Re: _Reading The Lord of the Rings_
- At 03:27 PM 3/16/2006 -0500, Carl F. Hostetter wrote:
>Drout calls for the application of theoretical-critical approaches toMy experience with applying packaged theoretical-critical approaches to
>Tolkien (and vice versa), in the expectation that it will shed light
>on regions that have thus far gone unexplored (and, again, vice
literature, whether the literature be by Tolkien or anyone else, is that
it's like viewing something through colored glasses. You can see
interesting things that way, but most of the time you will learn more about
the color of glasses you're wearing than about the thing you're looking at.
>I must admit to being dubious about both the prospects andThis is because they start with the theory used to study, rather than the
>the proposal itself since to me the best thing about the best
>Tolkien criticism to date has been its _freedom from_ reliance on
>"theory", or psychoanalysis, or any of the various "isms" that seem
>in effect, if not by intent, always to shed _far more_ heat than
>light on their (putative) subject.
literature being studied.
>Thus one book by a philologistA good critic, having examined the work itself, then puts on a pair of
>like Shippey or a close-reading literary mythologist like Flieger can
>tell us far more about Tolkien's work than a whole library of
>deconstructionist/gender/class/race/orientation/etc. "theorists" have
>or (I expect) ever will.
glasses whose color will bring out new features in the work itself. For
good literature there will be more than one pair of glasses that do this,
and they may even conflict (Shippey and Flieger have their disagreements).
But they are the ones that work for this literature. For other literature,
other glasses work better.
I find that good theoretical approaches enrich and enlarge one's
understanding of a good work of literature. Bad ones reduce the work and
make it petty. And that is the big difference between great and lousy
- David Bratman
- If you're old-fashioned, I am too. That's the sort of criticism I like
-- something that explains what the author did and why, rather than
something that tries to squeeze it into a critical box where it really
doesn't belong, with odd bits hanging over the edges or chopped off if
they don't fit. Theory should be a tool that you can pick up to see if
it works for the job you're doing, and if it doesn't, then you put it
down and pick up another one. Or to use your metaphor, if one lens gives
you a distorted and unhelpful picture of what you're examining, you try
to look through another one. You don't keep using the one that doesn't
give a clearly focused picture as if it's the only lens available. The
particular instances you are looking at, for example, might be better
explored by looking at the balance of traditionally feminine and
masculine traits in many of Tolkien's characters and what that implies
(about his sources, his environment, his opinions on women and men,
etc.; whatever can be supported by internal and external evidence).
Queer theory is manifestly the wrong tool to figure out what point
Tolkien was making. (However, it could be appropriately applied to fan
fiction which _does_ interpret the Frodo/Sam relationship this way. In
some cases it could then be the appropriate lens for the job.)
And David Bratman's addition to this discussion, which came in while I
was typing, says all this and more with greater clarity. Thank you!
It's like Lewis said in An Experiment in Criticism -- "receive" the work
first, then start figuring out how to figure it out. Approach it with
open eyes, not with a pair of lenses already firmly clamped in place.
Janet Brennan Croft
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf
Of Carl F. Hostetter
Sent: Thursday, March 16, 2006 2:52 PM
Subject: Re: _Reading The Lord of the Rings_ (was Re: [mythsoc] New
A P.S., if I might:
Saxey makes a great deal of the fact that Sam actually touches Frodo on
occasion, including stroking his hand in moments of extreme concern for
Frodo. For Saxey, this counts as overwhelming evidence that Sam has
sexual feelings for Frodo. And so Sam and Frodo might indeed be
homosexual lovers. Q.E.D.
An approach to all this that _would_ actually tell us something about
Tolkien and his work would start with the plain fact that Tolkien most
certainly did _not_ consider Sam and Frodo to be homosexual lovers, and
then proceed to the obvious corollary that _he_ did not consider
touching and concerned hand-stroking among men to be sexual.
The critic could then proceed to explain to the modern reader (at any
rate, the modern American reader), who has indeed been conditioned to
see such touching among men as necessarily sexual, just how it is that
for Tolkien such gestures could be neither sexual nor unmanly, but
instead reflect a different time and attitude towards male
relationships, and a recognition that not all intense feelings of
affection are sexual. In other words, the thoughtful critic could use
this as a means to permit the reader a glimpse into a different
worldview, by using the lens that Tolkien's work provides. Instead, we
are (as usual in what passes for criticism these days) required by Saxey
to view Tolkien's work only though the lens that "theory"
provides, that is, through the postured, eroticized eye of a twenty-
first-century queer-theorist, and if we don't agree that this lens
provides an accurate, undistorted view, and judge Tolkien and his work
according to it, then we must simply be afraid of gay people.
The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org Yahoo! Groups
- On Mar 16, 2006, at 4:08 PM, David Bratman wrote:
> This is because they start with the theory used to study, ratherAmen! This is why I always put "theory" in this sense in scare-
> than the literature being studied.
quotes. It is tomy mind really rather the _opposite_ of theory,
proper, since it forces the available evidence to fit the explanation
it offers, rather than presenting an explanation of the evidence
derived from that evidence.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl F. Hostetter" <Aelfwine@...>
Seems like she's spelling her name wrong.
- On 3/16/06, Croft, Janet B. <jbcroft@...> wrote:
> something that tries to squeeze it into a critical box where it really
> doesn't belong, with odd bits hanging over the edges or chopped off if
> they don't fit.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- There are ways in which it can be appropriate to study a work of literature through the lens of a critical theory that doesn't quite fit. One can - instead of trying to make the book fit the theory, be engaged in the project of finding out just how far the book fits the theory, and why it doesn't fit any farther than it does, or to see what sort of things arise if you look at it that way, without trying to claim that this is the actual meaning. Or, one can study the theory itself, to see which books do and do not fit it.
Some studies of Tolkien roughly meet this description. Randal Helms's Freudian interpretation of The Hobbit, though he takes it more seriously than an ideal enquirer would, is essentially an exercise to see how well a Freudian interpretation fits. And Brian Attebery studies some theories of fantasy that other books fit to see why The Lord of the Rings doesn't - though he's mostly critiquing critics who try to make it fit, and then get cross at Tolkien when it doesn't.