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Harold Bloom

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  • David S. Bratman
    The question was posed uptopic: does anybody with literary reputation today actually claim that Tolkien is badly written? And the answer was given, Harold
    Message 1 of 32 , Sep 26, 2001
      The question was posed uptopic: does anybody with literary reputation today
      actually claim that Tolkien is badly written?

      And the answer was given, "Harold Bloom does." But no exact quotation was
      available.

      Now I have acquired it. This is from his very short introduction to the
      collection of reprinted essays, "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings"
      (Chelsea House, 2000).

      > I am fond of _The Hobbit_, which is rarely pretentious, but _The
      > Lord of the Rings_ seems to me inflated, over-written, tendentious,
      > and moralistic in the extreme. Is it not a giant Period Piece? ...
      > Tolkien's style [is] stiff, false-archaic, over-wrought, and finally
      > a real hindrance in Volume III, which I have had trouble rereading.

      Then he gives a quote from it, "pretty much at random." He gives no more
      specific citation, but it's the next-to-last paragraph of Book 5 chapter 8:
      four sentences, three of them compound, all beginning with "And", from the
      peroration of Aragorn's entrance into Minas Tirith.

      > I am not able to understand how a skilled and mature reader can
      > absorb about fifteen hundred pages of this quaint stuff. ... What
      > justifies the heavy King James Bible influence upon this style?
      > Sometimes, reading Tolkien, I am reminded of the Book of Mormon.
      > Tolkien met a need, particularly in the early days of the Counter-
      > culture, in the later 1960's. Whether he is an author for the
      > coming century seems to me open to some doubt.

      This is a truly amazing paragraph.

      First, notice how the "real hindrance" of part of the book has now become
      an indictment that the whole 1500 pages of LOTR is like that, which is
      absurd. Even the paragraphs immediately preceeding the quote aren't like
      that. (Go read them.) Bloom isn't being random, he's deliberately putting
      Tolkien in the worst light he can find. Even quoting out of context like
      that contributes to it: perorations are meant to bear the cumulative weight
      of what comes before. (Imagine listening to the final minute of a
      Beethoven symphony without what came before.)

      Then notice the assumption (reinforced by the Book of Mormon reference)
      that the King James style is a bad style. Whoops, don't tell King James!
      I wonder if Bloom has ever read the Book of Mormon: I have. Its English is
      far less assured than Tolkien's. (I mean no disrespect to LDS members:
      even if the Book of Mormon is Holy Writ, its English translation still had
      to pass through the unliterary mind of Joseph Smith, a point made by LDS
      scholars.)

      Lastly, the fond hope that Tolkien is a fad, a "giant Period Piece" for the
      later 1960's. Maybe if we wait long enough, he'll go away. This is
      exactly what Philip Toynbee was saying in 1961, except that Toynbee was
      referring mostly to fans among the literati; Bloom's reference is to
      popular appeal. Fad books become quaint in five years. LOTR at 45 is more
      popular than ever, and the early Counter-culture, as if Bloom hasn't
      noticed, is not only long gone, it's widely derided - while Tolkien keeps
      on going.

      So there it is: rampant reflexive prejudice and patronage, by a leading
      member of the literary establishment, on paper in the year 2000.

      David Bratman
    • Stolzi@aol.com
      In a message dated 9/30/01 12:11:03 AM Central Daylight Time, ... Homer... Simpson? That warn t me. Are you saying that THE ODYSSEY is more renowned than THE
      Message 32 of 32 , Sep 30, 2001
        In a message dated 9/30/01 12:11:03 AM Central Daylight Time,
        sheik@... writes:

        > I second Diamond's reference to Homer (whoever he was).

        Homer... Simpson? That warn't me.

        Are you saying that THE ODYSSEY is more renowned than THE ILIAD? Would THE
        ODYSSEY count as the sequel, anyway? I dunno.

        Diamond Proudbrook
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