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3566Re: Article on Tolkien in _Salon_

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  • Michael Martinez
    Jun 8, 2001
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      --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
      > At 07:32 AM 6/6/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:
      > >--- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
      > >> At 08:33 AM 6/4/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:
      > >> >When the media interviews me about Tolkien, I prefer to discuss
      > >> >the man himself, or his books.
      > >>
      > >> As opposed to ...?
      > >
      > >Usually as opposed to whatever brings them to me in the first
      > >place. :)
      > OK, this time I'm not getting your joke.

      Well, people seek me out to ask questions about Tolkien or Middle-
      earth all the time. But usually when the media contact me, the
      reporter(s) has(have) an agenda of some sort. One reporter in New
      Zealand wanted, apparently, to knock off a quick story about the
      elite Tolkien fandom (he was one of the first to use the word "cult"
      in my experience, although I suppose that designation has been around
      for decades). A lot of people reacted angrily to his questions. I
      wrote what I hoped was a thoughtful reply explaining the
      Tolkien/Shakespeare comparison, but also speaking about points I felt
      were more interesting.

      He thanked me and when the article was finally published he had toned
      down his negative perspective considerably. If I recall correctly,
      he admitted to me that he had never read Tolkien and had merely been
      assigned the story as part of the daily regimen.

      > >Some of the people on this list, I gather, were contacted for the
      > >upcoming article in Wired (the print version). It should be
      > >published in a couple more months. I found that interview
      > >experience to be more enjoyable.
      > I found my interview experience with Chris Mooney to be highly
      > enjoyable.
      > "Beware ... Beware!"


      If I get more than a sentence in the final article, I'll be pleased.
      Heck, I'll be pleased if Eric mentions me at all. Will I be
      misquoted? Possibly. But if that happens, it may not be the
      reporter's fault. Sometimes the editor has to make a story fit. I
      suppose you may have run into similar issues in your own editing. In
      college, I sometimes had to trim a story to get it into our college

      > >It's intended to be a pseudo-literary snobbish defensive remark.
      > >It does make people stop and think about whether Tolkien's
      > >following should be regarded as a cult.
      > That may be its intent, but the likes of Mooney are going to
      > interpret it as meaning that you think that sales = quality.
      > That's a cultish thing to think, ergo you'd get tagged as a Tolkien
      > cultist.

      Sales always equal quality in any entertainment medium, and there is
      nothing cultish about the standard. The publishing, film, and other
      entertainment industries have been using sales to measure quality for

      Literary quality is just another, alternative arbitrary standard by
      which to measure quality. It is no better or worse than sales.

      If an author like Tolkien sets out to entertain people (and that was
      his goal with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), then sales are
      an important indication of quality.

      Some people are quick to point out that, by that standard, books like
      The Sword of Shanarra (which is absolutely awful) are high quality
      books, too. And they would be implying that the standard is
      therefore faulty. But it's not. It's neither cultish nor misguided
      to accept that if a lot of people are entertained by a story, then
      the story has a widespread appeal to it and, therefore, is
      a "quality" story.

      If someone were to interpret that as a "cultish" perspective, they
      would be no more correct in saying so than I would be (were I to do
      so) in saying that only sales can measure "quality".

      > >I don't put Tolkien and Shakespeare in the same boat, if I'm asked
      > >to explain the comparison.
      > A big if. And if they ask, they probably won't print the
      > explanation.

      I'm not keeping count, but at least one did quote me (the fellow in
      New Zealand, if I recall correctly) on that point, and generally
      speaking, if the comparison dissuades them from calling us a cult,
      then it achieves what I intend for it to achieve. Anything else is
      cream (or spilled coffee, I suppose, if it goes awry).

      > >Shakespeare wrote for a different medium in
      > >a different time. But Tolkien's popularity exceeds Shakespeare's
      > >(today -- a comparison across the centuries is impossible, as you
      > >imply). If we are Tolkien cultists, then Shakespeare's admirers
      > >are Shakespeare cultists, and they should feel no more shame at
      > >being so labelled than we.
      > I don't follow this reasoning. Shakespeare's defenders aren't
      > defending him on the grounds that he's popular.

      Whatever grounds they have for defending him, or whatever it is
      against which they are defending him, doesn't serve to make them seem
      any less cultish than Tolkien's readers.

      > Indeed, they'd usually say he hardly needs defense. Certainly they
      > wouldn't make such an obviously defensive remark.

      I always say Tolkien doesn't need defense. I merely point out that
      Tolkien has had a greater literary impact in the last century than
      Shakespeare (who has had a greater cinematic impact than Tolkien).
      Usually, these discussions of Tolkien defenses only occur with his

      Tolkien DOESN'T need defense or justification. But if people are
      going to insist on defending or justifying him, they shouldn't be
      surprised to see that they have helped to carve out a perspective
      that may not appeal to them.

      On the other hand, who am I to say that people shouldn't enjoy
      defending Tolkien. There are people who enjoy defending
      Shakespeare. There ARE people who argue that there was no
      Shakespeare, or that he plagiarized other writers.

      To be quite honest, I have always thought the Shakespearean community
      a bit odd, but that is probably due to my experience with a few odd

      > >For better or worse, I believe the popular conception of Tolkien
      > >fandom (if there has been one) will soon change radically.
      > There will be more of a popular conception, but I don't see that
      > conception changing much at all.

      I think you're in for a great surprise, then. Or perhaps a

      Most people don't think of Tolkien as anything other than a good or
      great or popular author. And I only ran into this "Tolkien cult"
      perspective in the last few years, even though I've been happily
      discussiing Tolkien and reading Tolkien literature for more than 20

      The American campus phenomenon of the 1960s is not a definitive
      representation of the general appreciation of Tolkien.

      I can almost always strike up a conversation with strangers about The
      Lord of the Rings. When I try to quote Shakespeare, or make
      reference to one of his plays, I usually get a blank look.

      More people know Shakespeare's name than know his work. Undoubtedly
      that is true about Tolkien and every other author, too. But it's
      still easier to talk to people about Tolkien than it is to talk to
      them about Shakespeare.

      So, if a few misguided souls like Mooney view Tolkien's readers as
      a "cult", even if only because they know of a few occasions where
      people dress up as hobbits, they are not going to amount to a hill of
      beans in the big picture.

      But the movies will undoubtedly inspire the "cult" which doesn't yet
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