather than in the people themselves being presented as adults who can deliberate and act concerning such issues themselves.
Did you need an election to make Aragorn legitimate? They'd have voted for him anyway :)
But notice how he confirms virtual independence of the Shire.

The thing is, Tolkien is not writing a political commentary and doesn't delve into the details of the actual process of government (although it's quite significant that taxes are only mentioned in connection with the Numenoreans gone bad). He deals with a mythology, with an ideal of a wise, just and peaceful, if possible, ruler. Yes, he happens to be the king, but it fits the world. And really, even in our own history, elected leaders could have been worse than hereditary (think Hitler). Even Chirchill admitted than democracy is bad, and only acceptable because others are worse.

This is what I was referring to, in part, with my statement about Tolkien being a "lapsarian" writer. I'd say this is very heavily influenced by his religious views as well; but essentially, religious or not, he was a deeply conservative man in many ways (his views concerning Catholicism vs. the Anglican church being a very good example). This sort of mythology, at its heart, presents humanity as corrupt, debased, "fallen" from grace, etc.; which, as Moorcock notes, is at base thorougly misanthropic, even anti-human (and certainly anti-humanist) view -- hence his complaints about the hypocrisy inherent in such. Romanticism celebrated humanity and its potential; it was deeply humanistic in its approach, hence his comments about LotR being, essentially, an "anti-Romance".
That's where I disagree with Moorcock most strongly. LOTR not about the return of the king, it's only one of the storylines related to it. It's about personal and national freedom from physical and spiritual oppression. What could be more humanistic? The new kingdom represents protection of peace and justice with the king who respects and loves both big and small. Aragorn is not a King simply because he's Isildur heir. He spent one mortal lifetime to protect simple folk of Middle-earth, anonymously. He's not just a capable military commander, he's a healer, he's in harmony with nature. It's a symbol of future revival and healing of the wounds of people and nature at the hands of Sauron and his servants. He's a spiritual leader, first and foremost.

And speaking about "lapsarian views" - no one is originally corrupt or sinful. Even Morgoth and Sauron started out well but then let the worst sides of their nature to overcome them. Any fall that happens - whether of individuals or people - happens as a result of the moral failure. On the other hand, there're examples of of resisting evil as well, even under extreme pressure. Additionally, many of the fallen even get a chance to redeem themselves and undo the evil. If freedom of choice is considered humanistic, then Tolkien certainly doesn't deny this to his characters. And of course, there're numerous examples of courage, loyalty, compassion, charity, sacrifice and so on. To the point that some critics start complaining that the characters are too noble :confused:

Again, this is the rub: nostalgia and such hope are, in many ways, antithetical; for the hope that things will get better by returning to patterns of the past -- patterns which, after all, led to the very conditions creating the problems we (or the protagonists in the fiction) struggle with now -- is both naïve and, in the end, self-defeating. Hope, indeed, lies in learning from the lessons of the past and in creating new conditions celebrating humanity (in the philosophical or ethical sense of the term) and our ability to build, create, and expand; not to withdraw into a nostalgic recapitulation in the mistaken impression that this is the way to a more humane, liberal future.
I think that the end of LOTR is about renewal and revival, borrowing best features of the past but not blindly copying it. Numenor is remembered as a cautionary tale, the past mistake that shouldn't be repeated. Elendil and his sons want to recreate the glory while remaining faithful to the ideals of the Valar. In part they succede, and although much of their legacy is destroyed at least the West of Middle-earth hasn't fallen entirely under the rule of Sauron and Gondor doesn't worship dark cults. Aragorn, in turn, doesn't repeat Isildur's mistake with the Ring. He helps Frodo as much as he can and then lets him go. He wants to restore the realm, but as a free land with free people, not slaves.


That is what I was getting at when I said that such views may not ignore death, but they certainly belittle it; for they rob it of its greatest sting: its permanence, and what that means in terms of being human. To ignore or, in Tolkien's case, to deny by such views as you present above, that aspect of it -- that fear of the dark associated with it not as a temporary thing, but as nonexistence, nonbeing -- cannot help but weaken the impact of death itself.
But all mythologies express the idea that there's something out there, and many people still believe it. Would be strange if Tolkien didn't address this issue at all.

In all of his body of work, there's only one example of a mortal becoming immortal - Tuor. But that was an exception done to counterbalance another exception, the passing of Luthien.

You know, it would be interesting to look into more favorable and balance essays and see the difference.
 

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 9, 2006
Messages
13,870
I'll admit that I haven't read the letters since they were first released here in the U.S. (though I've been meaning to get back to them for some time); so I'd forgotten that. As for it being implied in the books... I'd have said it was at best ambiguous on that point; enough so to leave plenty of room for other interpretations. And, again, the entire "Halls of Mandos" and "beyon the circles of the world" rather take away from the impact of death in a large way; which, again, reinforces what Moorcock was saying on that point.

Incidentally, as I've noted before, I don't agree with all of Moorcock's points -- though I do with some; and even where I agree he has raised some valid criticism, I am not necessarily in sympathy with him on many of those points, either. My role here has been to address some of the points you raised, based upon my reading of Moorcock's work off and on for a considerable time, including his various discussions of Tolkien and fantasy literature in general. Even though I am a great admirer of Moorcock's work and find myself closer in worldview to him rather than Tolkien (or many other writers of fantasy), I often find his work on this subject going "against the grain" with me until I reread it and give it some serious thought; then I usually find that he has given the matter serious consideration, and find his points at least illuminating of various aspects of the books in question.

For that reason, even were there no other, I find his essays on the subject to be well worth reading and pondering over....
 

MontyCircus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 26, 2008
Messages
288
I just read the excerpts from the first page and skimmed some comments.

Moorcock comes off as a huge dick

*ba-dum-chhh*

But really though, when I read his tone I assumed he was some two-bit hack professor from some dusty university somewhere trying to make a name for himself. Then the name Moorcock rang a bell as the name of a sci-fi luminary.

Shocking.

Well, I for one don't think it was wise to phrase things the way he did. It makes him sound like an idiot. It sounds like an Internet rant. If it was a more mature criticism I'd be actually very interested in reading it. It's too bad he didn't think his criticisms could stand on their own without all the other nonsense.
 

Siberian

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2007
Messages
170
There's a quote in Silmarillion regarding death in Valinor:

"And were you so to voyage that escaping all deceits and snares you came indeed to Aman, the Blessed Realm, little would it profit you. For it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land; and there you would but wither and grow weary the sooner, as moths in a light too strong and steadfast."

So Frodo dies eventually, but his burden is lightened. And I suppose he is reunited with Sam later, even if for a little while.
 

Fried Egg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2006
Messages
3,494
Generally, I am in full agreement with what Moorcock (and others) were trying to do. His critical accalim and popularity seems to vastly exceed what it truly deserves. Moorcock's work on the other hand is probably the reverse, grossly underrecognised. Personally, I find Moorcock's work far more imaginitive and interesting than Tolkien's.

That said, I think that Moorcock's article is essentially just rationalisation. He's latched onto arguments and criticisms that simply don't matter to people who enjoy Tolkien's work (and wouldn't matter to him if he happened to like it).

Comparing Moorcock and Tolkien's work is really like comparing chalk and cheese. They are just so different so it's really just a matter of taste if you prefer one or the other. What really gets my goat is that LOTR is so much more highly acclaimed and popular than other great works of epic fantasy. Works that were greater (in my opinion) even amoung those that preceeded it. LOTR is one of those books/series that those not normally into fantasy will have on their shelves (along with Harry Potter, Discworld and others). Then they sit back thinking they have the cream of the crop and don't need to bother investigating anything else fantasy has to offer.

To sum up, Tolkien isn't really a bad author. But his acclaim and popularity do undoubtedly outstrip what his work truly warrants (when compared to the quality and success of other fantasy works). Generally I like to see his work taken down a peg but ultimately Moorcock's critique is just rationalisation as far as I am concerned.
 

Siberian

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2007
Messages
170
I think Moorcock's criticisms apply more to Tolkien's derivatives but not to Tolkien's works. His reading is very superficial and inaccurate (in this essay, at any rate, I haven't read others).
 

whovian

New Member
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Messages
1
I just want to give a quick defense of Lloyd Alexander here. In his essay Moorcock dismisses Alexander for having an inferior writing style, "He uses more clichés and writes a trifle flaccidly." Now I'll admit that Alexander's pros might not be the best but they are more than adequate for telling the story at hand. The problem is that by judging Alexander solely on his pros is doing him an injustice, because you're ignoring Alexander's strength which are his characters. The Chronicles of Prydain were populated with memorable, three dimensional characters who charmed you into loving them with their quirky personalities. Also the main character Taran's growth and maturation into the hero/ruler he was destined to be was much more believable than you're usual peasant to hero story.

Moorcock final jab at Alexander for using Herne the Hunter (called the Horned King) as the main villain in the first Prydain book. Moorcock believes the character is a tired cliche. Now if you're a veteran fantasy writer this might be true, but as a young kid I had never encountered anything like him before, he even rivaled Darth Vader in the awesome villains department (this was before we found out that it was Hayden Christensen under the helmet).
 

thatollie

Kraken Addict
Joined
Aug 12, 2009
Messages
735
We should consider that Moorcock had won a Nebula award before this was published. With that knowledge, comments about it being an unknown trying to get his name out there by attacking a big name seem wrong.

In fact, he risked alienating Tolkien's fans from trying his own work to express these opinions. Putting what you believe is good for the genre above your own success, that's admirable.

His comments are acerbic, but they give us something to think about.
 
Joined
Dec 6, 2009
Messages
23
...Starting to notice the utter repetition of his essay? "Bourgeois, conservative, middle-class..." The real problem Moorcock seems to have with these authors is that they aren't radical, angry, postmodern, pseudo-intellectual elitists like himself. I've also noticed that he has latched on to certain authors - James Joyce, Terry Pratchett, Le Guin, etc. Quite frankly, I see in Moorcock a man who has narrow-mindedly attached himself to a handful of favorite writers, and who has taken it upon himself to sneer at others whose tastes are even slightly different.
Not true, he frequently cites Poul Anderson as a personal inspiration, as writing fantasy of greater quality than Tolkien, and who was a Randroid and staunch militarist.
While in Interzone he published Gene Wolfe who is Catholic.
That's just two off the top of my head.
 
Top