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Re: Article on Tolkien in _Salon_

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  • 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 1 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 2 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.


        Yahoo! Groups Sponsor



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

        Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.



        [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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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 7 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 8 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 9 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 10 of 19 , Jun 11, 2001
                      • 0 Attachment
                        --- 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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