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Re: Article on Tolkien in _Salon_

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  • Michael Martinez
    ... Usually as opposed to whatever brings them to me in the first place. :) I seem to be one of several online faces for Tolkien fandom. I don t know
    Message 1 of 19 , Jun 6, 2001
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      --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
      > At 08:33 AM 6/4/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:
      > >When the media interviews me about Tolkien, I prefer to discuss
      > >the man himself, or his books.
      >
      > As opposed to ...?

      Usually as opposed to whatever brings them to me in the first
      place. :)

      I seem to be one of several online "faces" for Tolkien fandom. I
      don't know exactly who the others are, but usually the reporters
      imply or say they have talked to other people in online fandom. One
      did ask me for references, and I gave him a few names.

      Generally, I've found the media want to know what makes us tick,
      usually with respect to some announcement or development from New
      Line Cinema.

      Some of the people on this list, I gather, were contacted for the
      upcoming article in Wired (the print version). It should be
      published in a couple more months. I found that interview experience
      to be more enjoyable.

      > >I still run into this Tolkien cult
      > >nonsense and I just dismiss it. And I've pointed out to more than
      > >one reporter that when Shakespeare outsells Tolkien, I'll take the
      > >Bard a little more seriously than I have in the past.
      >
      > That's a clever remark, but unfortunately it's also a cultish
      > defensive remark.

      It's intended to be a pseudo-literary snobbish defensive remark. It
      does make people stop and think about whether Tolkien's following
      should be regarded as a cult.

      I don't put Tolkien and Shakespeare in the same boat, if I'm asked to
      explain the comparison. Shakespeare wrote for a different medium in
      a different time. But Tolkien's popularity exceeds Shakespeare's
      (today -- a comparison across the centuries is impossible, as you
      imply). If we are Tolkien cultists, then Shakespeare's admirers are
      Shakespeare cultists, and they should feel no more shame at being so
      labelled than we.

      Of course, shaking that image will probably become impossible after
      the movies debut and people start appearing at conventions in
      companies of Elves, Dwarves, and Rangers.

      For better or worse, I believe the popular conception of Tolkien
      fandom (if there has been one) will soon change radically.
    • David S. Bratman
      ... OK, this time I m not getting your joke. ... I found my interview experience with Chris Mooney to be highly enjoyable. Beware ... Beware! ... That may be
      Message 2 of 19 , Jun 6, 2001
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        At 07:32 AM 6/6/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:

        >--- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
        >> At 08:33 AM 6/4/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:
        >> >When the media interviews me about Tolkien, I prefer to discuss
        >> >the man himself, or his books.
        >>
        >> As opposed to ...?
        >
        >Usually as opposed to whatever brings them to me in the first
        >place. :)

        OK, this time I'm not getting your joke.

        >Some of the people on this list, I gather, were contacted for the
        >upcoming article in Wired (the print version). It should be
        >published in a couple more months. I found that interview experience
        >to be more enjoyable.

        I found my interview experience with Chris Mooney to be highly enjoyable.
        "Beware ... Beware!"

        >> >I still run into this Tolkien cult
        >> >nonsense and I just dismiss it. And I've pointed out to more than
        >> >one reporter that when Shakespeare outsells Tolkien, I'll take the
        >> >Bard a little more seriously than I have in the past.
        >>
        >> That's a clever remark, but unfortunately it's also a cultish
        >> defensive remark.
        >
        >It's intended to be a pseudo-literary snobbish defensive remark. It
        >does make people stop and think about whether Tolkien's following
        >should be regarded as a cult.

        That may be its intent, but the likes of Mooney are going to interpret it
        as meaning that you think that sales = quality. That's a cultish thing to
        think, ergo you'd get tagged as a Tolkien cultist.

        >I don't put Tolkien and Shakespeare in the same boat, if I'm asked to
        >explain the comparison.

        A big if. And if they ask, they probably won't print the explanation.

        >Shakespeare wrote for a different medium in
        >a different time. But Tolkien's popularity exceeds Shakespeare's
        >(today -- a comparison across the centuries is impossible, as you
        >imply). If we are Tolkien cultists, then Shakespeare's admirers are
        >Shakespeare cultists, and they should feel no more shame at being so
        >labelled than we.

        I don't follow this reasoning. Shakespeare's defenders aren't defending
        him on the grounds that he's popular. Indeed, they'd usually say he hardly
        needs defense. Certainly they wouldn't make such an obviously defensive
        remark.

        Nor will more pointed comparisons work. Mooney seems to think Tolkien's
        admirers are cultists because some of them dress up as Tolkien characters.
        Well, guess what: some of Shakespeare's admirers dress up as Shakespeare
        characters too. But somehow nobody thinks that makes them cultists.

        >For better or worse, I believe the popular conception of Tolkien
        >fandom (if there has been one) will soon change radically.

        There will be more of a popular conception, but I don't see that conception
        changing much at all.

        David Bratman
      • Michael Martinez
        ... Well, people seek me out to ask questions about Tolkien or Middle- earth all the time. But usually when the media contact me, the reporter(s) has(have) an
        Message 3 of 19 , Jun 8, 2001
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          --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
          > At 07:32 AM 6/6/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:
          >
          > >--- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
          > >> At 08:33 AM 6/4/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:
          > >> >When the media interviews me about Tolkien, I prefer to discuss
          > >> >the man himself, or his books.
          > >>
          > >> As opposed to ...?
          > >
          > >Usually as opposed to whatever brings them to me in the first
          > >place. :)
          >
          > OK, this time I'm not getting your joke.

          Well, people seek me out to ask questions about Tolkien or Middle-
          earth all the time. But usually when the media contact me, the
          reporter(s) has(have) an agenda of some sort. One reporter in New
          Zealand wanted, apparently, to knock off a quick story about the
          elite Tolkien fandom (he was one of the first to use the word "cult"
          in my experience, although I suppose that designation has been around
          for decades). A lot of people reacted angrily to his questions. I
          wrote what I hoped was a thoughtful reply explaining the
          Tolkien/Shakespeare comparison, but also speaking about points I felt
          were more interesting.

          He thanked me and when the article was finally published he had toned
          down his negative perspective considerably. If I recall correctly,
          he admitted to me that he had never read Tolkien and had merely been
          assigned the story as part of the daily regimen.

          > >Some of the people on this list, I gather, were contacted for the
          > >upcoming article in Wired (the print version). It should be
          > >published in a couple more months. I found that interview
          > >experience to be more enjoyable.
          >
          > I found my interview experience with Chris Mooney to be highly
          > enjoyable.
          > "Beware ... Beware!"

          :)

          If I get more than a sentence in the final article, I'll be pleased.
          Heck, I'll be pleased if Eric mentions me at all. Will I be
          misquoted? Possibly. But if that happens, it may not be the
          reporter's fault. Sometimes the editor has to make a story fit. I
          suppose you may have run into similar issues in your own editing. In
          college, I sometimes had to trim a story to get it into our college
          paper.

          > >It's intended to be a pseudo-literary snobbish defensive remark.
          > >It does make people stop and think about whether Tolkien's
          > >following should be regarded as a cult.
          >
          > That may be its intent, but the likes of Mooney are going to
          > interpret it as meaning that you think that sales = quality.
          > That's a cultish thing to think, ergo you'd get tagged as a Tolkien
          > cultist.

          Sales always equal quality in any entertainment medium, and there is
          nothing cultish about the standard. The publishing, film, and other
          entertainment industries have been using sales to measure quality for
          decades.

          Literary quality is just another, alternative arbitrary standard by
          which to measure quality. It is no better or worse than sales.

          If an author like Tolkien sets out to entertain people (and that was
          his goal with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), then sales are
          an important indication of quality.

          Some people are quick to point out that, by that standard, books like
          The Sword of Shanarra (which is absolutely awful) are high quality
          books, too. And they would be implying that the standard is
          therefore faulty. But it's not. It's neither cultish nor misguided
          to accept that if a lot of people are entertained by a story, then
          the story has a widespread appeal to it and, therefore, is
          a "quality" story.

          If someone were to interpret that as a "cultish" perspective, they
          would be no more correct in saying so than I would be (were I to do
          so) in saying that only sales can measure "quality".

          > >I don't put Tolkien and Shakespeare in the same boat, if I'm asked
          > >to explain the comparison.
          >
          > A big if. And if they ask, they probably won't print the
          > explanation.

          I'm not keeping count, but at least one did quote me (the fellow in
          New Zealand, if I recall correctly) on that point, and generally
          speaking, if the comparison dissuades them from calling us a cult,
          then it achieves what I intend for it to achieve. Anything else is
          cream (or spilled coffee, I suppose, if it goes awry).

          > >Shakespeare wrote for a different medium in
          > >a different time. But Tolkien's popularity exceeds Shakespeare's
          > >(today -- a comparison across the centuries is impossible, as you
          > >imply). If we are Tolkien cultists, then Shakespeare's admirers
          > >are Shakespeare cultists, and they should feel no more shame at
          > >being so labelled than we.
          >
          > I don't follow this reasoning. Shakespeare's defenders aren't
          > defending him on the grounds that he's popular.

          Whatever grounds they have for defending him, or whatever it is
          against which they are defending him, doesn't serve to make them seem
          any less cultish than Tolkien's readers.

          > Indeed, they'd usually say he hardly needs defense. Certainly they
          > wouldn't make such an obviously defensive remark.

          I always say Tolkien doesn't need defense. I merely point out that
          Tolkien has had a greater literary impact in the last century than
          Shakespeare (who has had a greater cinematic impact than Tolkien).
          Usually, these discussions of Tolkien defenses only occur with his
          defenders.

          Tolkien DOESN'T need defense or justification. But if people are
          going to insist on defending or justifying him, they shouldn't be
          surprised to see that they have helped to carve out a perspective
          that may not appeal to them.

          On the other hand, who am I to say that people shouldn't enjoy
          defending Tolkien. There are people who enjoy defending
          Shakespeare. There ARE people who argue that there was no
          Shakespeare, or that he plagiarized other writers.

          To be quite honest, I have always thought the Shakespearean community
          a bit odd, but that is probably due to my experience with a few odd
          Shakespeareans.

          > >For better or worse, I believe the popular conception of Tolkien
          > >fandom (if there has been one) will soon change radically.
          >
          > There will be more of a popular conception, but I don't see that
          > conception changing much at all.

          I think you're in for a great surprise, then. Or perhaps a
          disappointment.

          Most people don't think of Tolkien as anything other than a good or
          great or popular author. And I only ran into this "Tolkien cult"
          perspective in the last few years, even though I've been happily
          discussiing Tolkien and reading Tolkien literature for more than 20
          years.

          The American campus phenomenon of the 1960s is not a definitive
          representation of the general appreciation of Tolkien.

          I can almost always strike up a conversation with strangers about The
          Lord of the Rings. When I try to quote Shakespeare, or make
          reference to one of his plays, I usually get a blank look.

          More people know Shakespeare's name than know his work. Undoubtedly
          that is true about Tolkien and every other author, too. But it's
          still easier to talk to people about Tolkien than it is to talk to
          them about Shakespeare.

          So, if a few misguided souls like Mooney view Tolkien's readers as
          a "cult", even if only because they know of a few occasions where
          people dress up as hobbits, they are not going to amount to a hill of
          beans in the big picture.

          But the movies will undoubtedly inspire the "cult" which doesn't yet
          exist.
        • Trudy Shaw
          ... From: Michael Martinez To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Saturday, June 09, 2001 1:25 AM Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Article on Tolkien in _Salon_ On the other
          Message 4 of 19 , Jun 9, 2001
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            ----- Original Message -----
            From: Michael Martinez
            To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Saturday, June 09, 2001 1:25 AM
            Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Article on Tolkien in _Salon_


            On the other hand, who am I to say that people shouldn't enjoy
            defending Tolkien. There are people who enjoy defending
            Shakespeare. There ARE people who argue that there was no
            Shakespeare, or that he plagiarized other writers.


            And when Shakespeare's plays (whoever wrote them) were first produced, they were done so with an eye to the true fans--the groundlings, not the literary critics. Do you think Shakespeare would be as surprised as Tolkien to have his work taken so seriously?


            Most people don't think of Tolkien as anything other than a good or
            great or popular author. And I only ran into this "Tolkien cult"
            perspective in the last few years, even though I've been happily
            discussiing Tolkien and reading Tolkien literature for more than 20
            years.


            I believe you can thank the Internet for the new outbreak of "Tolkien cult" perspective (see the Village Voice article).


            But the movies will undoubtedly inspire the "cult" which doesn't yet
            exist.


            It's being energized by the movies, but it already exists. Check out the message boards. The "cultists" are generally about 13-20 years old.




            Check out the message boards. It's already there! The "cultists" tend to be about 13-20 years old.


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            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • David S. Bratman
            ... I ve been interviewed more than once myself. But usually the author s agenda is to write about Tolkien. Even when they re biased, that s the agenda. ...
            Message 5 of 19 , Jun 9, 2001
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              >At 06:25 AM 6/9/2001 +0000, Michael Martinez wrote:

              >Well, people seek me out to ask questions about Tolkien or Middle-
              >earth all the time. But usually when the media contact me, the
              >reporter(s) has(have) an agenda of some sort.

              I've been interviewed more than once myself. But usually the author's
              agenda is to write about Tolkien. Even when they're biased, that's the agenda.

              >He thanked me and when the article was finally published he had toned
              >down his negative perspective considerably. If I recall correctly,
              >he admitted to me that he had never read Tolkien and had merely been
              >assigned the story as part of the daily regimen.

              Mooney told me he's read Tolkien, and likes him. I guess it was merely
              part of his attempt to avoid unconscious bias that he excluded any sign of
              that from his article.

              >If I get more than a sentence in the final article, I'll be pleased.
              >Heck, I'll be pleased if Eric mentions me at all. Will I be
              >misquoted? Possibly. But if that happens, it may not be the
              >reporter's fault. Sometimes the editor has to make a story fit. I
              >suppose you may have run into similar issues in your own editing. In
              >college, I sometimes had to trim a story to get it into our college
              >paper.

              I've done a lot of editing. I do not believe I've ever misquoted anybody
              as a result. Mooney defended what he'd done. He admitted to no errors
              except misspelling "Mythprint". So it wasn't his editor's fault, or he
              didn't believe the editor had done anything wrong.

              >Sales always equal quality in any entertainment medium, and there is
              >nothing cultish about the standard. The publishing, film, and other
              >entertainment industries have been using sales to measure quality for
              >decades.
              >
              >Literary quality is just another, alternative arbitrary standard by
              >which to measure quality. It is no better or worse than sales.

              Eliminate the adjective "literary", and you're saying that quality is only
              one method of measuring quality. What other sort of quality is
              there? It's certainly the one I was referring to, and I know of no other
              sort for which "quality" is the best term. Sales measure sales, nothing
              else. (Not even popularity: the Unread Bestseller is a well-known
              phenomenon.) Only literary quality measures literary quality, though there
              are different ways of measuring within that, and it is over those different
              ways that the litterateurs are having their disagreements over Tolkien. I
              have my theories as to what's really going on there, but that's another topic.

              >If an author like Tolkien sets out to entertain people (and that was
              >his goal with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), then sales are
              >an important indication of quality.

              They are not. They are a sign that an investigation into quality should be
              made. What they are an important indication (though not proof of) is
              popular appeal: see below. They're also important in the history of taste,
              but that's another matter.

              >Some people are quick to point out that, by that standard, books like
              >The Sword of Shanarra (which is absolutely awful) are high quality
              >books, too. And they would be implying that the standard is
              >therefore faulty. But it's not. It's neither cultish nor misguided
              >to accept that if a lot of people are entertained by a story, then
              >the story has a widespread appeal to it and, therefore, is
              >a "quality" story.

              Popular appeal and literary quality are entirely different things. This
              comes up every time a reviewer complains that he disliked a book or movie
              because it was of such wretched quality, in writing or
              aesthetics. Inevitably, someone will write a letter in response saying it
              doesn't have to be good (i.e. of literary quality) if it's enjoyable (i.e.
              "fun"). Usually there's an implication "good" in this sense and "fun" are
              polarized, that the two tend not to co-exist. This is the same
              configuration of nature held by the high-minded literary scholar who looks
              down at all bestsellers as being necessarily bad, only viewed from the
              other side. To both this high-minded scholar and the defiantly low-brow
              letter-writer, literary quality and popular appeal are different things.

              But the reviewer, if he replies to the letter, will say that the two can
              co-exist. Not that they're the same, but that they can co-exist. And a
              good example is LOTR, a book which ranks high on both scales. (According
              to our opinion, of course.)

              >> I don't follow this reasoning. Shakespeare's defenders aren't
              >> defending him on the grounds that he's popular.
              >
              >Whatever grounds they have for defending him, or whatever it is
              >against which they are defending him, doesn't serve to make them seem
              >any less cultish than Tolkien's readers.

              I don't follow this at all, any more than I did the first time.

              >I always say Tolkien doesn't need defense. I merely point out that
              >Tolkien has had a greater literary impact in the last century than
              >Shakespeare (who has had a greater cinematic impact than Tolkien).
              >Usually, these discussions of Tolkien defenses only occur with his
              >defenders.
              >
              >Tolkien DOESN'T need defense or justification. But if people are
              >going to insist on defending or justifying him, they shouldn't be
              >surprised to see that they have helped to carve out a perspective
              >that may not appeal to them.

              Anything that's good that's attacked needs defense. Anything that can be
              misunderstood needs justification. See below.

              >On the other hand, who am I to say that people shouldn't enjoy
              >defending Tolkien. There are people who enjoy defending
              >Shakespeare. There ARE people who argue that there was no
              >Shakespeare, or that he plagiarized other writers.

              I know of nobody who argues that there was no Shakespeare. I do know of
              people who claim that the name was a pseudonym, but that doesn't affect the
              work. Trudy Shaw raised the old argument that Shakespeare wrote for the
              groundlings, not the elite. Actually he wrote for both. In other words,
              his work ranks high on both of the scales I mentioned above. And that is
              what makes him truly great, and Tolkien's greatness is of the same kind (if
              not the same order). Other dramatists of Shakespeare's time wrote for the
              groundlings only: they are less well-remembered than he, or has there been
              a BBC production of "Ralph Roister-Doister" lately?

              But many people nowadays think Shakespeare is boring. (See, for example,
              the prologue section of Al Pacino's film "Looking for Richard", in which he
              shows people saying just this, and thereby packages his film as a defense
              of Shakespeare.) So what's happened to the groundlings?

              The plagiarism charge raises an interesting point, but at a tangent to what
              we're discussing here. Up through Shakespeare's time, originality of plot
              was not prized as a virtue, and much if not most great literature was a
              retelling or at least a re-envisaging of something written or at least
              orally told before. Somewhere during the century or two after Shakespeare
              (or perhaps after Milton), originality became a prerequisite for the
              prevailing standards of literary quality, and I wonder when and why that
              happened.

              >> >For better or worse, I believe the popular conception of Tolkien
              >> >fandom (if there has been one) will soon change radically.
              >>
              >> There will be more of a popular conception, but I don't see that
              >> conception changing much at all.
              >
              >I think you're in for a great surprise, then. Or perhaps a
              >disappointment.

              I think you have no idea what I consider the popular conception of Tolkien
              to be. See below.

              >Most people don't think of Tolkien as anything other than a good or
              >great or popular author. And I only ran into this "Tolkien cult"
              >perspective in the last few years, even though I've been happily
              >discussing Tolkien and reading Tolkien literature for more than 20
              >years.

              And I've been running into the "Tolkien cult" perspective constantly
              throughout my experience. I apologize for waving my Tolkien credentials,
              but I've been happily discussing Tolkien and reading Tolkien literature for
              more than 30 years. I came in at the end of the 60s Tolkien boom. Perhaps
              you don't remember that, but I do (barely). At that time, Tolkien was
              generally perceived as just another campus cult author in a long line of
              campus cult authors, accompanied and/or preceded by Vonnegut, Hesse,
              Golding, and Salinger, in approximate reverse chronological order.

              Cult perception has continued throughout the years. When _The
              Silmarillion_ was first published, it became a bestseller (which LOTR had
              never been, because its sales built up over the years, whereas Sil. was
              dropped suddenly on a large expectant audience), many people found it
              unreadable, and this reinforced the perception that Tolkienists must be a
              large cult, because who other than people devoted to an author to the point
              of cultishness would be buying an (apparently) unreadable book in
              bestselling quantities?

              I have been a member of the (British) Tolkien Society, and have watched
              their never-ending battle with media descriptions which always mention the
              costumes, which very few TS members ever wear. I have watched their dismay
              as Humphrey Carpenter, once the perceptive author of a fine biography of
              Tolkien, gradually drifted into the view that Tolkien was a nut and that
              Tolkienists are cultists.

              What I cite are mostly media views, and you write of "most people," so you
              may be thinking of man-in-the-street types. That may be how our views of
              how Tolkien is perceived may be partially reconciled. But my experience is
              that people who've never read an author take their perceptions of that
              author from what they're told or have read, and what they've read about
              Tolkien is frequently that he's a cult author. What will change - and here
              we're apparently agreed - is that this message will be conveyed more often
              and more insistently in the future.

              >So, if a few misguided souls like Mooney view Tolkien's readers as
              >a "cult", even if only because they know of a few occasions where
              >people dress up as hobbits, they are not going to amount to a hill of
              >beans in the big picture.
              >
              >But the movies will undoubtedly inspire the "cult" which doesn't yet
              >exist.

              Actually, the Tolkien cult does exist. We're just not it. Except in the
              sense that people who are knowledgeable about and devoted to Shakespeare
              are Shakespeare cultists, in which case half of humanity are cultists of
              something. It's just that baseball-team cultism is respectable.

              But I'm talking about cults in a more limited sense. Students who read
              LOTR in the 60s because it was fashionable and for no other reason - they
              were cultists in the sense of being mindless followers of what is generally
              referred to as a "campus cult author." Middle-earth communes have
              existed. I have actually met people who didn't just wear Tolkien costumes,
              or even just took Tolkien characters' names as eponyms, but insisted they
              were those characters. (I don't think they were deluded: I think they were
              role-playing beyond the call of duty.) Fantasy gaming is, in a sense,
              nothing but one big extended Tolkien cult. And if that seems excessive,
              consider the strong popularity in Russia of live-action Tolkien war games.

              What will possibly change, and here I think we are in agreement, is that
              there will be much more of this. After all it's much easier for the
              mindless to watch a movie than read a book. The unknown factor is, how
              popular will the movie be? Some greatly-hyped films bomb, to everyone's
              surprise; some successes prove ephemeral: "Titanic" is already a 1990s
              period piece.

              David Bratman
            • alexeik@aol.com
              In a message dated 6/9/1 12:45:07 PM, Trudy Shaw wrote:
              Message 6 of 19 , Jun 9, 2001
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                In a message dated 6/9/1 12:45:07 PM, Trudy Shaw wrote:

                <<It's being energized by the movies, but it already exists. Check out the
                message boards. The "cultists" are generally about 13-20 years old. >>

                And there's been a Tolkien "cult" (fully justifying the word) in Russia for
                some time. Perhaps because they've been starved of imaginative or
                metaphysically concerned literature for so long, the response of Russian fans
                to Tolkien is more intense in its passion and make-believe than anything seen
                in the West since the late '60's.
                Alexei
              • Michael Martinez
                ... A fan cult isn t defined by message board participation. I m sure there is no universally accepted definition, but the Tolkien fans are distinguished from
                Message 7 of 19 , Jun 9, 2001
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                  --- In mythsoc@y..., "Trudy Shaw" <tgshaw@e...> wrote:
                  > Check out the message boards. It's already there!
                  > The "cultists" tend to be about 13-20 years old.

                  A fan cult isn't defined by message board participation. I'm sure
                  there is no universally accepted definition, but the Tolkien fans are
                  distinguished from the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dorsai fans (to name
                  a few long-established fan groups) by the lack of fan organizations
                  which focus on specific aspects of the created worlds, lack of
                  costuming communities, lack of fan festivals.

                  Xenite.Org has, so far as I know, the oldest Tolkien-oriented forum
                  on the Web (the news groups and some mailing lists are older). We
                  don't have a "cultish" reputation, even though you'll find plenty of
                  people there using screen names from the books, or made up from
                  elements of Tolkien's languages. We have a pretty solid reputation
                  for serious discussion. Now, maybe that's because I have not
                  consciously fostered a cultish atmosphere. Yes, there are hundreds
                  of other Tolkien-related forums out there (I laugh every time I see a
                  news article claim there are about 400 Tolkien Web sites -- the
                  number of forums alone exceeds 400). The sheer number of forums, but
                  for the fact the media don't seem to know they exist, could lend
                  weight to the idea of a cultish fandom, but Tolkien fans are just not
                  as visible as, say, Xena fans (with whom I have a great deal of
                  experience).

                  Tolkien "conferences" tend to be just that: conferences. Mostly run
                  by or supported by people in the academic community, or who have some
                  experience with the academic community. Which is not to say that
                  only academics are drawn to such conferences, but you can pretty much
                  find academic names in the rosters (at least for the conferences with
                  Web sites). Look at a Xena convention guest list or organizer list
                  and you'll find little indication of the professional stature of the
                  people involved. That is, I know that Xena has been studied
                  academically, but Xena fandom and the television show lack the
                  reputation for seriousness that Tolkien fandom and Tolkien's works
                  possess.

                  When I proposed a Tolkien and Middle-earth track for Dragoncon, I
                  said I didn't want just another series of panels where people talk
                  about how Tolkien inspired them, etc., etc. It's hard to put
                  together an interesting program in part because there is so little to
                  feed the popular SF community's imagination.

                  The movies pretty much saved us (and were the chief but not only
                  reason for why I proposed the track). We can bring in actors and
                  TheOneRing.Net did a whizbang presentation with spy reports and
                  special footage. But we've got other programming content which is
                  less formalized. I did put up a couple of panels with three
                  linguists who discussed the mechanics of Quenya and Sindarin. The
                  sessions were not standing-room only, but they were well-attended.

                  Nonetheless, I think that, if Dragoncon continues to do a
                  Tolkien/Middle-earth track over the next few years, we'll inevitably
                  have costume contests, Prancing Pony galas, and other "typical"
                  fannish presentations. I have even tried to find people to do some
                  music videos for me (haven't had much success).

                  Eventually, there may even be official Lord of the Rings conventions
                  (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Creation Entertainment had
                  already approached New Line Cinema about that), and dedicated Tolkien
                  fan conventions which go well beyond what I'm able to do with the
                  Dragoncon track.

                  Tolkien's fandom has not distinguished itself with much of the
                  traditional fannish activity beyond creating some (fairly well-known)
                  fanzines. The blending of fannish research and academic study
                  represented by the publications of the Mythopoeic Society and a few
                  other organizations helps to give the impression that Tolkien fandom
                  is a bit more "serious" than, say, your typical Babylon-5 fan group.

                  The moveis are going to inspire a lot of people to build up the
                  traditional fannish activities which have been devoted to other
                  authors, other worlds, other movies. People will look back on what
                  we have today and say, "How quaint" or "how different it all was."
                • Michael Martinez
                  ... 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
                  Message 8 of 19 , Jun 9, 2001
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                    --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
                    > >At 06:25 AM 6/9/2001 +0000, Michael Martinez wrote:
                    >
                    > >Well, people seek me out to ask questions about Tolkien or Middle-
                    > >earth all the time. But usually when the media contact me, the
                    > >reporter(s) has(have) an agenda of some sort.
                    >
                    > I've been interviewed more than once myself. But usually the
                    > author's agenda is to write about Tolkien. Even when they're
                    > biased, that's the agenda.

                    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.

                    But Xenite.Org hardly fosters any sort of Tolkien fandom like our
                    Xena fandom. We sponsor a Webmasters association for Hercules and
                    Xena, and have the Web's largest directory of Hercules and Xena
                    links. We also have other Herc/Xena content, and several forums
                    devoted to those shows and related shows.

                    But I also write a regular Tolkien column (which is late this week).
                    And each time I am mentioned in the press, I get a little more
                    attention. So, you and I are walking different paths, and I'm not
                    surprised to see that we are approached by the media for different
                    reasons.

                    Nonetheless, with all my fan contacts, I've yet to find anything
                    among Tolkien fans which resembles the fan groups devoted to other
                    topics.

                    > >If I get more than a sentence in the final article, I'll be
                    > >pleased. Heck, I'll be pleased if Eric mentions me at all. Will
                    > >I be misquoted? Possibly. But if that happens, it may not be the
                    > >reporter's fault. Sometimes the editor has to make a story fit.
                    > >I suppose you may have run into similar issues in your own
                    > >editing. In college, I sometimes had to trim a story to get it
                    > >into our college paper.
                    >
                    > I've done a lot of editing. I do not believe I've ever misquoted
                    > anybody as a result. Mooney defended what he'd done. He admitted
                    > to no errors except misspelling "Mythprint". So it wasn't his
                    > editor's fault, or he didn't believe the editor had done anything
                    > wrong.

                    Point taken.

                    > >Sales always equal quality in any entertainment medium, and there
                    > >is nothing cultish about the standard. The publishing, film, and
                    > >other entertainment industries have been using sales to measure
                    > >quality for decades.
                    > >
                    > >Literary quality is just another, alternative arbitrary standard
                    > >by which to measure quality. It is no better or worse than sales.
                    >
                    > Eliminate the adjective "literary", and you're saying that quality
                    > is only one method of measuring quality.

                    But I included "literary" deliberately, because by itself "quality"
                    means nothing. Quality is part of a standard, and all standards are
                    arbitrary. You can measure the same thing a hundred different ways,
                    and define a hundred different types of quality.

                    A story is good if people enjoy it. Sales therefore measure
                    quality. A story may also be good if it includes elements which only
                    a select group (even a self-appointed group) of people can identify
                    and appreciate.

                    Quality is not the purview of any one group or standard. It is
                    simply a designation, a rating (something may be of "poor" quality
                    or "good" quality, obviously). We measure quality in different ways,
                    and measuring quality by sales is equally valid with measuring it by,
                    say, the innovativeness of the author's ideas, or by measuring the
                    faithfulness of the author's style to a specific format.

                    A poem may be of poor quality if it is written to emulate the great
                    poems which were written in iambic pentameter, and it fails to use
                    iambic pentameter. But if 1,000,000 people read the poem, know
                    nothing of its author's intent, and love it, then it's a high quality
                    poem.

                    If the work moves its audience and evokes a reaction, it achieves a
                    success. If it sells 1,000,000 copies, it achieves a success. If it
                    makes a point that every reader immediately sees, it achieves a
                    success. If it does none of these things, it fails in many ways.

                    > >If an author like Tolkien sets out to entertain people (and that
                    > >was his goal with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), then
                    > >sales are an important indication of quality.
                    >
                    > They are not. They are a sign that an investigation into quality
                    > should be made.

                    No. Sales are always a valid measure of quality, except in cases
                    where the sales are propagated through misleading advertising. In
                    such circumstances, long-term sales, or sales less returns, are an
                    indication of quality.

                    As I pointed out, they are simply ONE measure of quality.

                    Quality is always defined arbitrarily. The old adage, "one man's
                    junk is another man's treasure", is an indication of how quality is
                    measured differently. Quality is, in fact, a subjective measurement,
                    even if the measurement can be achieved objectively (as through
                    sales).

                    The Sword of Shanarra may be a poorly written book, but it's a
                    bestseller, and therefore is a high quality book. It's just not the
                    kind of book which will inspire people to write reams of literary
                    criticism.


                    > >> I don't follow this reasoning. Shakespeare's defenders aren't
                    > >> defending him on the grounds that he's popular.
                    > >
                    > >Whatever grounds they have for defending him, or whatever it is
                    > >against which they are defending him, doesn't serve to make them
                    > >seem any less cultish than Tolkien's readers.
                    >
                    > I don't follow this at all, any more than I did the first time.

                    That people defend Tolkien doesn't make Tolkien's readers a "cult".
                    By that definition, any author or playwrite's readers would be
                    a "cult".

                    That is the point. Shakespeareans are a cult if Tolkienists are a
                    cult. There can be no exceptions to such a generalization.

                    > >I always say Tolkien doesn't need defense. I merely point out
                    > >that Tolkien has had a greater literary impact in the last
                    > >century than Shakespeare (who has had a greater cinematic impact
                    > >than Tolkien). Usually, these discussions of Tolkien defenses
                    > >only occur with his defenders.
                    > >
                    > >Tolkien DOESN'T need defense or justification. But if people are
                    > >going to insist on defending or justifying him, they shouldn't be
                    > >surprised to see that they have helped to carve out a perspective
                    > >that may not appeal to them.
                    >
                    > Anything that's good that's attacked needs defense. Anything that
                    > can be misunderstood needs justification. See below.

                    Attacks on Tolkien are few, far between, and extremely minor.
                    Millions of people are hyped up about the movies. When I bring up
                    Tolkien in discussion with strangers, they don't dismiss him with
                    contempt.

                    There is simply no need to defend Tolkien because the attacks achieve
                    nothing. It's like a few pea shooters are being used against a tank.

                    If the battle which seems to demand a defense of Tolkien is taking
                    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.

                    > >On the other hand, who am I to say that people shouldn't enjoy
                    > >defending Tolkien. There are people who enjoy defending
                    > >Shakespeare. There ARE people who argue that there was no
                    > >Shakespeare, or that he plagiarized other writers.
                    >
                    > I know of nobody who argues that there was no Shakespeare. I do
                    > 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.

                    > But many people nowadays think Shakespeare is boring. (See, for
                    > example, the prologue section of Al Pacino's film "Looking for
                    > Richard", in which he shows people saying just this, and thereby
                    > packages his film as a defense of Shakespeare.) So what's happened
                    > to the groundlings?

                    Technically, the people Shakespeare wrote for are all dead. That
                    anyone beyond that generation appreciated the Bard's work is a
                    testimony to his skill and general appeal. It's not a fault of
                    today's generation if they don't like their parents' music, any more
                    than it's a fault if they find Shakespeare to be boring.

                    > >> >For better or worse, I believe the popular conception of
                    > >> >Tolkien fandom (if there has been one) will soon change
                    > >> >radically.
                    > >>
                    > >> There will be more of a popular conception, but I don't see that
                    > >> conception changing much at all.
                    > >
                    > >I think you're in for a great surprise, then. Or perhaps a
                    > >disappointment.
                    >
                    > I think you have no idea what I consider the popular conception of
                    > 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.

                    > >Most people don't think of Tolkien as anything other than a good
                    > >or great or popular author. And I only ran into this "Tolkien
                    > >cult" perspective in the last few years, even though I've been
                    > >happily discussing Tolkien and reading Tolkien literature for
                    > >more than 20 years.

                    Restoring the snipped portion:

                    The American campus phenomenon of the 1960s is not a definitive
                    representation of the general appreciation of Tolkien.

                    > And I've been running into the "Tolkien cult" perspective
                    > constantly throughout my experience. I apologize for waving my
                    > Tolkien credentials, but I've been happily discussing Tolkien and
                    > reading Tolkien literature for more than 30 years. I came in at
                    > the end of the 60s Tolkien boom. Perhaps you don't remember that,
                    > but I do (barely). At that time, Tolkien was generally perceived
                    > as just another campus cult author in a long line of
                    > campus cult authors, accompanied and/or preceded by Vonnegut,
                    > Hesse, Golding, and Salinger, in approximate reverse chronological
                    > order.

                    That WAS the 1960s. The "cult" was replaced by a wider audience in
                    the late 1960s and 1970s. The "cult" was just a passing phenomenon.
                    When The Silmarillion was published, it sold 750,000 copies from the
                    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.

                    And there are now archives available on the Web for many news
                    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.


                    > What I cite are mostly media views, and you write of "most people,"
                    > so you may be thinking of man-in-the-street types.

                    I HAVE been careful to distinguish between the two. The media, in
                    general, don't know much about Tolkien's readers. They don't take
                    the time to research Tolkien or his readers. Their perceptions,
                    however, are not consistent.

                    > >So, if a few misguided souls like Mooney view Tolkien's readers as
                    > >a "cult", even if only because they know of a few occasions where
                    > >people dress up as hobbits, they are not going to amount to a
                    hill of
                    > >beans in the big picture.
                    > >
                    > >But the movies will undoubtedly inspire the "cult" which doesn't
                    > >yet exist.
                    >
                    > Actually, the Tolkien cult does exist.

                    I've yet to see any documentation of such a cult. There is certainly
                    no mention of them among the fan groups I'm associated with. The
                    examples you list below are not clearly associated with one another.

                    > But I'm talking about cults in a more limited sense. Students who
                    > read LOTR in the 60s because it was fashionable and for no other
                    > reason - they were cultists in the sense of being mindless
                    > followers of what is generally referred to as a "campus cult
                    > author." Middle-earth communes have existed. I have actually met
                    > people who didn't just wear Tolkien costumes, or even just took
                    > Tolkien characters' names as eponyms, but insisted they
                    > were those characters. (I don't think they were deluded: I think
                    > they were role-playing beyond the call of duty.) Fantasy gaming
                    > is, in a sense, nothing but one big extended Tolkien cult...

                    The difference between a cult and a fad, however, is persistence.
                    And fantasy gaming owes a great deal to other authors, not just
                    Tolkien.

                    We aren't exclusive, so cultism has to be determined by the
                    obsessiveness of the fans. The early obsessions did not take hold.

                    >...And if that seems excessive, consider the strong popularity in
                    > Russia of live-action Tolkien war games.

                    That's twice you've mentioned Russia. The Russians deserve
                    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?

                    But people are not mindless because they watch movies. By that
                    definition, anyone who watched a Greek play in ancient Athens would
                    have been mindless.
                  • David S. Bratman
                    ... I don t know what you think my credentials are, and I suppose I m not sure what the interviewers think they are either. I was referred to Mooney as a
                    Message 9 of 19 , Jun 10, 2001
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                      >At 06:30 AM 6/10/2001 +0000, Michael Martinez wrote:

                      >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.

                      I don't know what you think my credentials are, and I suppose I'm not sure
                      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 anything
                      >among Tolkien fans which resembles the fan groups devoted to other
                      >topics.

                      Well, maybe you have different contacts than I do. I've been, as I
                      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
                      fundament.

                      >That people defend Tolkien doesn't make Tolkien's readers a "cult".
                      >By that definition, any author or playwrite's readers would be
                      >a "cult".
                      >
                      >That is the point. Shakespeareans are a cult if Tolkienists are a
                      >cult. There can be no exceptions to such a generalization.

                      Those who argue that Tolkien is a cult author are not doing so on the
                      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 taking
                      >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.

                      I wasn't talking about academia, but media. But OK, let's talk about
                      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 do
                      >> 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.

                      I know of nobody who argues that more than one author wrote the Shakespeare
                      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 of
                      >> 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.

                      I didn't when I first wrote. I did when I wrote my herein-quoted
                      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 in
                      >the late 1960s and 1970s. The "cult" was just a passing phenomenon.

                      First you say that you never encountered any Tolkien cultism perceptions
                      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 the
                      >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.

                      And many didn't. And I already pointed out that the large sales of what
                      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 news
                      >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.

                      That's one outlet. I could point to others, but why bother?

                      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 certainly
                      >no mention of them among the fan groups I'm associated with. The
                      >examples you list below are not clearly associated with one another.

                      Which is why I won't bother to provide anything else - you won't accept it
                      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 just
                      >Tolkien.

                      Indeed, 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
                      word)."

                      >The Russians deserve
                      >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?

                      Now this is a curious sleight-of-hand argument. The actual existence of a
                      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 that
                      >definition, anyone who watched a Greek play in ancient Athens would
                      >have been mindless.

                      Oh, I never said that. I said, "it's much easier for the mindless to watch
                      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.

                      David Bratman
                    • Michael Martinez
                      ... I think a lot of people fling the phrase Tolkien scholar around without really having any idea of whether there is a correct usage for it. I ve been
                      Message 10 of 19 , Jun 10, 2001
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                        --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
                        >
                        > I don't know what you think my credentials are, and I suppose I'm
                        > not sure 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.

                        I think a lot of people fling the phrase "Tolkien scholar" around
                        without really having any idea of whether there is a correct usage
                        for it. I've been called a Tolkien scholar by many people, but have
                        never claimed to be one myself. I feel that anyone who doesn't go
                        through a peer review process may have all their ducks in a row but
                        is still a bit of a rogue.

                        You, at least, participate in a more formal medium of scholarship
                        than I do. And I don't think reporters come to me because I am
                        a "Tolkien scholar" but rather because I am a "Tolkien writer". At
                        least, that is how I've been portrayed in the news stories that have
                        been brought to my attention ("Writer Michael Martinez says....")

                        I now call myself an essayist, since I write essays and have
                        published a book of essays. I HAVE written some scholarly stuff, and
                        published a little of it, but I feel more comfortable as an outsider.

                        > >Nonetheless, with all my fan contacts, I've yet to find anything
                        > >among Tolkien fans which resembles the fan groups devoted to other
                        > >topics.
                        >
                        > Well, maybe you have different contacts than I do. I've been, as I
                        > 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.

                        Yes, well, I've often enough said you cannot prove a negative. But
                        then, we seem to be referring to two different things. There is
                        nothing in Tolkien fandom today like the groups of Star Wars and Star
                        Trek and Babylon-5 fans who put on specialized conventions with
                        masquerades and bring in actors and writers and producers to speak to
                        them about those created universes.

                        Middle-earth is growing but not in the same way. That process will
                        change.

                        > 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 remember when I first heard of the Mythopoeic Society, but
                        that was many years ago. I joined it for a year around late 1997,
                        IIRC, after a number of people had pressed me to do so for a few
                        years. I contemplated submitting some of my research to Mythlore at
                        the time, as I was publishing some research in other journals (of, I
                        suppose, less stature than Mythlore, but people like my writing).

                        Anyway, I knew of the Mythopoeic Society, and the Tolkien Society,
                        for many years before any of you heard of me. As for why my passion
                        for Tolkien didn't spill into areas you'd have encountered it before,
                        that's a long story that would bore even an Ent. I did not become
                        active in fandom until 1992 or thereabouts, and have only gradually
                        expanded my activity each year as my interests have connected with
                        new topics. And my fandom activities started out small, as a "warm
                        body, bless you" at a small Georgia convention.

                        So, for years, my Tolkien research was limited only to my own
                        pleasure, and occasional debates with friends.

                        > 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.

                        Actually, I agree with you on both points. But the word "quality",
                        like many a good English noun, has long relied upon context for
                        precision, and I did attempt to provide a context when I first
                        started discussing "quality".

                        Quality is always determined by value, and different value sets
                        always apply different ratings of quality to the same things being
                        measured.

                        > >That people defend Tolkien doesn't make Tolkien's readers
                        > >a "cult". By that definition, any author or playwrite's readers
                        > >would be a "cult".
                        > >
                        > >That is the point. Shakespeareans are a cult if Tolkienists are a
                        > >cult. There can be no exceptions to such a generalization.
                        >
                        > Those who argue that Tolkien is a cult author are not doing so on
                        > the 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.

                        I don't lump these things together, however, as I have striven to
                        point out repeatedly. Furthermore, it may not have been your
                        intention to imply that defending Tolkien establishes him as a cult
                        author, but you did write (in response to me):

                        >>I still run into this Tolkien cult
                        >>nonsense and I just dismiss it. And I've pointed out to more than
                        >>one reporter that when Shakespeare outsells Tolkien, I'll take the
                        >>Bard a little more seriously than I have in the past.

                        >That's a clever remark, but unfortunately it's also a cultish
                        >defensive remark.

                        In fact, in following up to you, I stressed the difference between
                        quality measured by sales and literary quality:

                        >Sales always equal quality in any entertainment medium, and there is
                        >nothing cultish about the standard. The publishing, film, and other
                        >entertainment industries have been using sales to measure quality
                        >for decades.

                        >Literary quality is just another, alternative arbitrary standard by
                        >which to measure quality. It is no better or worse than sales.

                        Something is of high quality if it meets some expectation for high
                        quality. A badly written story which sells 1,000,000 copies is a
                        high quality item (in terms of sales). Any major publisher would
                        want more successes like that, regardless of the literary quality of
                        the story.

                        > >Attacks on Tolkien are few, far between, and extremely minor.
                        >
                        > See above about "different contacts." I wish I lived on your
                        > planet.

                        It's called Earth. It does have its share of problems, though, such
                        as occasional condescension in the face of different experiences.

                        > >If the battle which seems to demand a defense of Tolkien is taking
                        > >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.
                        >
                        > I wasn't talking about academia, but media....

                        Yes, I know. I simply dismiss the media's "attacks" on Tolkien,
                        since they aren't taken seriously by most people. The media is
                        generally clueless and laughed at by the Tolkien
                        community. "Generally" applies to both sides of the fence. There
                        are exceptions on both sides.


                        > ...But OK, let's talk about 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.

                        It's all part of the world of academia. I've heard the same attacks
                        pressed against Faulkner and Twain as against Tolkien, and different
                        attacks. And I've seen plenty of defenses. Attack and defense are
                        part of the academic method of "engaging in learned dialogue".
                        Sometimes an attack is well-regarded.

                        I've spent many an hour in a college library, pouring through
                        literary journals, sifting through the overweighted ballyhoos of
                        genteel professors who felt they had discovered something which would
                        lay to rest all prior claims of authenticity or authority about a
                        particular author. They are generally laughed at and derided in the
                        next issue by their colleagues, or at least remonstrated for
                        overlooking vital facts, or discarding entire sections of the
                        relevant texts, etc., etc.

                        Some of these dandified flame wars have also been archived on the
                        Internet, but not many.

                        Every time someone sets pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), they
                        are writing the All-Time Greatest Revelation of True Knowledge. I
                        think the best papers are the parodies that the academics write for
                        their own amusement. As a crusading student I wasn't allowed to see
                        those things, but I knew when the professors were discussing them. I
                        still want to know what one Biologist meant when he exclaimed in the
                        student center one day, "Paradigm! I didn't use that word! @$%
                        ^$^#!!" and he got a round of laughter from his friends.

                        > >> I know of nobody who argues that there was no Shakespeare. I do
                        > >> 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.
                        >
                        > I know of nobody who argues that more than one author wrote the
                        > Shakespeare 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.

                        We're drifting into differences of abstractions here. I use a very
                        stringent rule of applicability with my terminology, undoubtedly
                        because my computer science and mathematics professors drummed
                        technical correctness into me. The study of literature doesn't
                        demand precision the way abstract sciences do.

                        > >> I think you have no idea what I consider the popular conception
                        > >> of 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.
                        >
                        > I didn't when I first wrote. I did when I wrote my herein-quoted
                        > reply. My statements were a response to your elaboration of your
                        > view...

                        I hadn't explained my view, let alone elaborated on it. I was, in
                        fact, rather glibly referring to my view without explaining it,
                        chiefly because I haven't been able to spend much time on the Net for
                        the past couple of weeks. If I had more time, I could write more
                        concisely and perhaps would need to do less explaining.

                        > But I should have phrased this differently: perhaps "I think we
                        > have entirely different ideas of what the popular conception of
                        > Tolkien is."

                        I can agree with that.

                        > >That WAS the 1960s. The "cult" was replaced by a wider audience
                        > >in the late 1960s and 1970s. The "cult" was just a passing
                        > > phenomenon.
                        >
                        > First you say that you never encountered any Tolkien cultism
                        > perceptions until quite recently. Now you say that the 1960s cult
                        > doesn't count.

                        And I am hardly contradicting myself. I didn't discover Tolkien
                        until 1975, and at the time I was very involved with people in the
                        commune movement who said things like, "Oh, yeah, Tolkien. I read
                        him in the 60s." Not that I was an expert on communes and Tolkien
                        fads, but he just wasn't getting that much attention in 1975.

                        > I wasn't just talking about the 1960s. My examples were largely
                        > from the 1970s and 80s, and are still valid today.

                        So, on which campuses is Tolkien still a college phenomenon? I've
                        got quite a few college contacts, still. I haven't heard of any
                        Tolkien raves in at least the last 20 years.

                        You're being very broad and generic, and nothing you say in that
                        respect will convince me there is some sort of Tolkien cult craze
                        going on. The college crowds are into things like Anime, gaming,
                        Harry Potter, Xena, Babylon-5, etc.

                        People from all over the world (including the United States) contact
                        me every day. I hear from a lot of Tolkien fans. They just fail to
                        mention how their lives have been affected by Tolkien (in any of the
                        ways you refer to). I don't hear from as many Wiccans as I used to
                        (which I deem to be fortunate, as I always felt badly for them when I
                        explained that Andre Norton's Witch World novels have nothing to do
                        with Wicca, except for possibly a few borrowings of concepts).

                        Admittedly, a cult phenomenon doesn't have to have any connection to
                        the Internet. But I'm actively promoting a book about Tolkien and
                        Middle-earth. I sat in a bookstore yesterday and talked to people
                        about my book, Tolkien, the upcoming movies, etc., etc. Saw no sign
                        of any cult (as in any sort of obsessive interest in Tolkien). A LOT
                        of people knew Tolkien. Many were still surprised to hear that
                        movies are coming out.

                        But the most obsessive comment I heard from anyone was, "I'm still
                        getting the soundtrack for Princess Mononoke" (this said to a
                        boyfriend).

                        I'm looking for the Tolkien cultists, actually. They might buy my
                        book. :)

                        If they are out there, they are very few in number, and they are NOT
                        the people the media have in mind when they glibly dismiss Tolkien's
                        readers as a "cult". The Tolkien cult to which I have referred is
                        the imaginary cult the media goes looking for. They are looking for
                        the dedicated fan groups like the Klingons, Storm Troopers, and
                        Federation officers that are shown on television.

                        Such people just are not a part of today's SF fandom. If ever they
                        were, they were just participating in something which has now faded
                        into the past.

                        > >When The Silmarillion was published, it sold 750,000 copies from
                        > >the 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.
                        >
                        > And many didn't. And I already pointed out that the large sales of
                        > what 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.

                        Then we're back to the point I made: if we are a Tolkien cult, then
                        every Shakespearean is part of a Shakespearean cult. Every Norman
                        Mailer fan, every person who looks forward to the next Jack Ryan
                        novel is a member of some sort of cult. These people are obsessed.

                        And we don't need to dwell on it. Which is why I dismiss it when the
                        media approaches me looking for contacts in the "cult". I don't have
                        any. I can put them into contact with thousands of Tolkien fans,
                        many of whom have never heard of me. I can't put the media into
                        contact with any obsessive fans who comprise some sort of popular
                        cult. I don't know anyone like that, I don't know OF anyone like
                        that.

                        > 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".

                        The word is used mostly of religious beliefs and practices. It is
                        also applicable to obsessive behavior. SF fandom has a lot of
                        obsessive groups. I have seen how Klingons can argue about honor and
                        loyalty for days on end. They are very politically aligned, too.
                        Just like the Klingons portrayed on television.

                        What do Tolkien fans obsess about? The linguists, I suppose, come
                        closest to meeting that criterion. But they don't strike me as being
                        any more cultish about Tolkien than a typical historian. That is,
                        the best Tolkien linguists seem to be pretty well-grounded in
                        historical languages.

                        [Re: NYT reviews, as 1 outlet of many, don't refer to any Tolkien
                        cult]

                        > How many volumes of "The History of Middle-earth" did the NYT
                        > review?

                        1 or 2

                        http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/02/11/specials/tolkien.html

                        > >I've yet to see any documentation of such a cult. There is
                        > >certainly no mention of them among the fan groups I'm associated
                        > >with. The examples you list below are not clearly associated
                        > >with one another.
                        >
                        > Which is why I won't bother to provide anything else - you won't
                        > accept it if you see it.

                        I would accept anything verifiable.

                        > >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.

                        Tolkien's popularity, however, is not a cult. The cult you allege
                        exists is supposedly only a subset of Tolkien's readers: members of
                        communes, people dressing up as Hobbits, etc.

                        Just because someone says there is a cult doesn't mean there is. If
                        there IS a cult, it shouldn't be hard to find. The cultists weren't
                        exactly beating down our doors to get into Dragoncon's Tolkien and
                        Middle-earth track last year, and I haven't heard from them yet
                        (unless we're going to call the linguists cultists -- I can agree to
                        that, though I don't mean to be condescending toward them).

                        I could use a few costumed hobbits and rangers.

                        > >The Russians deserve
                        > >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?
                        >
                        > Now this is a curious sleight-of-hand argument.

                        Is it always your response to be insulting and inflammatory when you
                        cannot get your own way? We WERE talking about the media, and no one
                        bothered to suggest that we were discussing the Russian media, so
                        it's hardly "sleight-of-hand" to try and keep the reference to the
                        media who have contacted you and me. I believe the people who most
                        upset you recently were American Prospect, were they not? And how
                        closely associated is the New York Times with Russia?

                        > The actual existence of a 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.

                        Then what the heck have you have been arguing on about? I merely
                        pointed out that I don't cater to media perceptions about a Tolkien
                        cult.

                        > You go further and say there
                        > is no cult at all. Alexei and I point out that there is.

                        But not where we've been talking about. If you have to go so far
                        afield to find a Tolkien cult, then perhaps you should stop and
                        consider whether it's really worth arguing over.

                        > >But people are not mindless because they watch movies. By that
                        > >definition, anyone who watched a Greek play in ancient Athens
                        > >would have been mindless.
                        >
                        > Oh, I never said that. I said, "it's much easier for the mindless
                        > to watch a movie than read a book." That doesn't make all viewers
                        > mindless.

                        Nonetheless, it does imply rather strongly that you feel qualified to
                        label as mindless some unspecified mass of people who watch movies
                        rather than read books.

                        I take a dim view of people who resort to quick and easy insults.

                        It's better to say you disagree with someone else, than to imply
                        you're better than they are simply because you don't agree with them.
                      • David S. Bratman
                        Michael Martinez - It s too difficult to try to make two superficially contradictory points at the same time: that the media is wrong in claiming that Tolkien
                        Message 11 of 19 , Jun 10, 2001
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                          Michael Martinez -

                          It's too difficult to try to make two superficially contradictory points at
                          the same time: that the media is wrong in claiming that Tolkien fans form a
                          Tolkien cult, and that there is in fact such a thing as a Tolkien cult. So
                          I basically give up. Most of the places where you're puzzled by what I
                          write result from confusion between these points. That's particularly the
                          case where you get so upset by my reference to the Russians, but it comes
                          up over and over again in your latest. I'm arguing point A, and you
                          respond as if I was arguing point B. This may be partially my fault. But
                          gee, when I talk about attitudes towards bestsellers that are strongly
                          looked down upon by critics, that does not lead us back to your point about
                          Shakespeare, because he isn't strongly looked down upon by critics. So I
                          don't think it's entirely my fault.

                          The media perception of a Tolkien cult, after the 60s and before now, is
                          not a campus phenomenon. I gave specific examples of what I was referring
                          to in an earlier post. I was not being "broad and generic."

                          I said before, and will repeat it: academic arguments over the value of
                          (e.g.) Faulkner and Twain are not the same thing as general dismissal, in
                          certain circles, of Tolkien as critically valueless. The kind of flame
                          wars you describe are entirely different from this. Just to give one
                          example: when "Ulysses" topped one oft-noted list of the greatest novels of
                          the 20th century (as I recall), there was no Germaine Greer to say that
                          this was the embodiment of her nightmare.

                          No doubt, for every esteemed author, there is some academic somewhere so
                          high-minded as to scoff at anyone interested in that author. And there is
                          no author so "low" that some junior-college professor, at the very least,
                          won't write an article discussing that author. But it takes a particular
                          combination of non-academic popularity and high-academic disdain to
                          generate the kind of dismissal to which I refer, and which Staci Dumoski,
                          for instance, took for granted in her post setting forth a query about
                          whether Tolkien's own academic standing had anything to do with it. (An
                          interesting question, Staci, and I wish I had time to address it now.)

                          In today's New York Times, composer Bruce Beresford is described as having
                          purchased "four discs of music by one of his favorite composers, Alan
                          Hovhaness. 'But don't make too much of that,' he said of the Hovhaness,
                          laughing. 'The classical music establishment doesn't think much of him.'"

                          That's the sort of dismissal I'm referring to, and Hovhaness is very
                          similar to Tolkien both in the nature of his mixed reputations, and the
                          nature of his work that leads to those reputations. I'd love to talk about
                          that sometime, but I don't have time to embark on that right now.

                          Lastly, sir, I would advise you very strongly to look to your own house
                          before you go around accusing people of being insulting, inflammatory, and
                          most of all implying that they feel qualified to label things and that
                          they're better than someone else.

                          David Bratman
                        • Michael Martinez
                          ... [snip] Your penchant for reinventing history is the chief cause of your frustration. If you would not reword everything I say (especially in such a
                          Message 12 of 19 , Jun 11, 2001
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                            --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
                            > Michael Martinez -
                            >
                            > It's too difficult to try to make two superficially contradictory
                            > points at the same time: that the media is wrong in claiming that
                            > Tolkien fans form a Tolkien cult, and that there is in fact such a
                            > thing as a Tolkien cult. So I basically give up. Most of the
                            > places where you're puzzled by what I write result from confusion
                            > between these points.


                            [snip]

                            Your penchant for reinventing history is the chief cause of your
                            frustration. If you would not reword everything I say (especially in
                            such a misleading fashion), you'd find it easier to communicate with
                            me, not to mention understand what I write, since you wouldn't be
                            scoping out what you try to write for me.

                            Try being less hostile, antagonistic, and condescending toward others
                            and you'll find you'll get a better response from people who don't
                            believe your sweeping generalizations.
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