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January 10, 2012

Revealed: Nobel Prize Jury Dismissed JRR Tolkein as Crap Writer Undeserving of Recognition


[N]ew documents have revealed JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was once criticised by the Nobel prize jury for its poor prose and bad story-telling.

A Swedish newspaper reporter has combed documents, previously classified until now, to discover that in 1961, experts in charge of deciding who should win the prestigious literature prize were not impressed with Tolkien's Middle Earth trilogy.

The reporter discovered that jury member Anders Österling wrote that the novel 'has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality'.

No but seriously he's not a particularly good writer as a technical matter. But this does raise the question: Why is technical proficiency -- proficiency at the tropes and styles currently in favor in a particular decade -- elevated above almost every other consideration in writing?

Tolkein did develop a pretty plausible world. I remember first reading it: I thought I was going to hate it, that it was kid's stuff, with "elves" and "dwarves" and so on. Fairy-tale nonsense. What I wound up loving about it was that these elves and dwarves had armies and societies and histories. They weren't just sprites that showed up to make mischief, out of the ether, and then disappeared when their part of Plot Advancement was finished. He took old fairy-tale nonsense and made up a world in which it made a kind of sense.

I don't think Lord of the Rings is worthy of Nobel Prize, really, but this fixation on style (and the current style will not be the style a la mode in ten years) is bad for literature. Something Michael Chabon has complained about:

Michael Chabon's introduction, which he calls a rant, suggests that the modern short story is dominated by the "...contemporary quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story." In fact, there are few popular or commercial venues for short stories, and many publications that do use short stories, such as little magazines, tend toward these everyday plotless narratives Chabon describes.

Michael Chabon is, of course, the successful author of the novel Kavalier & Clay, which clearly reflects his interest in American popular culture and commercial story telling, as his protagonists are the creators of a popular comic book during the formative years of comic book publishing.

Chabon reminds us that there was once a healthy market for all sorts of short stories, both in popular and sometimes lurid pulp magazines, and the "slicks," magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and Liberty. The plots ranged through all sorts of subjects, such as horror, detective, fantasy & science fiction, adventure, war, historical and romance.

It is sort of a mystery how the short story became so marginalized. Everyone complains about the fast pace of modern life, and MTV-shortened attention spans. Surely in such a time there would be a place for short, focused story telling along side long, bloated novels, not to mention "trilogies" that in the end go on for 6 books?

By the way, I haven't read the book of short stories representing his attempt at push-back; I hear it's okay, but not great.

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posted by Ace at 03:59 PM

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