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Re: canon (again)

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  • jchristopher@tarleton.edu
    ... After further checking, I think the article I read was by the same person as he who wrote the book: Jonathan Brody Kramnick, The Making of the English
    Message 1 of 10 , Sep 12, 2001
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      >Message: 1
      > Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 06:24:35 -0700
      > From: rbryant42@...
      >Subject: Tolkien, Shakespeare, et al
      >
      >
      >With all this discussion of Professor Tolkien's perceived stature among
      >his literary fellows going on, it occurs to me that one might well ask
      >how much of academic interest is shaped by fashion.
      >
      >Are there any good sources about, for example, exactly how and why
      >Shakespeare's perceived stature among academics and literati evolved from
      >"uninspired popular hack" in the 18th century, to "The Greatest" over the
      >span of the 19th? I'm not an expert in the general critical literature,
      >but perhaps some of the Society folk here are, and could recommend some
      >biblographic references.
      >
      >I suspect strongly that such sources might contain some interesting clues
      >as to how the future may treat with JRRT's literary persona ...
      >
      >
      >Under the Mercy,
      >
      > Ron
      >________________

      After further checking, I think the article I read was by the same person
      as he who wrote the book: Jonathan Brody Kramnick, "The Making of the
      English Canon," _PMLA_ 112.5 (Oct. 1997): 1087-1101.

      --Joe
    • David S. Bratman
      This question, of how uncanonical Tolkien is, has come up before. I was pleased (if that s the word) to see the CHE article Ted posted, because it s direct
      Message 2 of 10 , Sep 12, 2001
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        This question, of how uncanonical Tolkien is, has come up before. I was
        pleased (if that's the word) to see the CHE article Ted posted, because
        it's direct testimony to the point. All five of the people quoted in the
        article are front-line academics who have been out there trying to teach
        Tolkien's works and put them in the canon: if they say their fellow
        academics are strongly in opposition, I'm inclined to believe them.

        Michael M. asks, where's the written evidence of this as a current
        phenomenon? It's a reasonable question. The problem is, though, that
        academics who don't think Tolkien is worth discussing will -- mostly
        refrain from discussing him. The evidence is more to be found in its
        absence than in its presence. Most of the active academic despising of
        Tolkien is probably going on in curriculum meetings and informal
        conversations, rather than in anti-T's sitting down and writing anti-T
        articles.

        I do have two pieces of evidence - a definite absence and a strong
        criticism - of recent origin that I think are appropriate to this point.
        Unfortunately I have neither of these in front of me, and couldn't verify
        soon anyway. But I think I remember them pretty well.

        1) A couple years ago I found a large and comprehensive encyclopedia of
        English literature - I _think_ it was "The Oxford Companion to English
        Literature" ed. by Margaret Drabble (rev. 1998), but I don't remember for
        sure - that included Charles Williams, but omitted both Tolkien and Lewis.
        It included a lot of other names of less than household use too, so the
        absence of Tolkien was even more striking.

        2) Harold Bloom, surely the top literary canon-maker of our time, has
        edited two books on Tolkien in his various series of critical essay
        anthologies. These came out last year. This might appear as evidence that
        he puts Tolkien in the canon, but these series are very large and include
        many authors of interest for reasons other than canonicity. Bloom's
        prefaces are basically devoted to deismissing Tolkien's literary
        importance: he's there more as a cultural artifact, because other people
        think he's important. Bloom yearns for them to come to their senses. It's
        here that he writes the line quoted by Chris Mooney, "Sometimes, reading
        Tolkien, I am reminded of the Book of Mormon." (I wonder if Bloom has
        actually read the Book of Mormon, or even LOTR, all the way through. I've
        read both, as it happens. I find the comparison highly strained and
        tendentious.) This is part of a paragraph which, I'm pretty sure, is what
        the CHE article was referring to where it says that critics dismiss Tolkien
        as "not to mention, badly written" (to answer John Meyers' question).

        I've read Dan Timmons' thesis. He's right about one thing: dislike for
        Tolkien is nowhere near universal, even among higher literati, and Tolkien
        has always had his heavy-weight admirers. But by toting up the numbers of
        pro- and anti-Tolkien articles he doesn't take into account the fact that
        the anti-T's are likely to write less about him. The near-complete absence
        of articles on Tolkien in major literary journals or by members of major
        English departments is striking, and telling. Dan also, as I recall, does
        not give weight to the way in which the anti-T's don't just politely
        disagree, but impugn the taste of the pro-T's. (Example: Edmund Wilson
        declaring that Auden must have a life-long taste for juvenile trash.) And
        as I recall, Dan is just discussing published articles, and does not
        consider what academics might say privately: the CHE article does. He's
        out to accomplish something a bit different (and more subtle) than address
        the point of whether Tolkien is canonical or not.

        David Bratman
      • WendellWag@aol.com
        In a message dated 9/12/01 6:51:24 PM Eastern Daylight Time, ... I have a copy of the 1998 edition of _The Oxford Companion to English Literature_ and Tolkien
        Message 3 of 10 , Sep 12, 2001
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          In a message dated 9/12/01 6:51:24 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
          dbratman@... writes:


          > 1) A couple years ago I found a large and comprehensive encyclopedia of
          > English literature - I _think_ it was "The Oxford Companion to English
          > Literature" ed. by Margaret Drabble (rev. 1998), but I don't remember for
          > sure - that included Charles Williams, but omitted both Tolkien and Lewis.
          > It included a lot of other names of less than household use too, so the
          > absence of Tolkien was even more striking.
          >
          >

          I have a copy of the 1998 edition of _The Oxford Companion to English
          Literature_ and Tolkien is indeed mentioned. There's an entry for Tolkien
          that's a paragraph long and he also gets a paragraph and a half in the long
          article on Fantasy.

          Wendell Wagner


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        • David S. Bratman
          Then it must have been something else, and somewhere in infinite time I might be able to track it down. But it was a major, comprehensive encyclopedia and
          Message 4 of 10 , Sep 13, 2001
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            Then it must have been something else, and somewhere in infinite time I
            might be able to track it down. But it was a major, comprehensive
            encyclopedia and Tolkien was very strikingly not included.

            David Bratman


            >At 08:07 PM 9/12/2001 , Wendell Wagner wrote:
            >In a message dated 9/12/01 6:51:24 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
            >dbratman@... writes:
            >
            >
            >> 1) A couple years ago I found a large and comprehensive encyclopedia of
            >> English literature - I _think_ it was "The Oxford Companion to English
            >> Literature" ed. by Margaret Drabble (rev. 1998), but I don't remember for
            >> sure - that included Charles Williams, but omitted both Tolkien and Lewis.
            >> It included a lot of other names of less than household use too, so the
            >> absence of Tolkien was even more striking.
            >>
            >>
            >
            >I have a copy of the 1998 edition of _The Oxford Companion to English
            >Literature_ and Tolkien is indeed mentioned. There's an entry for Tolkien
            >that's a paragraph long and he also gets a paragraph and a half in the long
            >article on Fantasy.
            >
            >Wendell Wagner
          • Michael Martinez
            ... that ... its ... despising of ... anti-T ... I appreciate your examples, even though one is tentative. However, I have found that there are more academics
            Message 5 of 10 , Sep 13, 2001
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              --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
              > Michael M. asks, where's the written evidence of this as a current
              > phenomenon? It's a reasonable question. The problem is, though,
              that
              > academics who don't think Tolkien is worth discussing will -- mostly
              > refrain from discussing him. The evidence is more to be found in
              its
              > absence than in its presence. Most of the active academic
              despising of
              > Tolkien is probably going on in curriculum meetings and informal
              > conversations, rather than in anti-T's sitting down and writing
              anti-T
              > articles.

              I appreciate your examples, even though one is tentative. However, I
              have found that there are more academics today, who not only
              appreciate Tolkien but actually teach him, than there were twenty
              years ago when I was in college and doing Tolkien research. When I
              proposed doing a paper on THE LORD OF THE RINGS for one of my
              classes, my professor thought I was talking about THE LORD OF THE
              FLIES.

              I have been contacted by too many teachers and librarians through the
              years, who want their students to use my research materials, to
              believe that Tolkien is being snubbed on any large scale by the
              present generation. These teachers and librarians represent a
              generation which grew up with Tolkien but little or no supportive,
              serious Tolkien criticism. They are working to change that, along
              with the growing number of university teaching staff who continue to
              lobby for more Tolkien classes.

              Our generation is, as it were, correcting the oversights or
              overreactions of the previous generation(s) by teaching students to
              appreciate Tolkien and to see the literary merits of his work. The
              legacy of these teachers, libarians, and professors will be another
              generation of teachers, librarians, and professors whose numbers will
              exceed the previous generations.

              It's easy enough for many people to like Tolkien. I believe the
              flame of literary credibility was lit years ago and has only been
              increasing in intensity with a quiet yet resolute pace.
            • David S. Bratman
              ... Indeed, and I wouldn t want to paint an all-black picture any more than an all-white one. After all, there are those five Tolkien-enthusiastic academics
              Message 6 of 10 , Sep 13, 2001
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                At 06:30 AM 9/13/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:

                >I appreciate your examples, even though one is tentative. However, I
                >have found that there are more academics today, who not only
                >appreciate Tolkien but actually teach him, than there were twenty
                >years ago when I was in college and doing Tolkien research.

                Indeed, and I wouldn't want to paint an all-black picture any more than an
                all-white one. After all, there are those five Tolkien-enthusiastic
                academics in the CHE article. And even if they were the only ones, which
                is far from the case, that'd still be something. And consider all the
                intelligent studies of Tolkien out there, even from academic presses -
                though mostly ones known for their popular-culture work. Even with the
                numerous posthumous works added in, the shelf of Tolkien's books is still
                shorter than the shelf of books about him, and that's rare for any prose
                author.

                You are also quite right that the situation is improving, as it has for
                other authors of what's perceived as popular or lowbrow fiction. But part
                of that is due to an increased opinion in academia that even bad authors
                are worth studying as examples of the history of taste. And more
                importantly, the increased academic interest in sf/fantasy in particular is
                still going on mostly at smaller and less prestigious colleges. I have
                even seen C.S. Lewis criticism, which contains some very fine works,
                dismissed contemptuously because it mostly comes from professors at such
                schools. And the disdain, even among some small-school people, is still
                there and still very strong and very contemptuous. And journalists like
                Chris Mooney still believe in giving anti-Tolkienists equal time.

                As long as it's clearly understood that there's still a great deal of chill
                out there, I will gladly assent to the proposition that many academics do
                rate Tolkien highly, more of them do than used to, and that it will
                probably continue to improve. You put it very well:

                >It's easy enough for many people to like Tolkien. I believe the
                >flame of literary credibility was lit years ago and has only been
                >increasing in intensity with a quiet yet resolute pace.

                David Bratman
              • Trudy Shaw
                ... From: David S. Bratman To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2001 3:55 PM Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: canon (again) At 06:30 AM
                Message 7 of 10 , Sep 14, 2001
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                  ----- Original Message -----
                  From: David S. Bratman
                  To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                  Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2001 3:55 PM
                  Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: canon (again)


                  At 06:30 AM 9/13/2001 , Michael Martinez wrote:



                  As long as it's clearly understood that there's still a great deal of chill
                  out there, I will gladly assent to the proposition that many academics do
                  rate Tolkien highly, more of them do than used to, and that it will
                  probably continue to improve. You put it very well:

                  >It's easy enough for many people to like Tolkien. I believe the
                  >flame of literary credibility was lit years ago and has only been
                  >increasing in intensity with a quiet yet resolute pace.

                  David Bratman


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

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


                  Does anyone here have knowledge about a difference between the U.S. and England as far as Tolkien's literary acceptance? I've heard he's less accepted by English academics than by those in the U.S., but I've never seen any details. Is most of the positive criticism people have mentioned on this thread from U.S. academics?
                  -- Trudy



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                • WendellWag@aol.com
                  In a message dated 9/14/01 9:49:52 AM Eastern Daylight Time, ... It should be easy enough for us to list all the living academic types who have written
                  Message 8 of 10 , Sep 14, 2001
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                    In a message dated 9/14/01 9:49:52 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
                    tgshaw@... writes:


                    > Does anyone here have knowledge about a difference between the U.S. and
                    > England as far as Tolkien's literary acceptance? I've heard he's less
                    > accepted by English academics than by those in the U.S., but I've never
                    > seen any details. Is most of the positive criticism people have mentioned
                    > on this thread from U.S. academics?
                    >

                    It should be easy enough for us to list all the living academic types who
                    have written academic papers and books on Tolkien. This list might be
                    several dozen people, but not several hundred. Why don't we try to do this
                    right now, and compare the attitudes displayed by these people and what
                    country they come from? For this purpose, let's only including people who
                    are a) living, b) either teach in literature departments or have a literature
                    Ph.D. (or just possibly, as a longtime reviewer for a literary journal, have
                    significant respect within the academic community), and c) have written
                    either an academic paper or a book on Tolkien. For each such person, what
                    country do they come from and currently live in and are they positive or
                    negative about Tolkien? (I don't want to include people who aren't
                    literature academics who have written on Tolkien, even though some of them
                    have written better on Tolkien than the academic types, since the point of
                    this is to determine the academic response to Tolkien.) I have to leave for
                    work right now, so I can't check my collection of Tolkien criticism till
                    tonight, but I should be able to add to this tonight.

                    This isn't a survey of the inner feelings of all literature types, of course
                    (which we could only do by pounding on every door in every English department
                    in the world and demanding the person there tell us what they think about
                    Tolkien, but it would be a useful survey of significant published statements
                    of academics on Tolkien.

                    Wendell Wagner


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                  • David S. Bratman
                    ... The one hard datum I have is that much more Tolkien scholarship is written by Americans than by Brits. I grabbed a handy list of books on Tolkien and
                    Message 9 of 10 , Sep 14, 2001
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                      At 05:50 AM 9/14/2001 , Trudy wrote:

                      > Does anyone here have knowledge about a difference between the U.S. and
                      >England as far as Tolkien's literary acceptance? I've heard he's less
                      >accepted by English academics than by those in the U.S., but I've never seen
                      >any details. Is most of the positive criticism people have mentioned on this
                      >thread from U.S. academics?

                      The one hard datum I have is that much more Tolkien scholarship is written
                      by Americans than by Brits. I grabbed a handy list of books on Tolkien and
                      found that, of 27 scholarly books whose authors' nationalities I knew
                      offhand, 9 were by U.K. or Commonwealth authors and 18 by Americans. (That
                      was most of the scholarly books, and of course there are many other books
                      on Tolkien, the bulk of which are also by Americans, I think.) A C.S.
                      Lewis checklist would probably have an even greater disparity.

                      Many factors could have caused this. The U.S. is a much more populous
                      country than the U.K., it has (I think) more academic scholars per capita,
                      the "publish or perish" tradition is stronger here, and there's more of a
                      tradition of studying popular culture. Even if factoring those out still
                      shows more American scholarly interest in Tolkien, it only indicates that
                      the liking is more intense here than there, not that the dislike is
                      necessarily less intense.

                      Still, my guess is that the acceptance is indeed greater, and the dislike
                      less intense, in American academic circles than in British ones.

                      I'm not sure if that applies to non-academic popularity, though. LOTR
                      topped repeated British polls as the most popular novel of the 20th
                      century. It would surely do well in American polls, too, but I'd guess not
                      nearly _that_ well. But that's a guess only: there may well have been such
                      polls, but I haven't seen them.

                      I'd be very interested in Michael Martinez's take on this, particularly the
                      last point. Michael, what do you think?

                      David Bratman
                    • Michael Martinez
                      ... I have only recently begun to wonder about whether there is a disparity in academic treatment of Tolkien between the UK and the US. I don t have the
                      Message 10 of 10 , Sep 14, 2001
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                        --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
                        > I'm not sure if that applies to non-academic popularity, though.
                        > LOTR topped repeated British polls as the most popular novel of
                        > the 20th century. It would surely do well in American polls, too,
                        > but I'd guess not nearly _that_ well. But that's a guess only:
                        > there may well have been such polls, but I haven't seen them.
                        >
                        > I'd be very interested in Michael Martinez's take on this,
                        > particularly the last point. Michael, what do you think?

                        I have only recently begun to wonder about whether there is a
                        disparity in academic treatment of Tolkien between the UK and the
                        US. I don't have the resources handy to do even a quick comparison.
                        I agree that your 27 examples don't paint the whole picture, but I
                        know virtually nothing of how the UK educational system treats
                        scholarship.

                        As for American polls, the one I can think of which comes closest to
                        matching your description would be an online poll conducted in the
                        news groups a few years ago (I mean it was conducted across an
                        extensive selection of news groups). IIRC, something like 100,000
                        people voted in it (I could be confusing my polls, however) and
                        Tolkien came out 1st.
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