Epic Pooh - Moorcock Review of Tolkein/Lewis

con

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love malazan books of the fallen.Think i can do ne
in all honesty i never greatly enjoyed lord of the rings. i found myself admiring the man vision of the world for his time more so than the quality of the writing. however i did find myself enjoying the hobbit massively about 8 years ago.i read it 6 times.even them i would probaly have likened it to a fairytale. i believe tolkien does have a fairytale writing style and his transferring of this style into a more adult environment in the lord of the rings didnt quite work for me.however the degree of the criticism that was unveiled in this review is the comments of a man who obviously fails to grasp the delights a fairy tale like story can induce in a person young or old especially in the fantasy jonra.this is a man who didnt even enjoy the hobbit!!
 

j d worthington

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however the degree of the criticism that was unveiled in this review is the comments of a man who obviously fails to grasp the delights a fairy tale like story can induce in a person young or old especially in the fantasy jonra.this is a man who didnt even enjoy the hobbit!!
Well, no, not really. Moorcock values the original fairy tales as well as several modern handlings of similar material, and has written some solid praise of each at various times (there are several such comments in the course of this article, as a matter of fact). It has nothing to do with not being able to appreciate such tales, but rather with the problems he sees with Tolkien's style in particular, and even more with the ideology which informs the narrative voice in Tolkien's work.
 

con

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love malazan books of the fallen.Think i can do ne
yes but he likens it to the idelogy which informs cs lewis writings.which i dont think is altogether similar enough for the comparison.and also he is discouraging repeated attempts at fairytale styles of writing in future fantasy you can argue that he has no real problem with this fantasy style but he is encouraging the fantasy epic to go more along the lines of malazan books or wheel of time.great fantasy but there has to be room for the previous aswell.its not just the writing style hes critisizing its the concept.
 

j d worthington

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Again, I have to disagree. (I can't imagine Moorcock supporting the idea of more fantasy such as The Wheel of Time. That is the sort of thing which would really bring out a diatribe from him!:rolleyes:) As for the ideology between Tolkien and Lewis... actually, they are very similar, and from many of the same sources. It is simply that Tolkien didn't go down the path of blatant allegory, but rather let his views on such things inform his work in its own way, whereas Lewis became both a Christian apologist and more than a little heavy-handed with his preaching the message.

No, what Moorcock has a beef with is the sort of fantasy which insists on infantilizing its audience, which is how he perceives large swathes of Tolkien's work (and, to some degree, I have to agree with that perception). It isn't the "previous" sorts of styles he objects to, but Tolkien's particular sort of approach (and that of writers with a similar slant); when it comes to learning from and extending older types of storytelling, Moorcock has been very much a supporter of such throughout his career, both as writer and as editor of New Worlds. He himself has frequently paid homage to various writers of the past, from older sff writers to those of the Gothics and the Victorian and Edwardian eras -- even Spenser has had an (openly avowed) influence on some of his work. And, as I mentioned earlier, he has praised quite a few writers who use the fairy-tale approach; he just prefers them to have more of the complexity in Weltanschauung of the originals....
 

con

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love malazan books of the fallen.Think i can do ne
two things.i believe that tolkeins ability to talk down to a reader, that talking down is an element of what fairy tale is.and also why do you say the wheel of time would not be something he would champion.admittedly it is happy go lucky at times but the dialogue structures realities of war and strife and close contact with the internal struggles of the characters seems to be the type of work a fan of ursula le guin would admire.
 

j d worthington

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For one thing, Moorcock is very chary of planned series of that nature; while not denying them the possibility of artistic worth, he is more than aware that the majority of such things quickly degenerate into repetitiousness and inflated bombast... if they were ever anything else to begin with. "World building", per se, interests Moorcock little, as he indicates in his article. It is an aspect of the misplaced pedanticism so prevalent in much of sf and fantasy.

For another, such things tend to simply rehash simplistic views of things, rather than coming to terms with the moral complexities of the issues they (supposedly) revolve around. The appearance of moral complexity in this sort of work tends, more often than not, to be just that -- appearance; it lacks genuine substance and is very much surface, following stereotyped, flat handlings of such matters. It presses button "A" to get the response "relevancy", and button "C" to get the response "deeply philosophical", rather than genuinely requiring either the writer or reader to participate in examining any of these things in a meaningful fashion. Their internal struggles are, by and large, simply the same thing we've seen countless times before, in slightly different dress. They aren't organic -- that is, they don't emerge from the internal growth of the story or the characters -- they are calculated and false. They are hackneyed and have been done before, usually better.

And, simply, the majority of them are just gawdawfully written. The prose is serviceable at best, often meandering and vague, frequently confused, full of solicisms and poor constructions, hackneyed (again!) structures and tropes, and just general, all-around slipshod craftsmanship. Le Guin, whatever her faults may be at times, is most often a very careful craftsperson, conscientious with what she puts on paper. Such was not the case with, for instance, Richard Jordan. To put it bluntly, Jordan was a hack, plain and simple. That he had some innate talent, I will not deny; but that it ever resulted in anything of genuine worth is extremely dubious, to say the least.

(I mean no offense to you personally, but I've read far too much to have much patience with the likes of Jordan, I'm afraid.)
 

con

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love malazan books of the fallen.Think i can do ne
ok i actually lost intrest on jordan couple of years back and in no way would i consider him one of my favourite authors, however there is some originality there. its fair to say some elements could even be described as cheesy but i would not consider the man to be a hack.i dont see any real part of his writing struggle to be deep meaningfull and philosophical.the feelings of the characters their desires and struggles are simply expressed they dont veer into obscurity with an aim of dazing the reader into the notion that he is experiencing something profound.the man tells simplistic enough of a tale(the first book was split in two and distributed as a childrens fantasy i know because this is how i started reading him) but with intelligence and emotional insight.i think retaliation against someone like jordan is an oversight by those of us who expect innovation on a grand scale every time they read a new book( i dont mean any disrespect also and just my point of view).incedentally your viewpoint on wheel of time doesnt stretch to the malazan books does it?
 

j d worthington

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Not read the Malazan books at this point; one of these days I will probably do so, but as at the moment I have a "to-be-read" list for about ten years ahead....:D
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I persevered with the malazan books for 5 volumes - more than any other epic fantasy series has ever gotten out of me in a long while. Then, I gave up. Multi-volume epic fantasy demands a certain willingness for prolonged immersion that I find it hard to muster up no matter how good the work at hand might be.
 

GOLLUM

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I persevered with the malazan books for 5 volumes - more than any other epic fantasy series has ever gotten out of me in a long while. Then, I gave up. Multi-volume epic fantasy demands a certain willingness for prolonged immersion that I find it hard to muster up no matter how good the work at hand might be.
That's a shame because for me it's probably the greatest EPIC fantasy series I've ever read, hence my regular habit of expounding its virtues. You could always wait 'til the final book arrives next year and then complete the 5 final volumes. Think of it as a break between innings or as a rest at the halfway point of a marathon.

J.D. really would enjoy them too IMO.
 

Window Bar

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A Creative Writing major while in university, I ac
These kinds of debates occur in virtually all aspects of our lives:

Salmon in a wine sauce vs. boiled beef and cabbage;
Artfully tailored French fashions vs. a homemade hippie dress;
The Barcelona Museum of Art vs. a half-timbered country cottage;
A ten-year-old vintage cabernet vs. a fragrant home-brewed beer;
Artfully-thin ballerina vs a bouncing buxom woman;
The architecture of a Bach chorale vs the plaintive longing in an O'Carolan harp air...

I'm wasting pixels here -- the list is as long as anyone cares to make it. My point (assuming there is one) is that life offers many treasures. I pity those that insist upon limiting themselves to a very few.

Hmmm, may not... I guess my list above could have included "an ascetic monk vs. a lover of the broadness of life."

-- WB
 

BAYLOR

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Ive never agreed with Moorcock's opinion of Tolkien.
 

Garam Masala

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Some very interesting comments here. It appears that I'm quite late to the party, about 10 years late. However, I suppose since none of the content in the works being mentioned, including Moorcock's review, has changed, I can still add something to the conversation.

I found Moorcock's review of Tolkien not only snobbish, but also somewhat envious. Kind of a "how did you get so popular?" "Why are they turning your books into movies, and not mine?" kind of thing. That was the tone. In terms of content, I disagreed with just about everything he said. In fact, I've seen later discussion from Moorcock about other writers and found myself just disagreeing on just about everything there as well. When he exclaims in a relatively recent interview (July 24, 2015 in newstatesman - the blog would not let me post the link ) that

"The technology-led, military-led big names like Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur [C. Clarke] got it dead wrong. They were all strong on the military as subject matter, on space wars, rational futures – essentially, fascist futures – and none of these things really matters today."

Of course, they in fact got it dead right (perhaps with the exception of Heinlein). Who brought us HAL 9000, and positronic brains - Artificial Intelligence (AI) is probably going to be one of the biggest, earth shaking events of our lives - so I suppose it matters. I should know as a computer professional for the past 35 years. Guys like Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk are now publicly worrying about the 3 Laws of Robotics and whether AI will supersede humans.

I think Moorcock fancied himself as part of a counter culture, and therefore he had to criticize those who went before him. I noticed in the aforementioned article that he noted the "posh" clothes worn be some of these people in social settings.

“Lots of these writers were quite posh,” he remembers. “They all wore sports jackets with leather elbows and were interested in jazz . . .”

So he even felt that he needed to criticize their appearance in order to create some distance between him and them. Perhaps he would have been better off letting his work speak for him.

Moorcock did a disservice to the journal when he became editor of the anthology magazine New Worlds in 1964. In a quote from Andrew Harrison who authored the 2015 interview with Moorcock,

"In his desire to bring literary techniques into the science-fiction world, Moorcock jettisoned the populist, explanatory, anal-retentive hard science element – what we now might call “fan service” – in favour of impressionistic, avant-garde stories in which little was explained in conventional terms and psychological resonance was all.

Finally, I have a read a good deal of Moorcock's work, along with the works of the authors he despises. I enjoy Moorcock's work, particularly when he is just telling a good yarn and not trying to be pretentiously counter culture. By the way, his "counter culture" is so reminiscent of the '60's, I'm not sure whether he realizes how out of date he is. One thing I will say about his work - in no way can he be accused of ripping off others. It's all original. Just my opinion.

Anyway, there it is. I think Moorcock is a great writer. I've always thought that. I've reread the books of his that I particularly enjoy (Corum, Elric, Hawkmoon, Count Brass, etc.) many times, and look forward to reading them again many times in the future. He's just a lousy critic.
 

Garam Masala

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Thanks for the link. Edmund Wilson's critique (which I had not read before) is hilarious, although I believe he's trying to be serious.
 

Toby Frost

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That seems to be one of those reviews that boils down to "I don't like this kind of book, and therefore it is bad".

Actually, I'd say something similar about Moorcock's criticism of The Lord of the Rings. He never quite makes it clear whether his attack on Tolkien is political or literary (although it's both, sort of). Although Moorcock does suggest that the prose of LOTR isn't great - and I agree in part - the main thrust of his attack seems to be that LOTR isn't "left" or "anti-establishment" enough by Moorcock's definition (which itself seems to be a 1960s student-radical sort of left rather than a traditional one).

Given that Tolkien isn't really pushing a political message like, say, Ayn Rand, it's hard to know what to make of this. I find myself thinking that Tolkien can't really be criticised for being informed by the things that he likes: at the end of the day, it's a reasonable choice, even if Moorcock thinks it's too "safe".
 
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While I am highly inspired by Tolkien's ability to create a worlds and languages, I agree that some elements of his books have much to be desired. His narratives are quite one sided. The most interesting character for me and many other people I know was Gollum/Smeagol because unlike most of the other characters, he actually has some moral ambiguity and is an interesting insight into multiple personality disorder. The other characters have fairly black and white motives.

Not to mention the more problematic elements of the story. Tolkien wasn't exactly progressive in terms of race or gender. It can safely be said that he was a staunchly conservative writer.
 
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