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Re: [mythsoc] New article series: Interviews with the Scholars

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  • David Bratman
    ... I really like reading How I Discovered Tolkien stories. I don t see them as self-indulgent, but as enlightening and unimpeachable personal testimony,
    Message 1 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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      "Michael Martinez" <michael.martinez@...> wrote:

      > I invite you to read "An Interview with Janet Brennan Croft":
      > http://middle-earth.xenite.org/2011/10/14/an-interview-with-janet-brennan-croft/

      I really like reading "How I Discovered Tolkien" stories. I don't see them
      as self-indulgent, but as enlightening and unimpeachable personal testimony,
      and cumulatively as evidence of patterns of dissemination. I hope you keep
      asking that.

      I knew that Edmund Wilson disliked Sayers, but other than that he found _The
      Nine Tailors_ dull and boring (he hated genre mysteries in general), I don't
      remember what else he may have said about her. Moral clarity, which LOTR
      does have in common with genre mysteries, might be part of it, but if so
      Wilson was too dim to realize what was driving his own distaste.

      I tend to doubt that Wilson's attack on LOTR did much to drive its defense.
      When new, LOTR attracted the attention of other notable literati, some of
      whom, notably CSL, W.H. Auden, and Naomi Mitchison, were vigorous in praise.
      So it was on the critical review map without Wilson. Wilson's critique was
      so off - to the extent that some have wondered if he never actually read the
      book, but only skimmed it hastily - that it's almost impossible to write a
      detailed rebuttal (you can't rebut someone who doesn't accept the premises).
      The early pro-Tolkien articles I know tend to consider LOTR's depths as
      self-evident and a matter of inherent wonder, and not to have been searched
      for in an attempt to show up this Wilson guy.

      I wouldn't describe Sam's role as as mundane as "taking care of all the
      hum-drum details for his master." He's the quartermaster of this little
      two-man expedition. That's a dignified and vital role in any military duty;
      modern armies have more support troops than fighting men. Part of Tolkien's
      genius is that throughout the journey (even with the full Fellowship) he
      always keeps the reader aware of the supplies situation and its effect on
      the plans for the journey, without ever getting boring or mechanical about
      it.

      I'll chime in and concur that there's no reason to flatten Tolkien's
      feelings about Shakespeare. Tom Shippey explored the complexity of this in
      _The Road to Middle-earth_ and plenty of others have expanded on this, even
      before Janet's collection came out. But then, it's constantly necessary to
      fight off oversimplified misapprehensions of this kind.
    • Croft, Janet B.
      Hm, I hope my bit on Sam as batman didn t come off as too disparaging. What they did, as personal assistants to officers, was extremely important and went
      Message 2 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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        Hm, I hope my bit on Sam as batman didn’t come off as too disparaging. What they did, as personal assistants to officers, was extremely important and went beyond just shining their shoes, and I agree Sam’s role as batman was very much like that of a personal quarter-master for their two-man expedition. Tolkien’s attention to the details is one reason I always want to be on the road with dwarves again in the autumn. But the details can still seem mundane from the outside – until someone forgets to take care of them and you find yourself wanting a bit of rope or a pinch of salt!

         

        (Just to clarify, that 2nd paragraph on Wilson was Michael’s and it’s slated to be switched to italics like his other paragraphs within the interview.)

         

        Janet

         

        From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of David Bratman
        Sent: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:48 AM
        To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: Re: [mythsoc] New article series: Interviews with the Scholars

         

         

        "Michael Martinez" <michael.martinez@...> wrote:

        > I invite you to read "An Interview with Janet Brennan Croft":
        >
        http://middle-earth.xenite.org/2011/10/14/an-interview-with-janet-brennan-croft/

        I really like reading "How I Discovered Tolkien" stories. I don't see them
        as self-indulgent, but as enlightening and unimpeachable personal testimony,
        and cumulatively as evidence of patterns of dissemination. I hope you keep
        asking that.

        I knew that Edmund Wilson disliked Sayers, but other than that he found _The
        Nine Tailors_ dull and boring (he hated genre mysteries in general), I don't
        remember what else he may have said about her. Moral clarity, which LOTR
        does have in common with genre mysteries, might be part of it, but if so
        Wilson was too dim to realize what was driving his own distaste.

        I tend to doubt that Wilson's attack on LOTR did much to drive its defense.
        When new, LOTR attracted the attention of other notable literati, some of
        whom, notably CSL, W.H. Auden, and Naomi Mitchison, were vigorous in praise.
        So it was on the critical review map without Wilson. Wilson's critique was
        so off - to the extent that some have wondered if he never actually read the
        book, but only skimmed it hastily - that it's almost impossible to write a
        detailed rebuttal (you can't rebut someone who doesn't accept the premises).
        The early pro-Tolkien articles I know tend to consider LOTR's depths as
        self-evident and a matter of inherent wonder, and not to have been searched
        for in an attempt to show up this Wilson guy.

        I wouldn't describe Sam's role as as mundane as "taking care of all the
        hum-drum details for his master." He's the quartermaster of this little
        two-man expedition. That's a dignified and vital role in any military duty;
        modern armies have more support troops than fighting men. Part of Tolkien's
        genius is that throughout the journey (even with the full Fellowship) he
        always keeps the reader aware of the supplies situation and its effect on
        the plans for the journey, without ever getting boring or mechanical about
        it.

        I'll chime in and concur that there's no reason to flatten Tolkien's
        feelings about Shakespeare. Tom Shippey explored the complexity of this in
        _The Road to Middle-earth_ and plenty of others have expanded on this, even
        before Janet's collection came out. But then, it's constantly necessary to
        fight off oversimplified misapprehensions of this kind.

      • David Bratman
        ... It was already within italics. I didn t know what that meant; I thought it was an HTML coding error. (This particular error happens frequently.) Italics
        Message 3 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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          "Croft, Janet B." wrote:

          >(Just to clarify, that 2nd paragraph on Wilson was Michael’s and it’s slated to be
          >switched to italics like his other paragraphs within the interview.)

          It was already within italics. I didn't know what that meant; I thought it was an HTML coding error. (This particular error happens frequently.) Italics is not a sufficient clue to a change in authorship, especially when you already have initial "JBC:" and "MM:" as straightforward identifiers in front of all the other paragraphs. I only figured it out further down the interview when a later italics paragraph refers to "Janet" in the third person.
        • dale nelson
          So do I. ________________________________ From: David Bratman To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:48 AM
          Message 4 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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            So do I.


            From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
            To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:48 AM
            Subject: Re: [mythsoc] New article series: Interviews with the Scholars


            I really like reading "How I Discovered Tolkien" stories.Messages in this topic (5)

            Recent Activity:
            The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
            .



          • Mike Foster
            Likewise. From: dale nelson Sent: Friday, October 14, 2011 5:35 PM To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Subject: Re: [mythsoc] New article series: Interviews with the
            Message 5 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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              Likewise.
               
               
              Sent: Friday, October 14, 2011 5:35 PM
              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] New article series: Interviews with the Scholars
               
               

              So do I.
               

              From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
              To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:48 AM
              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] New article series: Interviews with the Scholars


              I really like reading "How I Discovered Tolkien" stories.Messages in this topic (5)
               
              Recent Activity:
              The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
              .



            • Michael Martinez
              ... I had originally coded the article to use italics for some sections but I didn t like the way it looked so I changed it to use BLOCKQUOTEs and missed a
              Message 6 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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                --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, David Bratman <dbratman@...> wrote:
                >
                > "Croft, Janet B." wrote:
                >
                > >(Just to clarify, that 2nd paragraph on Wilson was Michael’s and it’s slated to be
                > >switched to italics like his other paragraphs within the interview.)
                >
                > It was already within italics. I didn't know what that meant; I thought it was an HTML coding error. (This particular error happens frequently.) Italics is not a sufficient clue to a change in authorship, especially when you already have initial "JBC:" and "MM:" as straightforward identifiers in front of all the other paragraphs. I only figured it out further down the interview when a later italics paragraph refers to "Janet" in the third person.
                >

                I had originally coded the article to use italics for some sections but I didn't like the way it looked so I changed it to use BLOCKQUOTEs and missed a couple of places.

                I think it's all properly formatted now but I was rushing to get to work this morning.

                --
                Michael Martinez
                http://www.michael-martinez.com/

                YOU CAN HELP OUR WOUNDED WARRIORS
                http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
              • Michael Martinez
                ... I will keep that in mind, but I am striving to tailor the interviews to each interviewee. I m also trying to stick to a 10 question format (although how I
                Message 7 of 15 , Oct 14, 2011
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                  --- In mythsoc@yahoogroups.com, "David Bratman" <dbratman@...> wrote:
                  >
                  > "Michael Martinez" <michael.martinez@...> wrote:
                  >
                  > > I invite you to read "An Interview with Janet Brennan Croft":
                  > > http://middle-earth.xenite.org/2011/10/14/an-interview-with-janet-brennan-croft/
                  >
                  > I really like reading "How I Discovered Tolkien" stories. I don't
                  > see them as self-indulgent, but as enlightening and unimpeachable
                  > personal testimony, and cumulatively as evidence of patterns of
                  > dissemination. I hope you keep asking that.

                  I will keep that in mind, but I am striving to tailor the interviews to each interviewee. I'm also trying to stick to a 10 question format (although how I settled on that, I don't know, but so far everyone has been sent 10 questions and now I'll feel like I cheat someone if I don't send EVERYONE ELSE who participates in the series their fair 10 questions).

                  > I knew that Edmund Wilson disliked Sayers, but other than that he
                  > found _The Nine Tailors_ dull and boring (he hated genre mysteries
                  > in general), I don't remember what else he may have said about her.
                  > Moral clarity, which LOTR does have in common with genre mysteries,
                  > might be part of it, but if so Wilson was too dim to realize what
                  > was driving his own distaste.

                  I admit that I may play up Wilson more than I should. When I was in college in the early 80s I wrote a couple of term papers on Tolkien (and getting my professors to approve the topic was interesting -- one even thought I was talking about THE LORD OF THE FLIES for 2 minutes), I kept running into references to Wilson's review.

                  I never actually read it until after I graduated college. I don't think our library had it and it never occurred to me to try to get it on microfiche through an interlibrary loan.

                  So it's always had a "legendary" position in my repertoire of earliest Tolkien commentary.


                  > I wouldn't describe Sam's role as as mundane as "taking care of all
                  > the hum-drum details for his master." He's the quartermaster of
                  > this little two-man expedition. That's a dignified and vital role
                  > in any military duty; modern armies have more support troops than
                  > fighting men. Part of Tolkien's genius is that throughout the
                  > journey (even with the full Fellowship) he always keeps the reader
                  > aware of the supplies situation and its effect on the plans for the
                  > journey, without ever getting boring or mechanical about it.

                  Your comment reminds me of something Paul Kocher wrote in MASTER OF MIDDLE-EARTH about Tolkien almost always noting what the weather was like. I remember when I first read his book that I grabbed a copy of LOTR and started thumbing through it and found that there were indeed many passing references to the weather.

                  They were not obstructive to the story, but subtle enough to be informative (in terms of setting the scene) and consistent. I don't think I have changed my mental picture of very many scenes in the book since I first read it.

                  > I'll chime in and concur that there's no reason to flatten Tolkien's
                  > feelings about Shakespeare. Tom Shippey explored the complexity of
                  > this in _The Road to Middle-earth_ and plenty of others have
                  > expanded on this, even before Janet's collection came out. But
                  > then, it's constantly necessary to fight off oversimplified
                  > misapprehensions of this kind.

                  About ten years ago, on this very list, I asked if there was still need to defend Tolkien, and you replied with a list of examples of recent criticisms and (I think) misconceptions about his work that convinced me there was still debate.

                  Since then the news media have convinced me it will be a never-ending struggle to correct the erroneous trivia that seeps out with every article about any major author.

                  --
                  Michael Martinez
                  http://www.michael-martinez.com/

                  YOU CAN HELP OUR WOUNDED WARRIORS
                  http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
                • David Bratman
                  ... I hadn t thought of putting those together, but yes: they re the same sort of thing, in terms of the kind of significance they lay on the story and the way
                  Message 8 of 15 , Oct 15, 2011
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                    Michael Martinez <michael.martinez@...> wrote:

                    >> Part of Tolkien's genius is that throughout the
                    >> journey (even with the full Fellowship) he always keeps the reader
                    >> aware of the supplies situation and its effect on the plans for the
                    >> journey, without ever getting boring or mechanical about it.
                    >
                    >Your comment reminds me of something Paul Kocher wrote in MASTER OF MIDDLE-EARTH
                    >about Tolkien almost always noting what the weather was like. I remember when I
                    >first read his book that I grabbed a copy of LOTR and started thumbing through it
                    >and found that there were indeed many passing references to the weather.
                    >
                    >They were not obstructive to the story, but subtle enough to be informative (in
                    >terms of setting the scene) and consistent.

                    I hadn't thought of putting those together, but yes: they're the same sort of thing, in terms of the kind of significance they lay on the story and the way in which Tolkien conveys the information.

                    Normally the first things we think about in "world-building" are bigger-scale and more permanent, but focusing on things like weather (Dr. Serjeant wrote a paper on how the geomorphology of Middle-earth affected its climate) and the practical side of agricultural distribution are important too in grounding the story in reality.

                    And don't forget Tolkien's obsession with getting the phases of the moon consistent and the troubles that caused him.
                  • davise@cs.nyu.edu
                    Thanks to both Michael and Janet for the fascinating interview! From the article MM: Do you think there was anything similar in Sayers and Tolkien s writing
                    Message 9 of 15 , Oct 15, 2011
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                      Thanks to both Michael and Janet for the fascinating interview!

                      From the article
                      MM: Do you think there was anything similar in Sayers and Tolkien's writing that might have put off Wilson's personal interests?


                      JBC: No, I wasn't aware that Wilson didn't like Sayers either. But I can see that there's a certain moral clarity and decisiveness to both of them that a critic like Wilson might read as absolutist and anti-modern, maybe even dictatorial and elitist.

                      As regards Wilson's dislikes, it's worth keeping in mind that the comments on Sayers were part of an article "Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd" in which IIRC he dismissed all detective literature except Sherlock Holmes, and that he wrote another article in which he argued that Kafka was badly overrated. Wilson disliked lots of things.
                    • Mike Foster
                      Edmund Wilson apparently liked Edna St. Vincent Millay, based on the Nancy Milford Edna biography Savage Grace and her letters to him. But then all the boys
                      Message 10 of 15 , Oct 15, 2011
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                        Edmund Wilson apparently liked Edna St. Vincent Millay, based on the Nancy Milford Edna biography Savage Grace and her letters to him. 
                         
                        But then all the boys around the bar liked Edna.
                         
                        Mike
                         
                        Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2011 5:32 PM
                        Subject: [mythsoc] Re: New article series: Interviews with the Scholars
                         
                         

                        Thanks to both Michael and Janet for the fascinating interview!

                        From the article
                        MM: Do you think there was anything similar in Sayers and Tolkien's writing that might have put off Wilson's personal interests?

                        JBC: No, I wasn't aware that Wilson didn't like Sayers either. But I can see that there's a certain moral clarity and decisiveness to both of them that a critic like Wilson might read as absolutist and anti-modern, maybe even dictatorial and elitist.

                        As regards Wilson's dislikes, it's worth keeping in mind that the comments on Sayers were part of an article "Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd" in which IIRC he dismissed all detective literature except Sherlock Holmes, and that he wrote another article in which he argued that Kafka was badly overrated. Wilson disliked lots of things.

                      • John Rateliff
                        ... Yes, Wilson was in love with Millay. So much so that he s been accused of promotion her as a major talent simply because of his personal attraction. One
                        Message 11 of 15 , Oct 18, 2011
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                          On Oct 15, 2011, at 4:27 PM, Mike Foster wrote:
                          Edmund Wilson apparently liked Edna St. Vincent Millay, based on the Nancy Milford Edna biography Savage Grace and her letters to him. 

                          Yes, Wilson was in love with Millay. So much so that he's been accused of promotion her as a major talent simply because of his personal attraction.

                          One thing that's useful to keep in mind when reading Wilson is that he disliked the English (much preferring French literature and culture), despised all things medieval (being a major advocate of modernism) and disparaged Xianity (he once wrote that T. S. Eliot's conversion to Xianity meant that nothing the man said henceforth could be taken seriously). So Tolkien's not the sort of writer who appealed to him.*

                          I do think Wilson's article had a major impact, but only on Tolkien studies; people gave him an artificial importance because they kept quoting him and trying to refute him. It wasn't until Shippey's book in 1982 dismissed Wilson by pointing out he cdn't even get the characters' names right that the balloon got pricked. 

                          Wilson did say once that his goals as a reviewer were to expose the pretensions of the overrated (in which category he included Tolkien) and to draw attention to those who he felt got overlooked (he was an early admirer of Edward Gorey, and the last major critic to praise Cabell, so far as I know). Oddly enough, he was also a fan of the Beatles' cartoon THE YELLOW SUBMARINE. Go figure.

                          --John R.



                          *although he did have some grudging praise for THE HOBBIT
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