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Re: [mythsoc] wonderful and draggy?

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  • Christine Howlett
    Hm. I find it easy enough to say that I love Victor Hugo s Les Miserables and also to say that parts of it drag. Oddly enough, I came to Les Miserables
    Message 1 of 13 , Mar 8, 2005
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      Hm. I find it easy enough to say that I love Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables"
      and also to say that parts of it drag. Oddly enough, I came to Les
      Miserables through seeing the film; it was not a title that attracted me but
      I wanted something to occupy my ears while I was doing some sewing. After
      having seen the movie, I was quick to borrow a copy of Les Miserables from
      my father's library (which copy, I'm afraid, I never returned). Obviously I
      loved the movie and I loved the book even more. But the long passages where
      Hugo is rambling on about Napoleon and philosophy could easily have been
      chopped out. While I loved LOTR from the first, a good friend of mine had a
      much harder time with it and probably finished it only because it was
      required for a college course. Since then she has read and enjoyed it many
      times, but her complaint was that every character seemed to have a dozen
      names and that it was impossible to keep them straight (no, she NEVER
      exaggerates....). I don't think it's necessary to say that an author has
      written a perfect book to enjoy it, and I'm quite sure that no author
      believes that his/her book is without fault.
      Christine


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "David Bratman" <dbratman@...>
      To: <mythsoc@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2005 1:28 PM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Jonathan Strange & Narnia


      >
      > In any case, I'd find it a bit daunting to say:
      >
      > "I love [name of author]."
      >
      > and then go on to say, in the same post:
      >
      > "part[s] of [his principal work] drag horribly."
      >
      > Do you not find something tending towards contradiction, or at least
      > cognitive dissonance, here?
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
      > Yahoo! Groups Links
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
    • Carl F. Hostetter
      ... And yet there are doubtless others who consider such rambling to be an expression of the heart and soul of the book. ... And some of us find that aspect
      Message 2 of 13 , Mar 8, 2005
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        On Mar 8, 2005, at 2:03 PM, Christine Howlett wrote:
        > the long passages where Hugo is rambling on about Napoleon and
        > philosophy could easily have been chopped out.
        And yet there are doubtless others who consider such "rambling" to be
        an expression of the heart and soul of the book.
        > every character seemed to have a dozen names
        And some of us find that aspect of Tolkien's work fascinating enough to
        devote big chunks of our lives to.
        > I don't think it's necessary to say that an author has written a
        > perfect book to enjoy it, and I'm quite sure that no author believes
        > that his/her book is without fault.
        Undoubtedly true, on both counts. But the parts _you_ find to be
        defects aren't necessarily the ones the _author_ would count as a
        defect, and are likely parts that other readers consider marvelous or
        even essential. Which gets us back to David's (actual) point: declaring
        parts of a book like _LotR_ to be "draggy" reveals much about what one
        likes in a book, and what one doesn't like. (Personally, some of my
        very favorite books are ones where nothing much happens, externally;
        and my favorite parts of Tolkien's works are definitely not the
        action-packed sequences.) It doesn't necessarily mean, in and of
        itself, that the book is defective. It is a subjective statement of
        personal preference and of criticism of an author's work and style
        based on personal expectations not met.
      • David Bratman
        ... Indeed. But I for one would never saw I -loved- a book unless its flaws seemed to me so tiny as to be ignorable. To love a seriously flawed person is a
        Message 3 of 13 , Mar 8, 2005
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          Christine wrote:

          >I don't think it's necessary to say that an author has
          >written a perfect book to enjoy it, and I'm quite sure that no author
          >believes that his/her book is without fault.

          Indeed. But I for one would never saw I -loved- a book unless its flaws
          seemed to me so tiny as to be ignorable. To love a seriously flawed person
          is a charitable act. But to express love for a seriously flawed work of
          literature makes a mockery of charity applied to the sub-human.

          However, this question of word usage is a minor side point. The actual
          point was discerned by Carl, who wrote:

          >Which gets us back to David's (actual) point: declaring
          >parts of a book like _LotR_ to be "draggy" reveals much about what one
          >likes in a book, and what one doesn't like.

          Precisely. I now have a very clear idea of the lens through which Jack
          reads the book. It's not the lens I use, or that most readers I respect
          use. This is not a matter of parts being draggier than others: parts don't
          interest me as much as other parts. It's that calling them "draggy"
          reveals a particular point of view of their function in the story.

          >(Personally, some of my
          >very favorite books are ones where nothing much happens, externally;
          >and my favorite parts of Tolkien's works are definitely not the
          >action-packed sequences.)

          So what are my favorite parts? I think I can find a pattern in some of them:
          "'I am called Strider,' he said in a low voice. 'I am very pleased to meet
          you, Master - Underhill, if old Butterbur got your name right.' 'He did,'
          said Frodo stifly. He felt far from comfortable under the stare of those
          keen eyes."
          "'Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!' he cried. 'We are the door-wardens.
          Meriadoc, son of Saradoc, is my name, and my companion, who, alas! is
          overcome with weariness' - here he gave the other a dig with his foot - 'is
          Peregrin, son of Paladin, of the house of Took.'"
          "'Are you angry with me, Gandalf?' he said, as their guide went out and
          closed the door. 'I did the best I could.' 'You did indeed!' said
          Gandalf, laughing suddenly ... 'Indeed you did your best,' said the wizard,
          'and I hope that it may be long before you find yourself in such a tight
          corner again between two such terrible old men.'"
          "And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long
          journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not
          tell, Sam began to sing." [I'll leave it to your memory exactly what he sang.]

          Grace Monk put the same point even more clearly:

          >It is opinion, of course, but as most opinion does, it reveals your
          >state of mind and so can give others cues as to how to assess your views.
          >You've made yours clear, and I can now decide how much of your other
          >opinions I will assign credit and value to.

          And Diane Joy Baker had a yet more observant point:

          >I really haven't
          >thought about where JRRT could be safely edited; I think he was a very
          >careful and relentless editor.

          He was indeed.

          Mary Kay Kare applies the same strictures to Clarke:

          >I find what Clarke has done not
          >entirely dissimilar to what Tolkien did. She creates a world both like
          >and unlike our own and plunges us into its cares and concerns. I found
          >it was best to read in installments of no less than 100 pages -- it's
          >another world and mindset and they take time to get in to. Once I did
          >however, I found the book read quite fast.

          That certainly is in accordance with what else I've heard about Clarke, and
          with the meticulous sense of detail and time that characterizes her short
          stories, which I have read.

          I believe we have a fundamental dichotomy of the purpose of literature at
          work here. If you're capable of finding "draggy" a work which you claim to
          enjoy, surely you're reading primarily for the plot: however much you like
          the journey (which in this case evidently isn't much), your goal is to
          finish the book and get it over with. Whereas for the rest of us, we read
          a work like LOTR to enjoy a long sojourn in the author's boundlessly
          creative imagination. To finish the book is a matter of sadness, not of joy.

          David Bratman
        • Stolzi
          ... From: David Bratman ... sang.] Well, that song wasn t in the movie, though I understand it was in the Extended DVD. This passage
          Message 4 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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            ----- Original Message -----
            From: "David Bratman" <dbratman@...>

            > "And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long
            > journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not
            > tell, Sam began to sing." [I'll leave it to your memory exactly what he
            sang.]

            Well, that song wasn't in the movie, though I understand it was in the
            Extended DVD.

            This passage seems to suggest one reason many of us read Tolkien (I
            suspect). We cannot tell the thoughts in our hearts; Tolkien crystallizes
            them into a,yes, mythic form for us and we recognize them.

            Diamond Proudbrook
          • alexeik@aol.com
            In a message dated 3/9/5 3:47:40 AM, David B wrote:
            Message 5 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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              In a message dated 3/9/5 3:47:40 AM, David B wrote:

              << To love a seriously flawed person
              is a charitable act. But to express love for a seriously flawed work of
              literature makes a mockery of charity applied to the sub-human.
              >>

              Since flawless people are few and far between (in fact, common wisdom has it
              that they're non-existent), loving *anyone* implies loving someone who's
              flawed. Normally, one doesn't love people (especially if it's a spontaneous,
              passionate love) based on a cold evaluation of just how "flawed" they are, followed
              by a conscious, calculated decision to be nobly "charitable" and overlook the
              inevitable flaws. As I see it, one loves a person because one is positively
              attracted to some trait [or combination of traits] of theirs that is so
              rewarding to experience that it counterbalances those other personal traits that are
              less attractive. The positive experience is strong enough that it makes the
              less attractive traits unimportant.
              Of course, as you rightly point out, a book doesn't exist at the same
              level as a person, and the comparison between them isn't wholly appropriate. But
              in some ways one's "love" for a book is motivated by similar factors. If some
              aspect of a book provides you with a powerful literary experience that changes
              you at some deep level, you will have a positive impression of that book and
              want to go back to it and sample it again and again, even if other aspects of
              the book could be criticised from other angles (for example, a book with
              unforgettably haunting descriptive passages could have a "draggy" plot; or a plot
              with an intensely powerful mythic impact could have "poor characterisation" from
              the point of view of modern mainstream fiction; etc.). Since readers differ
              in their sensitivities and needs, their priorities will also be different: they
              will "love" books for different reasons and assess their flaws according to
              different hierarchies of values. I've come to reject any form of literary
              evaluation that categorically judges books to be "bad" according to a single,
              rigid, universally prescribed set of criteria. Not that there aren't plenty of
              books that *I* consider "bad": I just accept that my criteria for judging them so
              are personal to me (although I may share them with many other people).
              Alexei
            • Beth Russell
              ... From: David Bratman [mailto:dbratman@earthlink.net] Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2005 9:24 PM To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Subject: Re: [mythsoc] wonderful and
              Message 6 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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                -----Original Message-----
                From: David Bratman [mailto:dbratman@...]
                Sent: Tuesday, March 08, 2005 9:24 PM
                To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                Subject: Re: [mythsoc] wonderful and draggy?

                Christine wrote:

                >Carl, who wrote:

                >Which gets us back to David's (actual) point: declaring
                >parts of a book like _LotR_ to be "draggy" reveals much about what one
                >likes in a book, and what one doesn't like.

                >Precisely. I now have a very clear idea of the lens through which Jack
                >reads the book. It's not the lens I use, or that most readers I
                respect
                >use. This is not a matter of parts being draggier than others: parts
                don't
                >interest me as much as other parts. It's that calling them "draggy"
                >reveals a particular point of view of their function in the story.

                I find that something that strikes me as draggy at one reading of LOTR
                is a part that I particularly enjoy at another reading. The difference
                is in my perception, not in the book.

                Cheers,

                Beth




                The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
                Yahoo! Groups Links
              • Croft, Janet B.
                I find that something that strikes me as draggy at one reading of LOTR is a part that I particularly enjoy at another reading. The difference is in my
                Message 7 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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                  I find that something that strikes me as draggy at one reading of LOTR
                  is a part that I particularly enjoy at another reading. The difference
                  is in my perception, not in the book.

                  Cheers,

                  Beth

                  I agree! It can depend so much on one's stage of life, what one is
                  going through at the moment (from emotional stress to intellectual
                  excitement), what kind of story one is in the mood for. The Lord of the
                  Rings is the sort of book that, like Rivendell, is just perfect "whether
                  you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just
                  sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all." That
                  kind of richness is what makes a book worthwhile. As a child, I read at
                  breakneck pace for the plot; as a teenager, I savored the richness or
                  Tolkien's invented world; and now I am more interested in philosophy and
                  character. There are too few books in the world that can sustain one for
                  life like that. So if you find one that particularly appeals to you for
                  one reason at one time, and for another reason at another time, grapple
                  it to yourself with hoops of steel.

                  (flowery speechifying because I'm avoiding something else I'm supposed
                  to be working on, now over...)

                  Janet
                • Carnimiriel Isilraen
                  ... I agree! I know that the first time I read LotR, I found the Council of Elrond to be draggy, but it didn t really bother me. I thought to myself, Ok, a
                  Message 8 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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                    Beth Russell wrote:

                    >I find that something that strikes me as draggy at one reading of LOTR
                    >is a part that I particularly enjoy at another reading. The difference
                    >is in my perception, not in the book.
                    >
                    I agree! I know that the first time I read LotR, I found the Council of
                    Elrond to be draggy, but it didn't really bother me. I thought to
                    myself, "Ok, a lot of stuff happened a long time ago," and kept
                    reading. I was six the first time I read it, so I won't even go into
                    some of the somewhat bizzare things I thought at the first reading that
                    were gradually corrected through years of repeated reading.

                    As a child I was attracted to Tolkien's world and the hobbits, whom I
                    had gotten to know in The Hobbit. Then I was taken in by the adventure
                    and excitement. The wonderful thing about LotR is I still don't get
                    tired of it after reading the work over and over again. As an adult, I
                    am more in tune with the profound sadness in Tolkien's work, and reading
                    certain passages now will make me weep.

                    As Alexi points out in another post:

                    >If some aspect of a book provides you with a powerful literary experience that changes you at some deep level, you will have a positive impression of that book and want to go back to it and sample it again and again, even if other aspects of the book could be criticised from other angles (for example, a book with unforgettably haunting descriptive passages could have a "draggy" plot; or a plot with an intensely powerful mythic impact could have "poor characterisation" from the point of view of modern mainstream fiction; etc.).
                    >
                    I agree, and from my point of view, there is probably no perfect book
                    just as there is no perfect person. I might not call LotR "draggy" at
                    this point, but I don't think it is a crime for someone to make this
                    criticism. Though for me, LotR comes about as close to perfection as
                    I've found in literature, I can think of things to pick on. In my case,
                    it is mostly because I would like more detail, not less! I love
                    Tolkien's world so much, I despair that there is not more of it to
                    explore. I wish he had fleshed out the character of Arwen more fully,
                    for starters. But this and any other nitpicks I may have do not take
                    away in the least from the deep, long lasting, personal relationship I
                    have with this book.

                    Actually, some of my favorite books I might say have "draggy" portions.
                    I adored "The Years of Rice and Salt" by Kim Stanley Robinson and gave
                    copies to my husband, sister, and stepsons. I still think it is one of
                    the more brilliant books I've read in the past few years in spite of the
                    draggy parts (I have a feeling I'm in the minority on this list in
                    liking that book). I don't really even mind that the author gets out of
                    the action and into philosophy. I like philosophy. But that is another
                    whole topic - just thinking of a relatively recent example.

                    Here's to imperfect and wonderful books - long may they inspire and
                    delight us!

                    Ellen
                  • Ellen ("Carnimiriel")
                    Just popping back in to apologize for the type in Alexei s name in my previous post. Ellen ... [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                    Message 9 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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                      Just popping back in to apologize for the type in Alexei's name in my
                      previous post.

                      Ellen

                      Carnimiriel Isilraen wrote:

                      > As Alexi points out in another post:
                      >
                      >
                      >


                      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                    • David Bratman
                      I wouldn t have thought I d need to explain to as close a C.S. Lewis reader as Alexei that the degree to which individuals are lovable, or flawed, varies
                      Message 10 of 13 , Mar 9, 2005
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                        I wouldn't have thought I'd need to explain to as close a C.S. Lewis reader
                        as Alexei that the degree to which individuals are lovable, or flawed,
                        varies tremendously between individuals, and in any one individual varies
                        over time. Or that once one finds oneself in love, romantically or
                        otherwise, with a person that person may change. Or that there is such a
                        thing as status love: children are enjoined to love their parents to love
                        their children, but children and parents are not always lovable. When they
                        enter the Terrible Twos, or sullen adolescence, or choose a partner or
                        career one dislikes, or have a sudden political or religious conversion, or
                        develop Alzheimer's, they might not seem all that lovable. It is at that
                        time that one's charitable responsibility to keep loving the unlovable may
                        help as a reminder of keeping oneself on the path.

                        The omission of the word "seriously" from the discussion of "flawed", the
                        notion that love was presented as a matter of "cold calculation," are
                        completely specious.

                        But while one may bear a responsibility to keep loving a person whose flaws
                        have come to weigh heavily on one's feelings, no-one bears such a
                        responsibility to love a book. And while one's feelings about a book may
                        change, the book doesn't enter the Terrible Twos or develop Alzheimer's.

                        So we have Alexei's definition of falling in love:
                        >As I see it, one loves a person because one is positively
                        >attracted to some trait [or combination of traits] of theirs that is so
                        >rewarding to experience that it counterbalances those other personal traits
                        >that are less attractive. The positive experience is strong enough that it
                        >makes the less attractive traits unimportant.

                        Right. And here's my original point, again restated: a negative feeling as
                        strong as Jack stated about LOTR cannot be counterbalanced by enough
                        positive feelings to make the word "love" appropriate, in any meaning that
                        I understand for the word "love." No book is without flaw. But all books
                        of which I would use the word "love" about have flaws I consider so minor
                        that they are not only totally overwhelmed by positive feelings, they'd
                        hardly be worth complaining about in isolation. I may still enjoy books
                        with major and disfiguring flaws, but I would never say I love them. There
                        are books I terrifically enjoy at one reading, and find tedious the next,
                        and then back again: I do not say I love these books either. And I may
                        acknowledge that others find disfiguring flaws in books that I love: those
                        flaws just don't bother me. (So there is no question of trying to impose
                        universal standards of literary taste here.) If Jack finds large parts of
                        LOTR to be draggy, but claims to love the book, he is either referring to a
                        past feeling that no longer applies, or he is totally schzoid, or he is
                        using the word "love" so loosely as to be meaningless.

                        David Bratman
                      • alexeik@aol.com
                        In a message dated 3/10/5 2:30:04 AM, David B wrote:
                        Message 11 of 13 , Mar 10, 2005
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                          In a message dated 3/10/5 2:30:04 AM, David B wrote:

                          <<If Jack finds large parts of
                          LOTR to be draggy, but claims to love the book, he is either referring to a
                          past feeling that no longer applies, or he is totally schzoid, or he is
                          using the word "love" so loosely as to be meaningless.
                          >>

                          I don't see why. As far as I can recall, Jack didn't go into great detail
                          concerning which precise elements of Tolkien's narrative made him "love" the
                          book, but they could easily have been powerful enough to make the "dragginess" of
                          other parts unimportant by comparison. After all, it depends on how damning a
                          judgment you consider the word "draggy" to be: for some people, it could mean
                          a temporarily disappointing slowing-down of plot development that in the end
                          doesn't prevent the story from coming to a satisfactory conclusion and leaving
                          the reader with a powerful impression; for others, it can mean a complete
                          breakdown of the narrative dynamic that makes one give up on the book. I suspect
                          Jack had the less damning sense of "draggy" in mind.
                          Alexei
                        • David Bratman
                          Jack considers the dragginess of parts of LOTR to be sufficiently damning that he thinks the text should have been edited down at least to some extent. He
                          Message 12 of 13 , Mar 10, 2005
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                            Jack considers the "dragginess" of parts of LOTR to be sufficiently damning
                            that he thinks the text should have been edited down at least to some
                            extent. He also used the phrase "drag[s] horribly" in reference to parts
                            of the book. That's pretty strong language. He could still easily
                            consider the book's pluses to outweigh its minuses, and apparently he does,
                            but it's a heck of a thing to say about a book you claim to "love". That's
                            why I don't believe he's using the word "love" in any sense I understand.

                            Parts of LOTR do indeed move slowly, but that's part of Tolkien's method.
                            If one finds these sections draggy, that's a personal reaction not to be
                            gainsaid, but it does show that the reader is not simpatico with what
                            Tolkien was up to, which was an immersion rather than merely a fast-paced
                            "oh boy, what happens next?" (Though my own first reading combined both
                            those sensations in a way entirely new to me, and is part of what I loved
                            about the book.)
                          • WendellWag@aol.com
                            In a message dated 3/9/2005 7:41:13 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, carnimiriel@ameritech.net writes: I was six the first time I read it, so I won t even go into
                            Message 13 of 13 , Mar 12, 2005
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                              In a message dated 3/9/2005 7:41:13 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,
                              carnimiriel@... writes:

                              I was six the first time I read it, so I won't even go into
                              some of the somewhat bizzare things I thought at the first reading that
                              were gradually corrected through years of repeated reading.


                              Does anyone have any good stories about the things in Tolkien (or any of the
                              other authors we regularly discuss) that they didn't understand until much
                              later? Here's my story: When I first read _The Lord of the Rings_ when I was
                              17, I didn't understand what was meant by the musical crackers mentioned in
                              the birthday party chapter in _The Fellowship of the Ring_. I presumed that
                              these were some kind of crisp cookies (maybe like fortune cookies) shaped
                              like flutes or some such so that one could play a tune by blowing into them.

                              It wasn't till I was 35 and spending my first Christmas in England that I
                              finally realized that they were something like Christmas crackers. These are
                              cylinders of cardboard, covered with colorful foil, from which a toy, a paper
                              crown, and a slip of paper with a joke on it come flying out when it's pulled
                              apart with a loud snap. These are traditionally opened by everyone at
                              Christmas dinner in the U.K. Everyone reads the stupid jokes (and they are
                              stupid, in general), plays a little bit with the cheap plastic toy, and wears the
                              crown for the rest of the meal. So I realized then that Tolkien meant musical
                              crackers to be crackers with small musical instruments in them.

                              So another 17 years go by and as I was writing this post, I suddenly
                              wondered if there actually were musical crackers. I just did some Googling and I
                              find that there are indeed musical crackers. It appears that all they have in
                              them are whistles though. In each of a set of eight crackers there will be
                              whistles for eight different tones so tunes can be played only by eight people
                              working together.

                              Wendell Wagner


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