Reasons for Liking Tolkein
November 20, 2001 5:22 AM   Subscribe

Reasons for Liking Tolkein at the London Review of Books. "In his fiction, he created a machine for the evocation of scholarly frisson. The thrills are the thrills of knowledge hidden, knowledge uncovered, knowledge that slips away... what Freud called the 'the uncanny': 'the over-accentuation of psychical reality in comparison with material reality'. Isn't that what being a bookish adolescent is all about?"
posted by rory (16 comments total)
Wierd. Weiner. Tolkien. [sigh] [must be more constructive. Ah, a related link.]
posted by thijsk at 6:38 AM on November 20, 2001

Nonesuch finds a parable for our times in Tolkien, in the shift from a "multicultural Middle Earth" to a world where "Little by little everyone dresses the same. The music, once so exotic and different, all infiltrates and influences itself into a single, annoying and dissatisfying blandness. A new 'common culture' is expected to emerge, but no one can tell what it is or where it might be. There is only the working for trinkets. Everyone feels a deep seated alienation although no one is allowed to ask why."
posted by ferris at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2001

Interesting link, thijsk. I think the author doesn't quite understand where Tolkien was coming from with the poetry in Lord of the Rings. I mean really-- criticizing Pippin's bath song for not being, what, grand enough? Tolkien was trying to create a whole new world where poetry and song were still alive with the culture. Often the point was that it wasn't grand.
posted by owen at 7:14 AM on November 20, 2001

Apologies, thijsk, I must have lost my Tolkien Spelling Module in the great Hard Drive Crash of '85.
posted by rory at 7:43 AM on November 20, 2001

(For a moment there I thought you were saying that Tolkien was a weird wiener, which probably is a constructive comment, given the article.)
posted by rory at 7:46 AM on November 20, 2001

Hang on a minute - hang on - you, thijsk, have brazenly misspelled 'weird' and 'wiener' in your correction of my misspelling of 'Tolkien'. So that's rory 2, thijsk 1. I hereby claim my five dollar book token and free One Ring of Power.
posted by rory at 7:54 AM on November 20, 2001

Good article, overall- it's rare to find articles that are that long/thorough online these days. Or perhaps it's just that I don't have the attention span to wade through them...

This giant, elaborate world that JRRT created, with all its fussy detail, inspired my love for fiction and fantasy, which led to roleplaying, which led to art, which led to me having a job... (and in the end, to Hell for having played D&D)

It was exactly the qualities which critics deride about his work which drew me in. Too fantastical! Too backward-looking! Who would be so geeky as to invent languages for what are essentially children's books on steroids for adults who can't live in the really real world like the rest of us!?! It strikes me as more than a bit funny that literary critics, whose job is to analyze works of creativity the imagination, get their undies up in such a twist when Creativity and Imagination are taken to their logical extreme in Fantasy and Sci-fi...
posted by kahboom at 8:06 AM on November 20, 2001

Though one always wonders about Merry and Pippin, and Legolas the wood-elf's prejudice-busting closeness to Gimli the dwarf.

wonder if there's any slash fiction, but i'm reluctant to peer behind the veil...

btw, here's a c.s. lewis passage i thought echoed tolkien's ideas on sub-creation and secondary worlds:

[t]he heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle…. God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about "parallels" and "pagan Christs": they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren't. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic?

erik davis also recently elaborated on the current state of tolkienism in wired.
posted by kliuless at 9:48 AM on November 20, 2001

There were murmurs and rumours about his lack of productivity, and Shippey has turned up this, from a campus novel called A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart:

'A sad case,' [the Regius Professor] concluded unexpectedly.

'Timbermill's, you mean?'

'Yes, indeed. A notable scholar, it seems. Unchallenged in his field. But he ran off the rails somehow, and produced a long mad book - a kind of apocalyptic romance.'

One might mention that J. I. M. Stewart himself ran off the rails a bit and produced a string of golden-age British murder mysteries (wonderful stuff, too, if Sayers, Allingham, Christie and Marsh are your cup of tea.) Unlike Tolkein, Stewart did apparently feel that popular writing was milk-in-first enough so that he did his murdering under a pseudonym (Michael Innes.)
posted by jfuller at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2001

(Off topic note - I was merely noticing how ie and ei often get switched by English speakers. I like to think I misspelled the examples on purpose. Although I do get half a point for weiner, right?

"The preferred spelling of `weiner' is W-I-E-N-E-R, although E-I is an acceptable ethnic variant." (Martin) )
posted by thijsk at 1:25 AM on November 21, 2001

It's really weird how often I see "wierd" on the web these days.
posted by StOne at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2001

Aren't "weiner" and "wiener" two different words? "Wiener" is Wien-er, someone|thing from Wien, i.e., Vienna. You wouldn't spell that Veinna, would you? That's my mnemonic.
posted by rodii at 9:16 AM on November 21, 2001

You're right, rodii, Wiener is someone/thing from Vienna, and the word 'wiener' derives from that. Like, for example, a schnitzel from Vienna (wienerschnitzel), or a sausage from Vienna (wiener). That's my mnemonic. Cf weiner. As for 'Veinna', that's getting dangerously close to sense number 3...
posted by rory at 2:46 AM on November 22, 2001

(I knew that about "wiener"--I just thought it was obvious that the sausage was called that because it was "from Vienna" in some popularly imagined sense, in the same way that a frankfurter is "from Frankfurt" and a hamburger is "from Hamburg." "Weiner" would seem to mean "wine-er," but it doesn't seem to be a word in German.)
posted by rodii at 9:15 AM on November 22, 2001

I'm sure you're right. A 'wiener' should really mean a kind of coffee or cake. Or a... [ring, ring] (excuse me) Hello? Who? The Topic Drift Police? Yes, I know, but... well look, it is related to Tolkein - see? I did it again! Ha! Ha! Ha... no. You're right. Frivolous waste of time, in a thread that nobody's reading any more. Sorry. I'll stop now, officer. Goodbye.

So. How about that J R R Tolkien guy, huh? What kind of middle name is 'Reuel', anyway?
posted by rory at 12:13 PM on November 22, 2001

I thought it was "Rueul"...

posted by rodii at 6:27 PM on November 22, 2001

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