Re: [mythsoc] This ought to get some juices jangled...
- At 08:54 AM 5/22/2001 , an identified person quoted by Mary S. wrote:
>>Speaking of which, here's a new article about Tolkien fandom:I was wondering when this would appear. The author interviewed me on the
phone for about half an hour, two months ago, and he acquired several
actually distinguished Tolkien experts too, notably Verlyn Flieger. Verlyn
gets one flippant remark quoted, and I also get mentioned just once for my
pains, taken badly out of context. Mooney writes:
>Tolkien himself was no fan of these fans, some of whom to this day take hiscultus"
>famous comment "I am in fact a hobbit" as an invitation to get together and
>dress up as characters from the novel. David Bratman, former editor of the
>Tolkien studies newsletter Mythprints [sic], says Tolkien's "deplorable
>(in the author's own words) should not be held against him. "Artists shouldI endorse the sentiment I am claimed as making, though it wasn't the fans I
>not be blamed for attracting a following of fools," concurred another
>British critic in 1992, "--or if they should, we should downgrade Blake,
>Byron, and D.H. Lawrence."
was referring to - I meant the Tolclone novelists - but I am bothered by
the wording. I object strongly to being associated with an unidentified
person who describes Tolkien fans as "fools." I dislike the way it might
momentarily seem as if I were the one who said "deplorable cultus": in a
sentence which states that I say something, attribution of the immediately
following quote to someone else should be made before the quote, not after.
But I'm bothered more by the context. I confessed during the interview
that I was baffled by the seething hatred that the likes of Harold Bloom
and Germaine Greer profess towards Tolkien (Mooney said he would try to
answer that point in his article, and he does better than I'd expected but
not as well as he should), and I can say the same about this. What is it
that makes people think that dressing up as hobbits is what Tolkien fans
And exactly what is so terrible about dressing up as hobbits anyway? Most
of the dressing-up that occurs at Tolkien conferences is of the nature of a
fancy-dress ball: some of it is formal costume competition, which is a
serious art form using fabric instead of paint or stone. There is nothing
peculiar, abnormal, or "cultish" about this. If you want cultish dressing
up, consider this: Every weekend, thousands of people, far more than
everyone who's ever dressed as hobbits put together, dress up as American
Civil War soldiers and re-enact battles (I know of no attempts outside
Russia to seriously re-enact a Tolkien battle). Yet nobody sees the need
to defend serious Civil War study from this activity.
One other comment in the article may be based on something I said:
>In some ways, Tolkien scholarship resembles scholarship on James Joyce, say,What I'd said was that few if any modern authors except Joyce and Faulkner
>or William Faulkner. Critics pore over Tolkien's correspondence and
>unpublished papers and sketches--many of which have been posthumously
>released by his son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien--for clues
>into the writer's mind and imagined universe. ...
>Not unlike what has happened with Joyce, the line between Tolkien
>scholarship and Tolkien fandom can get rather blurry.
have had their literary remains published and examined to such an extent as
Tolkien's. Typically, though, Mooney turns this observation into an
attempt to equalize Tolkien with the others by dragging down Joyce to
Tolkien's perceived level. He does even worse with poor Jane Chance, who
follows: when she says she sees no difference between _teaching_ Tolkien
and Shakespeare, Mooney acts shocked that anyone could compare Tolkien to
Shakespeare at all, as if she'd said that they were identical in literary
And he's similarly snide about Tom Shippey's new book, _J.R.R. Tolkien,
Author of the Century_. Good for Mooney to refer to this book, but he
shows no signs of having read it. He doesn't quote from it, offers only
one quoted snotty judgment, and weakly defends Tom only in an ad hominem
manner. If he'd read it, he'd know that the subtitle makes a much more
subtle point than he thinks: that, as Greer says, Tolkien is the most
influential, not the greatest, writer of the century. And also that
Tolkien was a man of his time, not a medieval atavism. Here Shippey is
rebutting the overblown claims of Harold Bloom, who is quoted extensively.
Mooney accepts without demurral the claim of Bloom and others that (in
Mooney's words) Tolkien's "prose is unbearably archaic." What a pity he
couldn't find space for a reference to Shippey's thorough demonstration
that Tolkien's prose is rarely archaic, and that what people have mistaken
for archaism is something quite different, and thoroughly unlike the Book
of Mormon: Bloom's claim which makes me think he's spent no more than half
an hour flipping through either work (an impression reinforced by the
entire tossed-off tone of Bloom's essay). (I, by the way, have read the
Book of Mormon.)
There's more, much more, but enough. Mooney is not as ignorant as the
Italian journalist who thought Tolkien was Nazi, but he's done his darndest.
- Having gotten around to the URL, I relished this quote:
>In 1961 Philip Toynbee wrote optimistically in The Observer of London thatTolkien's works had "passed into a merciful oblivion."
and this bit of namedropping:
>David Bratman, former editor of the Tolkien studies newsletter MythprintsInaccurate description, inaccurate title - but yes, David WAS the editor of
"Mythprint" without an s - a while ago.
Ellie Farrell, the present editor, likes to include boxed quotes in
"Mythprint." Perhaps this one would suit:
>"Artists should not be blamed for attracting a following of fools,"concurred another British critic in 1992
Chris Mooney, "Kicking the Hobbit," The American Prospect vol. 12 no. 10,
June 4, 2001 .
- Ah well, David, on the strength of this article you can now bill yourself as
Internationally Recognized Tolkien Authority!
Mary S (who once dressed up as a hobbit... a very tall hobbit...)
- On the strength of this article, Mary, I may never want to be seen in
public as a Tolkien authority again. And I got off well compared to Verlyn
Flieger and Jane Chance, let alone Tom Shippey.
That's not the way the author of the article sees it, of course. I wrote
him and he replied. Oh, it was so balanced. Oh, if you didn't like it you
must have been expecting a puff job. Oh, I love Tolkien.
At 03:57 PM 5/22/2001 , you wrote:
>Ah well, David, on the strength of this article you can now bill yourself as
>Internationally Recognized Tolkien Authority!
>Mary S (who once dressed up as a hobbit... a very tall hobbit...)
>The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
>Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
- From: <Stolzi@...>
> Ah well, David, on the strength of this article you can now bill yourselfas
> anDo you think I should get him one of those tweed jackets with the leather
> Internationally Recognized Tolkien Authority!
patches on the elbows? Oh, and a pipe!
- --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
> On the strength of this article, Mary, I may never want to be seenIf it makes you feel any better, Prospect.Org (or whomever published
> in public as a Tolkien authority again. And I got off well
> compared to Verlyn Flieger and Jane Chance, let alone Tom Shippey.
this article) asked Xenite.Org (and probably other well-known Tolkien
sites) to pick up the story. I declined, although my reason was a
bit more mundane. I've been reading defenses of Tolkien (even
misguided ones) for something close on to 20 years.
I told them to get back to me if they came up with something new and
Your mileage may vary.