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Re: Tolkien as literature?

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  • Michael Martinez
    I don t think his uneven style is due to any flaw in his writing ability. Tolkien understood he was creating a work unlike any previously published. He
    Message 1 of 3 , Sep 30, 2001
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      I don't think his uneven style is due to any flaw in his writing
      ability. Tolkien understood he was creating a work unlike any
      previously published. He needed to keep the reader's attention
      fresh, and one way of doing that is to juggle the mood, tone, and
      pace of the story. Tolkien invested more time in some chapters than
      some authors devote to entire books. This was a man who decided
      that "Bingo" wasn't as good a name-o as "Frodo" (please forgive the
      pun).

      In the reader's experience, what difference should THAT make? Bingo,
      Frodo, Odo, Lotho -- they all sound alike. Of course, in retrospect,
      we can say, "Yes, Tolkien made the right choice." But he made that
      choice long after starting the book. Bingo was all over those first
      chapters. THE LORD OF THE RINGS took 11 years to write. Tolkien
      invested another 3 years (give or take) in editing what he had
      rewritten, polishing it. He even filled the galley proofs with
      comments, corrections, and additions. I'm the sure the typesetters
      wanted to shoot him.

      But that was a skilled master practicing his craft. Although he
      stumbled in the final composition of the Silmarillion texts, never
      got the dang stuff out the door, there did come a day when he signed
      off on LoTR, imperfections and all. Tolkien used idiom like a
      delicate weapon or a fine tool. Few people could lob double entendre
      throughout a story the way Tolkien does, and sometimes he seems to
      triple the entendres.

      I think Tom Shippey was right when he said that some of the critics
      just don't get it. Tolkien put the story first. So, I agree that
      the writing was subservient to the story-telling. But I don't
      believe you'll find another writer from the 20th century who
      possessed the combination of skill, training, and intuition that
      Tolkien brings to the printed page. There have been darned few
      philologists, and most of them never even tried to write fiction, let
      alone a work which was so compelling that they couldn't leave it
      alone through 17 years. And, to my knowledge, Tolkien is the only
      philologist ever to devise an entire mythology and world to go with
      that mythology, devoting almost his entire life to the task.

      In Tolkien's view, there is a story behind every word. He chose his
      words carefully. He may have made choices which he later regretted,
      or which others coming after him are puzzled by, but at the time his
      choices were carefully made. The snooziest portion of THE HISTORY OF
      MIDDLE-EARTH has to be those four middle books, particularly THE
      RETURN OF THE SHADOW and THE TREASON OF ISENGARD, where we get the
      same stuff over and over again, slightly revised. I'm glad we have
      those texts to appreciate. But they speak volumes about the
      demanding nature of the writer behind the storyteller.
    • Trudy Shaw
      ... From: Michael Martinez To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Sunday, September 30, 2001 10:36 PM Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Tolkien as literature? I don t think
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 1, 2001
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        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Michael Martinez
        To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Sunday, September 30, 2001 10:36 PM
        Subject: [mythsoc] Re: Tolkien as literature?


        I don't think his uneven style is due to any flaw in his writing
        ability. Tolkien understood he was creating a work unlike any
        previously published...


        --Yes, each style use is consciously chosen (the reason I had "uneven" in quotes).


        I think Tom Shippey was right when he said that some of the critics
        just don't get it. Tolkien put the story first. So, I agree that
        the writing was subservient to the story-telling. But I don't
        believe you'll find another writer from the 20th century who
        possessed the combination of skill, training, and intuition that
        Tolkien brings to the printed page.


        --Thank you! For anyone who found my rambling unclear, just read Michael's post, as he's saying what I was trying to. Many "literary critics" are looking at such specific things that they miss the overall picture. Their definition of writing quality is limited to "literary elements," whatever they might be. Tolkien's "...combination of skill, training, and intuition" isn't something they're used to dealing with. They "just don't get it," certainly.

        --Trudy Shaw





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