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PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 9:12 pm 
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I split this off from the "Beorn" thread in the Tolkien movies forum

Passdagas the Brown wrote:
Criticize Tolkien, on the other hand, and you're dead meat. :)


As much as I love Tolkien, I certainly don't think he is above criticism. In fact, my biggest criticism of Tolkien scholarship is that it does not contain enough honest criticism.

I know you weren't really serious, but I still felt the need to say that.

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 10:06 pm 
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You'll come to regret that statement, V.

No, but seriously, Tolkien had his flaws. I just don't quite know what they are. ;)


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:18 am 
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I could make a list, but I'm sure you don't actually want to hear them! ;)

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 1:42 pm 
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I would. Why don't you start a thread in Shibboleth? I think it could lead to a worthwhile discussion.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 5:07 pm 
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Alatar wrote:
I could make a list, but I'm sure you don't actually want to hear them! ;)


Oh, I do! I do! Go on! *notches arrow* ;)

I am aware of many of the literary criticisms of Tolkien, of course. However, they usually revolve around issues that Tolkien was deliberately ignoring - such as acceptable forms of character development in the modern novel, plot structure, etc. For me, all such so-called "flaws" are not flaws because of the mode Tolkien was writing in.

He was telling an epic myth through the eyes of homely pseudo-Edwardian eyes (the hobbits), and from that perspective, I can justify nearly every supposed flaw! :)

I will say one thing, however. Wormtongue's obviously evil disposition, which begins with his name, used to irk me a little. The idea that he could have fooled Théoden, and much of his leadership, and that he was able to wield such influence, always struck me as a tad false. But it's a minor, minor point.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 5:31 pm 
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I don't think Wormtongue was his actual name any more than Stormcrow was Gandalf's.

I also think that Tolkien's character development is vastly underestimated.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:46 pm 
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Frelga wrote:
I don't think Wormtongue was his actual name any more than Stormcrow was Gandalf's.

I also think that Tolkien's character development is vastly underestimated.


Oh, I know. But from my reading, it seemed that "Wormtongue" was his commonly-accepted moniker within Edoras, at least. And leaving his name aside, his words were so obviously deceitful, that it was hard for me to accept that the Rohirrim, and Théoden himself, could possibly be fooled. But again, it's a minor point, and I generally love that plotline.

I also agree on the "underestimated" nature of Tolkien's character development. The problem is that most literary critics demand a certain level of internal psychological probing in their character development (as is the convention for modern and post-modern novels), and Tolkien is too sparse for them in that regard. IMO, they miss the simple fact that the hobbits are really the only subjects under psychological scrutiny in LOTR, and that the "heroes" (Aragorn, Gandalf, etc) are exactly as they should be - heroic figures of legend as seen by our eyes and ears, the hobbits. And then we have archetypal characters such as Gimli and Legolas whose actions and philosophies represent concepts and ideas, rather than fully-formed human beings. I wouldn't call them total "ciphers," as they are a bit more complex than that, but their role is appropriate for this type of yarn, IMO. But critics usually don't do that far in their generally dismissive analysis of what they like to call "hokum."

Personally, I find Frodo and Sam quite psychologically complex, but most of the literati seem to ignore that, while focusing on the simplicity of a wizard, or a king with a destiny.

In any event, I think it is high time that literary criticism started taking important works of fantasy from authors like Tolkien, Dunsany and Vonnegut, a lot more seriously.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:06 pm 
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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
No, but seriously, Tolkien had his flaws. I just don't quite know what they are.


His poems sucked. :P

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:19 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
Passdagas the Brown wrote:
No, but seriously, Tolkien had his flaws. I just don't quite know what they are.


His poems sucked. :P


That's another one I have often heard, and my response is:

1. Some of his poems in the Hobbit are excellent and very evocative (Misty Mountains, etc), as are some of his LOTR pieces (I especially love the Ring poem, of course).

2. He wrote poetry that he felt his characters would recite. He wasn't trying to write great poetry, but rather, to say something about those characters through the language of their poetry (something he also did with the "mode" of their dialogue - familiar and casual with the Hobbits, and high and mighty with Aragorn, etc). So, Sam's poetry is rustic and unpolished. The elvish poetry is ethereal and almost beyond human empathy. The dwarvish poetry is deep and dark, yet ringing with the love of craft. Orcish poetry is full of harsh sounds, and meanness. Entish poetry is ponderous.

3. Yes, there's some bad poetry in there, but in real life, people write bad stuff all the time! The last I checked, Middle Earth wasn't populated by Pulitzer Prize winners for poetry. Most people are bad poets, including in Middle Earth!

4. Lots of ancient and dark age poetry doesn't sound so great to modern ears, and Tolkien was often aping those techniques.

I think if you accept what it is that Tolkien was attempting, all of it makes perfect sense.

In that context, I think the bad poetry gives Middle Earth an extra dose of realism. It's similar to how I feel about dialogue in PT Anderson films. It's often awkward, and sometimes incoherent, much like most people's dialogue actually is.


Last edited by Passdagas the Brown on Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:22 pm 
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Those are some impressive rationalizations but not good enough to actually make me read the majority of them. ;)

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:26 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
Those are some impressive rationalizations but not good enough to actually make me read the majority of them. ;)


Oh, that's another story! :) I have certainly read them all at one point or another. But on average, whenever I re-read LOTR, I probably skip at least 1/3 of them. Especially the long ones in elvish.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:41 pm 
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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
I am aware of many of the literary criticisms of Tolkien, of course. However, they usually revolve around issues that Tolkien was deliberately ignoring - such as acceptable forms of character development in the modern novel, plot structure, etc. For me, all such so-called "flaws" are not flaws because of the mode Tolkien was writing in.


I was most definitely not speaking of that when I said that there was not enough criticism in Tolkien scholarship. In fact, I believe that it is in reaction to the grossly inaccurate criticism of Tolkien in mainstream literary circles that have made serious Tolkien scholars reluctant to criticize anything amongst their praise and analysis.

yov wrote:
His poems sucked.


I presume that you are speaking primarily (or more likely entirely) about the poems in The Hobbit and LOTR. Some of them, I would agree; a few I think are brilliant. But have you read any of his longer poetry? Some of the unfinished lays of Beleriand, and perhaps most of all the recently published Fall of Arthur, are extraordinary works of art.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:06 pm 
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Yeah, I'm referring to the majority of the ones in the novels (yes, a few are quite nice). I'm not generally all that interested in his stuff outside the big three.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:11 pm 
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Why is that?

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:20 pm 
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Eh, no particular reason. I guess I'm more a fan of Middle-earth than I am of Tolkien, if that makes sense.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:24 pm 
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Makes perfect sense. Still, it might be worth checking out something like the Fall of Arthur, just because it is such an impressive achievement.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 12, 2013 12:06 am 
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A few years back, I believe on TORC, I remember arguing on the "Aragorn is wooden" side of the characterization discussion. Age, wisdom, and writing three adventure novels have caused me to reconsider.

What PtB points out about the heroic characters being seen through the hobbits' eyes, along with the idea that the poetry matches the characters speaking it, seems to me to explain the problem I once thought insurmountable. What's on the page is what hobbits see, or what they remember of what they saw, or what they recall being told about events they didn't see. Portraying Aragorn with keen psychological insight is just not what a hobbit would do. And in any case, Aragorn's role in the story is not to demonstrate how the trauma of his early years affects his relationships with women (hint, probably not well, based on the empirical evidence); it's to defeat the darkness and be crowned king of Gondor.

I was wrong in that earlier discussion—wrong because I was something of a hobbit myself at the time. I didn't understand exactly how difficult it was to do what Tolkien did in LotR, or how brilliantly he pulled it off. :cheers:

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 12, 2013 5:40 am 
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yovargas wrote:
Those are some impressive rationalizations but not good enough to actually make me read the majority of them. ;)


The problem with writing mediocre poetry to make a point is that the point is often missed if one doesn't have sufficient context. Contrast Chaucer's doggerel in the Canterbury Tales, cheek by jowl with his good stuff.

Tolkien does have a few nice pieces, collected in The Tolkien Reader if memory serves. "The Sea-bell" is one.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 9:28 am 
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My own criticisms revolve around logical inconsistencies, which are an obvious result of Tolkien's writing style. He pretty much started at the beginning without much idea of where he was going and was half surprised himself many times at where he ended up. While that makes for a brilliant, unpredictable novel, it also leaves us with some gaping plot holes. One of the most egregious ones for me (and I apologise to those who you who already heard me moaning about this one) is the almost omnipotence of Sauron by the time the company reached the Gates of Moria.

We have Sauron manipulating the weather on the gap of Caradhras from Mordor, with pinpoint accuracy, followed by a direct attack from magic wargs who disappeared once killed. That sort of power should have been completely unopposable. And yes, I've heard the arguments that after Moria, he lost sight of the ringbearer so his attack became less focused. But seriously, that's just people making allowances for wildly random writing. Where were all these magic Wargs at the Pelennor where they might have been useful? Did he only have the one batch, conveniently located at the gates of Moria? Or where there loads of them, but he decided not to bother once the first batch failed? Sauron had a palantír and he knew the three ways past the mountain. He knew they weren't taking the gap of Rohan cause Saruman would nab them there, and he knew he'd blocked the pass. So, the logical assumption for an all powerful evil being who's been around since pretty much the dawn of time is to.. just ignore the Mines of Moria and say "Well, Henry will probably get them"? Not even train his palantír on the East Gate for a few weeks? Or, I dunno, maybe stick a band of orcs there just in case? We know the orcs were chasing them at Amon Hen. They knew the company was on the river. Surely either Saruman or Sauron was capable of generating a flood? Elrond was only half Elven and he could manage that much.

Anyway, you could continue in this vein all the way through the books. Where Tolkien succeeds is that most of the time you don't want to, cause its just good fun. That doesn't mean the flaws aren't there.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:31 pm 
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The obscure limits of Sauron's power never bothered me, because it was clear that there were both inverse square laws in place and that he preferred to work through agents as much as possible. Other things became clearer after the Sil came out (water still carrying some of Ulmo's power, for example).

The Victorian impulse toward cataloging I could live without.

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