3581Re: [mythsoc] Re: Article on Tolkien in _Salon_
- Jun 10, 2001
>At 06:30 AM 6/10/2001 +0000, Michael Martinez wrote:I don't know what you think my credentials are, and I suppose I'm not sure
>Your credentials are different from mine. I founded a popular
>science fiction and fantasy fan site. Of course, my pointing that
>out may only underscore your point for you. Why would the media seek
>me out to talk about Tolkien fandom if I wasn't perceived as an
>online leader of or representative of Tolkien fandom, the "cult" I
>say doesn't exist.
what the interviewers think they are either. I was referred to Mooney as a
Tolkien scholar, but he cited me as the editor of a Tolkien fan magazine:
not very different credentials from yours. At any rate, despite my
university affiliation (I'm a librarian), I'm actually an independent
scholar - like Doug Anderson or Carl Hostetter - not a professor, so I
don't expect outside observers necessarily to take me seriously as a
scholar, even if the real professors are sometimes kind enough to do so.
>Nonetheless, with all my fan contacts, I've yet to find anythingWell, maybe you have different contacts than I do. I've been, as I
>among Tolkien fans which resembles the fan groups devoted to other
mentioned, reading Tolkien and contacting other Tolkienists for over 30
years, and I never heard of you until a couple months ago, when I found
your book listed when searching Amazon for new books on Tolkien. That's
neither your fault nor mine: it just indicates the broad and disparate
range of Tolkien fandom, and the danger of arguing a negative, that
something does not exist.
Just to improve my understanding of your Tolkien world, though, may I ask
when you came across the Mythopoeic Society? Have you ever been a member
of it, or of the (British) Tolkien Society, or any of a number of other
print-based organizations? This is not to imply that there isn't Tolkien
fandom outside the world of print-based organizations; far from it. But if
I can go 20 years without having heard of you, I wonder how long you went
without having heard of us; and if you did hear of us, why your obviously
passionate interest in Tolkien did not earlier spill more prominently into
places where we'd come across it.
I don't think it will be useful to argue the definition of "quality" any
more. Your definition is so broad as to render the term meaningless, in my
opinion. If you wish to use the word "quality" in addressing me, please
always attach an adjective so I know what sort of quality you're talking
about. I think I've already demonstrated at too-great length that even
those who like and defend "junk" (the term "eye candy" is often used by its
defenders) differentiate enjoyability from quality (all right, literary
quality - literary quality by their own standards, not someone
else's). The adage, "one man's junk is another man's treasure" only
demonstrates different types of value, not different types of quality. A
book that's junk for reading may be an absolute treasure as a
doorstop. That doesn't make it a book of quality, only a doorstop of
quality. And a book may be enjoyable for other reasons than its
quality. I've gotten huge treasurable enjoyment out of reading completely
incompetent Tolkien scholarship: that doesn't make it scholarship of
quality, or even a book of quality. Variations in evaluation may also be a
result of different scales of specifically literary quality. It's there
that the disagreements about Tolkien lie, and that would be a much more
fruitful avenue of discussion than pursuing this definition up its own
>That people defend Tolkien doesn't make Tolkien's readers a "cult".Those who argue that Tolkien is a cult author are not doing so on the
>By that definition, any author or playwrite's readers would be
>That is the point. Shakespeareans are a cult if Tolkienists are a
>cult. There can be no exceptions to such a generalization.
grounds that he's being defended. It's the nature of the defense, and the
nature of the interest in him, that cause this reaction, fairly or
otherwise. But if you lump together literary quality, popularity,
enthusiasm, and sales as just different aspects of an undifferentiated
"quality", you may not see this.
>Attacks on Tolkien are few, far between, and extremely minor.See above about "different contacts." I wish I lived on your planet.
>If the battle which seems to demand a defense of Tolkien is takingI wasn't talking about academia, but media. But OK, let's talk about
>place in academia, well, that's just academia. They are always
>arguing about something, and today's academia has a generation of
>Tolkien fans who express their appreciation through dissertations,
>theses, and classes. I've been contacted by teachers, professors,
>librarians, and graduate students around the world for years who want
>to use some of my material. Tolkien is a juggernaut in the popular
>imagination, but he is hardly weak and ineffectual in academia.
academia. It's certainly true, and delightfully so, that Tolkien is an
author studied in great detail and with great enthusiasm in some academic
circles, but these are extremely limited ones. When Tom Shippey inveighs
against the academic dismissal of Tolkien, he is referring to something
decidedly concrete, which I've heard testimony of from elsewhere. This
can't be dismissed as "well, academics are always arguing about
something." It's an argument of a different nature from, say, whether
Milton was of Satan's party, or even whether Milton scholarship is passe.
>> I know of nobody who argues that there was no Shakespeare. I doI know of nobody who argues that more than one author wrote the Shakespeare
>> know of people who claim that the name was a pseudonym,....
>Pretty much the same thing. Either there was a William Shakespeare
>or there wasn't. Either one man wrote the plays or more than one
>author wrote them.
plays - even a now-obsolete fad for claiming that his works were the
product of a committee of prominent Elizabethans is not the same thing as
saying that he did not exist (instead, he was a committee) - except insofar
as some of his lesser-known plays are collaborations and that he lifted
some text directly from his sources, points acknowledged by conventional
Shakespeare scholars. Arguing that the name was a pseudonym is not pretty
much the same as arguing that there was no Shakespeare. Indeed, the most
striking thing about the pseudonymists is how fervently they believe there
was a Shakespeare, and that he fits the personal characteristics of their
own favored candidate.
>> I think you have no idea what I consider the popular conception ofI didn't when I first wrote. I did when I wrote my herein-quoted
>> Tolkien to be. See below.
>And perhaps you have no idea of what *I* consider to be the popular
>conception of Tolkien. See above and elsewhere.
reply. My statements were a response to your elaboration of your
view. But I should have phrased this differently: perhaps "I think we have
entirely different ideas of what the popular conception of Tolkien is."
>That WAS the 1960s. The "cult" was replaced by a wider audience inFirst you say that you never encountered any Tolkien cultism perceptions
>the late 1960s and 1970s. The "cult" was just a passing phenomenon.
until quite recently. Now you say that the 1960s cult doesn't count.
I wasn't just talking about the 1960s. My examples were largely from the
1970s and 80s, and are still valid today.
>When The Silmarillion was published, it sold 750,000 copies from theAnd many didn't. And I already pointed out that the large sales of what
>first printing in the United States alone. That is NOT a cult
>phenomenon. And Unfinished Tales also became a bestseller. Many
>people enjoyed both books immensely.
many people perceived as an unreadable book was itself seized on as
evidence of a "cult". This happens whenever a bestseller is strongly
looked down upon. I don't recall the word "cult" being used about "The
Bridges of Madison County", but the same perception was there.
For someone who insists upon using the word "quality" to indicate any sort
of appreciation or liking whatsoever, you're oddly narrow about your
definition of "cult".
>And there are now archives available on the Web for many newsThat's one outlet. I could point to others, but why bother?
>organizations, some of which go back to the 1950s or beyond. The New
>York Times, for example, created a special Tolkien section which
>collected all its Tolkien articles. The "cult perception" is lacking
>in their articles.
How many volumes of "The History of Middle-earth" did the NYT review?
>I've yet to see any documentation of such a cult. There is certainlyWhich is why I won't bother to provide anything else - you won't accept it
>no mention of them among the fan groups I'm associated with. The
>examples you list below are not clearly associated with one another.
if you see it.
>The difference between a cult and a fad, however, is persistence.Tolkien's popularity has lasted nearly 50 years since LOTR was published,
35 years since the boom. Since this can no longer be dismissed as a fad -
believe me, they tried to do so - now they call it a cult.
>And fantasy gaming owes a great deal to other authors, not justIndeed, which is why I wrote "in a sense". Actually, many of these authors
owe more to fantasy gaming than the other way around.
>That's twice you've mentioned Russia.I only mentioned Russia once, I believe. Alexei Kondratiev mentioned it
entirely independently, calling it "a Tolkien "cult" (fully justifying the
>The Russians deserveNow this is a curious sleight-of-hand argument. The actual existence of a
>consideration, but even live-action Tolkien war games in Russia don't
>define the cult that the media is looking for. How many of those
>games are even mentioned in the West's news media?
cult is a different question from whether the media perception of one is
accurate. The media are defining, or beginning to define, as a cult
something that isn't, we're agreed on that. You go further and say there
is no cult at all. Alexei and I point out that there is. You say that
doesn't count because it's not what the media are looking at when they say
"cult". But the media doesn't have to be looking at it for there to be
one. And if your guess about future media reactions to Tolkien is correct,
they'll probably find it.
>But people are not mindless because they watch movies. By thatOh, I never said that. I said, "it's much easier for the mindless to watch
>definition, anyone who watched a Greek play in ancient Athens would
>have been mindless.
a movie than read a book." That doesn't make all viewers mindless. Don't
falsify me in this manner, or you shall see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.
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