The question was posed uptopic: does anybody with literary reputation today
actually claim that Tolkien is badly written?
And the answer was given, "Harold Bloom does." But no exact quotation was
Now I have acquired it. This is from his very short introduction to the
collection of reprinted essays, "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings"
(Chelsea House, 2000).
> I am fond of _The Hobbit_, which is rarely pretentious, but _The
> Lord of the Rings_ seems to me inflated, over-written, tendentious,
> and moralistic in the extreme. Is it not a giant Period Piece? ...
> Tolkien's style [is] stiff, false-archaic, over-wrought, and finally
> a real hindrance in Volume III, which I have had trouble rereading.
Then he gives a quote from it, "pretty much at random." He gives no more
specific citation, but it's the next-to-last paragraph of Book 5 chapter 8:
four sentences, three of them compound, all beginning with "And", from the
peroration of Aragorn's entrance into Minas Tirith.
> I am not able to understand how a skilled and mature reader can
> absorb about fifteen hundred pages of this quaint stuff. ... What
> justifies the heavy King James Bible influence upon this style?
> Sometimes, reading Tolkien, I am reminded of the Book of Mormon.
> Tolkien met a need, particularly in the early days of the Counter-
> culture, in the later 1960's. Whether he is an author for the
> coming century seems to me open to some doubt.
This is a truly amazing paragraph.
First, notice how the "real hindrance" of part of the book has now become
an indictment that the whole 1500 pages of LOTR is like that, which is
absurd. Even the paragraphs immediately preceeding the quote aren't like
that. (Go read them.) Bloom isn't being random, he's deliberately putting
Tolkien in the worst light he can find. Even quoting out of context like
that contributes to it: perorations are meant to bear the cumulative weight
of what comes before. (Imagine listening to the final minute of a
Beethoven symphony without what came before.)
Then notice the assumption (reinforced by the Book of Mormon reference)
that the King James style is a bad style. Whoops, don't tell King James!
I wonder if Bloom has ever read the Book of Mormon: I have. Its English is
far less assured than Tolkien's. (I mean no disrespect to LDS members:
even if the Book of Mormon is Holy Writ, its English translation still had
to pass through the unliterary mind of Joseph Smith, a point made by LDS
Lastly, the fond hope that Tolkien is a fad, a "giant Period Piece" for the
later 1960's. Maybe if we wait long enough, he'll go away. This is
exactly what Philip Toynbee was saying in 1961, except that Toynbee was
referring mostly to fans among the literati; Bloom's reference is to
popular appeal. Fad books become quaint in five years. LOTR at 45 is more
popular than ever, and the early Counter-culture, as if Bloom hasn't
noticed, is not only long gone, it's widely derided - while Tolkien keeps
So there it is: rampant reflexive prejudice and patronage, by a leading
member of the literary establishment, on paper in the year 2000.