Category Archives: Lord of the Rings

Tolkien’s “Take That!” to Shakespeare

Literary Fencing: Tolkien vs. Shakespeare

Tolkien, Shakespeare

Tolkien vs. Shakespeare – looks like an epic showdown, doesn’t it? {PD}

While reading a book about Tolkien this week, I came across the fact that parts of Lord of the Rings were inspired by Macbeth.* Which I’d already known, and was super-obvious to me, especially in Eowyn’s most famous scene. But what I didn’t realize was how much of Lord of the Rings was a direct “take that!” to Shakespeare. Tolkien “rather enjoyed voicing the ultimate Englishman’s heresy of hating Shakespeare altogether.” Yay, Tolkien, join the club!

Of course, Lord of the Rings is inspired by tons of other myths and legends as well. But in case the ways Tolkien issued a challenge to Shakespeare was not obvious to you, I’ll list a couple for you. Starting with the most obvious:

Eowyn and the Witch-King

The prophecy about who would kill the witch-king parallels the prophecy about who could kill Macbeth – “No living man can kill me,” sneers the witch-king, while Macbeth “cannot be slain by man of woman born.”

But Macbeth dies due to a loophole in his prophecy – apparently a man born by C-section is not born of a woman (No, I don’t get this either). Tolkien thought that was lame, and made his witch-king die at the hands of a woman. This seems like the more obvious loophole to me, maybe because I’m female.

The Witch-King as Macbeth

The prophecy part is the part I already knew. But I didn’t know how the witch-king explicitly paralleled Macbeth in other ways, mostly because I never paid much attention to Macbeth.

The witch-king sold his soul in exchange for earthly power, while Macbeth gives in to evil in exchange for his power. So they’re both supposed to be the archetype of kings with doomed, remorseless souls. Is it just me, or is the Witch-King a bit more menacing? Maybe because I don’t need at least ten minutes to figure out what’s he’s saying?

The Ents:

Tolkien loved this line in Shakespeare: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” He loved the thought of marching trees. However, Shakespeare had other ideas. He just makes an army cut down tree branches so they look like a marching wood.

Tolkien thought this was rubbish and invented Ents. And the march of the Huorns on the orcs at Helm’s Deep. Great scenes – glad Shakespeare spurred him to write those.

 

So yeah, Shakespeare was a relatively minor element of inspiration for Tolkien, but he did inspire some rather cool scenes! I love how Shakespeare inspired Tolkien to do the exact opposite with his plots, rather than slavishly copy him. That’s what they call “negative inspiration,” folks!

 

For another book that uses Macbeth to enrich the story, check out Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie. Very different from Lord of the Rings, but still good!

*This book is Tolkien’s Ring, by David Day. He seems to have studied Tolkien quite a bit, so let’s hope this is a good source for extra Tolkien info!

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My Favourite Lord of the Rings Quote

Continuing on my Lord of the Rings theme (or, to be honest, just barely remembering to post today), I have decided to share one of my favourite quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring:

“For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”

I I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eyes was bewildered.

“I liked white better,” I said.

I love how this shows Gandalf’s sense of humour! Lord of the Rings is not all dry, high-minded rambling. (Another example from The Hobbit: “I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!”) It also illustrates nicely Tolkien’s theme of the contrast between the Wise, and the wisdom of the humbler folk who sometimes turn out to be wiser than powerful people like Saruman.

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Just Do Something

Gandalf

Gandalf, by JesicaLR. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I am not Frodo–I had not been handed a great and terrible burden. I do not live on the edge of the outbreak of World War III. But the words of Gandalf still mean something to me, and probably most everyone reading this. All we can do is decide what to do with the time given to us.

Lately I’ve felt I’ve hit a dead end in my life–I’m not sure where to go from here in my schooling, my writing, my hopes and dreams–really, where I should live and what career I should pursue, and everything niggling worry of the sort that plague twenty-somethings who try to figure out their life. And I always think, “If only my life were like this, then I would do this.” But it’s a waste of time thinking of it like that. The way my life is right now, that’s what I have to work with.

I feel guilty, because I have been blessed beyond what millions of people throughout history could every have dreamed. Seriously, who in Ancient Greece could have imagined a country like Canada, with a startling lack of warfare, relatively little violence, unprecedented opportunity for women, stupendous riches and time-saving technologies… I could go on. I have all this, and yet feel helpless in the face of the future. Why should I worry about pursuing my dreams at all? Who could ask for a better set of opportunities? Again, Frodo had a right to complain, but I don’t.

The trick is taking that deep breath, taking that first step. Closing your eyes to paralyzing fear, and just doing something. Not letting the frustration of dead ends stop you from trying a new direction.

Ask me again at the end of 2013, if I’ve followed my own advice.

What are your hopes for 2013?

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Filed under Lord of the Rings, Quotables, Randoms & My Life

I Read the Appendices

OR, Geeking Out Over Author’s Supplements

Book covers, by Lars Aronsson. Licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 1.0 License.

If I read something and like it, I tend to read absolutely everything related to it. I never realized how pronounced this tendency has been throughout my whole life, until this week I looked up Little House on the Prairie on Wikipedia. I read the series as a kid, and haven’t thought much about it since, but looking at the Wikipedia entry I realized I read not only the whole series, but the series about her daughter, the book of published letters Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her family, her biography, and the Little House on the Prairie cookbook (not to mention actually making some of the recipes). If I like a series, you can really tell.

Why do I do this? What drives me to find out absolutely everything detail about a fictional world? Thank goodness many authors indulge tendencies like mine – or maybe, like me, they have trouble tearing themselves away from the fictional world they created too.

I did this with Lord of the Rings too. Not only did I read the appendices, which many people skip (and wonder where Arwen appears in the book), I also read The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. AND I read most of the The History of Middle-earth, which is a slightly-dry-at-times publication of almost every stitch of writing Tolkien ever wrote about Middle-earth. (I gave up when the library didn’t have any more of the volumes, and I was a bit sick of reading the twenty-seventh version of The Silmarillion by that time, anyway). Anyway, The History of Middle-earth has some really great stuff in it if you can slog through it, including the original story of the Fall of Gondolin, which blew me away.

I know I’m not the only one to geek out like this over supplementary materials – and by supplementary materials, I mean all short stories/cookbooks/appendices/dictionaries etc., written either by the author or someone else, about a particular fictional work. Authors and publishers clearly capitalize on these types of fans. Why else would they publish appendices, if no one read them? Sometimes you can tell the author is clearly into writing it, but sometimes it’s clearly a money-grab by a publisher, or cash-strapped author. For example, the venerable Mark Twain even fell prey to this – he was strapped for cash and he knew Tom Sawyer was one of his most popular characters. So he wrote two novellas about Tom, each imitating other popular novels of the time: Tom Sawyer Abroad (imitating Jules Verne adventure stories), and Tom Sawyer, Detective (imitating detective fiction). I’ve read them and I enjoyed them, but somehow it’s not quite the same as Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. But really, if you don’t read them, how else are you supposed to know Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn spent time knocking around Egypt after they leave the plantation?

So I tend to read this stuff, even if it’s just an attempt to fill the holes in some author’s budget. It must just be my obsessive need to fill in all the details. I can’t even imagine trying to write an appendix or dictionary for any of the novels I’ve written, so the effort can certainly be appreciated. And it’s one way to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of a series. So no, I’m not ashamed to say:

“I read the appendices.”

Have you ever found yourself doing this?

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Top 5 Literary Couples

public domain

So if I complain about Romeo and Juliet, Twilight, et al., what literary couple do I think worthy of being in the “top five”? Clearly, ones with some sort of strong personality types, and some sort of relationship journey. I don’t necessarily think these couples have to be in “romance books,” because sometimes the best romance plots are side-plots to the main events of the story (and I think only a truly skilled writer can drag out the will-they-or-won’t-they? over an 80 000 word novel without boring the reader). Anyway, I thought I might as well come clean and tell you exactly which romances in fiction I enjoyed. The list below is in no particular order.

Wizard Howl and Sophie:

Oh, Howl’s Moving Castle! Have I mentioned before how much I love this book? Well, take a vain, heartless, irresponsible wizard (with a habit of breaking ladies’ hearts), and a shy hat-maker currently under a curse that turned her into an old woman, and tell me how they’re going to get along. Unfortunately for Howl, Sophie’s transformation gives her to courage to tell people exactly what she thinks – now she’s only a crotchety old woman, after all. Even more unfortunately, Howl’s next conquest is set to be one of Sophie’s sisters, whom Sophie has fiercely groomed for adventure (not a broken heart) from her youth.

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you knew this one was going to be on the list, didn’t you? Jane Austen is one of the few authors who can make her characters agonize over does he like me or doesn’t he? for chapters, without making said character absolutely annoying. Darcy and Elizabeth both have faults they have to overcome, and it’s pretty clear by the end of Pride and Prejudice that they will still have to struggle with these faults for the rest of their life, even if they have found happiness.  Also, I like a couple who can disagree and work through it. I’m starting to realize more and more how many people shy away from disagreements, and how sometimes you need to just face that disagreement if you want to have any kind of relationship at all. Yes, I need a guy who won’t let me think I’m always right. 🙂

Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley

Anne Shirley breaks her slate over Gilbert’s head, because he had the nerve to call her “carrots” – is there any more iconic moment to the whole Anne of Green Gables series? From that moment on, readers just knew Anne and Gilbert were meant for each other. (I also loved Anne’s struggles through the series between her “friendship” feelings for Gilbert, and her ideas of what “falling in love” should be like. I think this is something many a girl has struggled with – and we all know guys who complain about being stuck in the “friend zone”)

Faramir and Eowyn

And now a couple from Lord of the Rings – surprise! It doesn’t include Aragorn.

I’ve always loved Eowyn. Her complaint to Aragorn of being a bird in a gilded cage, her disguise as Dernholm, her “But no living man am I!” defiance to the Witch-King… Lord of the Rings has very few strong female characters, but Eowyn more than makes up for it. I was SO surprised she ended up with Faramir, because if you read the books before you’ve seen the movies, you know Arwen doesn’t really show up as a character at all. Eowyn and Aragorn have all the interaction, and I thought in the end she would overcome his reluctance. (You don’t find out till the appendix that it’s not reluctance, but Aragorn is in love with Arwen the whole time.) But despite not expecting her to end up with Faramir, I really enjoyed reading about how they got to know each other, and “The Steward and the King” is one of my favourite chapters in the book. Faramir is another great, complex character in Lord of the Rings, so it made sense for them to get together. Also, Eowyn starts to realize by focusing so hard on her idea of what perfection in a man should look like, she is missing out on the decent, honourable man standing right in front of her.

I was SO sad they cut this part out of the movie, but I guess they couldn’t have done it justice!

Tommy and Tuppence

Agatha Christie has been knocked before for flat characterization, and I’ve never understood why because for most of her novels her characterization is perfectly serviceable to the plot. The focus is the mystery, after all. Despite this, I think she does have some characters in her 60+ novels that stick out, and two of these are Tommy and Tuppence. Take the first lines of The Secret Adversary:

“Tommy, old thing!”

“Tuppence, old bean!”

That gives you a pretty interesting intro to these two. Tuppence is a clever, broke, and not-very-good typist, who is forthright about her plans to marry a millionaire. Tommy is your stereotypical English bloke. They’re both survivors of WWI who returned to England to find there’s no jobs for veterans. So what do they do? Start fighting crime, of course.

There may be more of them that I missed. Have you read any of the above, and do you think I missed any important couples?

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Filed under Anne of Green Gables, Howl's Moving Castle, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, Misc. Books

Talking Down to Readers

The Storyteller

The Storyteller (Eugene, Oregon), by Visitor7. Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

That Pedantic Tone of Writing

 You know the style of writing – “Now let me tell you a story…” or “As you shall see in the end…” The style of writing where a strong narrator’s voice almost intrudes into the story, reminding the reader that it is a story. Often this is thought of as children’s literature, because the tone of voice appears to talk down to the readers, and because it’s often used for fairytales and such. It was also used in two classics I’ve talked about before: The Hobbit and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. This has been a reason for some to heap scorn on these books, insisting the authors are being ‘twee,’ and that no self-respecting adult can actually enjoy these books anymore once they’ve grown up. Obviously, I disagree. But does this pedantic tone of voice really spell a death-knell for any book that uses it?

Interestingly enough, Tolkien himself came to regret the tone of voice he’d used in The Hobbit, and wanted to re-write it closer to Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings starts off a bit pedantic itself, but by the end it is a much more serious and ‘adult’ book. Tolkien later began to argue strongly against associating ‘fairy stories’ with ‘children,’ and felt he had betrayed himself a bit by earlier using a tone of voice in The Hobbit that talked down to children. He actually began re-writing it, but people told him “it just wasn’t The Hobbit” anymore, and he had to stop.

Personally, I am not insulted when an author uses this tone of voice on me. Some are – see, for example, this quote from Michael Moorcock (which refers to A.A. Milne but implicates a whole host of pedantic authors such as Tolkien, Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton) – “There is an element of conspiratorial persuasion in his tone that a suspicious child can detect early in life. Let’s all be cosy, it seems to say (children’s books are, after all, often written by conservative adults anxious to maintain an unreal attitude to childhood); let’s forget about our troubles and go to sleep. At which I would find myself stirring to a sitting position in my little bed and responding with uncivilized bad taste.” He must’ve been a smarter child than me, because I don’t remember feeling conspired against. I enjoyed both this style of book and the ‘more adult’ styles, including some Moorcock uses as examples of better books. I don’t think it has to be an either-or proposition.

But after all, this strong narrative tone was used for centuries. Epic ballads, narrative poems, you name it. “Let me tell you the story of Robin Hood,” or “This is a story of King Arthur.” Just because a story uses this tone, doesn’t mean it can’t be a rip-roaringly good story. The voice of the author does add an extra layer of separation between the reader and the characters engaged in the story, reminding the reader that they are safe at home and no danger is coming to them. But, if the reader cares about the character that is involved in the danger, this doesn’t matter. You want to know what happens to the character.

I think I am nostalgic for story-tellers, and that includes this story-telling tone of voice. My clearest memory of first grade is how after lunch we all sat around our first grade teacher and she used to tell us the most amazing fairytales. She got them out of a book, but they were spellbinding because they weren’t just the usual ones about Snow White and Cinderella. I still remember a few of these. Now, to live in a time where people told stories like this to each other everyday, and even made up more of their own, would be lovely.

Unfortunately, in the end I have to agree it is one of the worst mistakes to use this tone of voice nowadays. Unless you actually are writing for children, and even then you might face some opposition. People of our day and age are not used to being “talked down to” while being entertained, while in the past villagers may have thought nothing of sitting around the feet of some travelling bard while he told the story of King Arthur or something. However much I enjoy this style of writing myself, I think if you tried to publish a book like this you wouldn’t get far, and if you did publish people would instinctively put it down after reading the first couple chapters. Like I said, we’re not used to it. This may change someday, but we got to wait till then.

 

What do you think?

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Filed under Lord of the Rings, On Writing, The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Breaking the 10 Simple Rules for Writing a Novel

Maybe check if you’ve got paper first…. (Writer John, by Onomatomedia. (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0))

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. — W. Somerset Maugham

 Well, while surfing the net I stumbled across a lovely article advising people on how to write a novel in 2012 – you know, if that’s your New Year’s Resolution or something. And some of the advice is good. You really shouldn’t try to write a book based on what topic you think is “hot” right now (vampire novels are probably going to get stale pretty soon, by the way), or get distracted about what the “proper” way of going about writing is. But while lists like this usually bring up some decent points, there are always a couple rules that can be ignored or broken without hurting the novel too much.

For example, I’ve read numerous books that included the phrase “laughing eyes” or “warm eyes,” and have been guilty of using such phrases myself. Now, I don’t RECOMMEND you use the phrase, and I should probably re-edit several passages where I use the phrase. But I’d just like to point out that some editor probably noticed the poor author used a hackneyed phrase on page 282, and the book got published anyway. Remember, Twilight included the sentence, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare,” and it became a best-seller. My point is – you can’t predict this kind of stuff.

To take another example, a widely quoted review of Lord of the Rings complained both the work AND the characters were “anemic and lacking in depth.” You know how writing advice goes on and on about how you can’t have flat characters in your work? Well, as much as I love Lord of the Rings, I can’t claim the characters are the deepest things the literary establishment has ever seen. That, and the book goes through pages upon pages of description, poetry, and random characters that pop up and are never seen again. A classic? You bet.

Lastly, I’m going to mention Harry Potter. These books captivated me as a kid. I still have fond memories of them (though, sadly, I can’t love them as I once did). But some of the plot twists in them don’t exactly make much sense. The first book practically ends in a deus ex machina, just after a couple of kids get through protections that are supposed to keep the evilest wizards alive out. And the fourth book – tell me why the whole caboodle with the Triwizard Tournament really was the easiest way to get Harry to Voldemort? That’s still one of my favourite parts of the series, by the way.

So I feel better about the chunk of the list I’m planning to ignore. I’m not going to start outlining every story I write, because my mind doesn’t work that way. Shoot, I don’t even outline blog posts or university papers. I’m not going to shoe-horn a sex scene into every book just because it’s a “part of life.” And I never, ever have a title for my works till I’ve written a good part of them.

I guess my point is, readers and publishers overlook many, many faults in novels. Writers get nervous, because there’s absolutely no way to predict which faults they’re going to overlook. Perfectly reasonable, but you can’t let that stop you, and you’re never going to achieve perfection anyway. Just keep writing.

 

Ever read a novel yourself that broke all the rules but was fantastic anyway?

 

(Yes, finishing my current work-in-progress is one of my aims for 2012, but I really don’t need to finish another novel. I need to get the ones I have finished in publishable shape, and submit them. I’ve got so many stacks of writing, because apparently I find writing itself far more fun than the mundane reality of trying to get a book published. But in 2012 – who knows?)

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Filed under Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, On Writing, Twilight

Happy Endings vs. Sad Endings

Darcy and Elizabeth. {{PD-US}}

And Everything In Between

Endings are one of the hardest things for me to write. Obviously, I feel the weight of the readers’ expectations—hey, if anyone is reading this, they’re trusting me to end this satisfactorily! And I’ve read so many books where a so-so ending kept the book from becoming great.

But both happy endings and sad endings have pitfalls. Happy endings can come off too unrealistic and gushy. But do a sad ending badly, and no one believes your tragedy. Even done well, a sad ending can be rather—depressing. Really, does nothing good ever happen in life?

As a reader, I’d probably pick the happy ending every time if I have a choice. I can skim over glurge, and have many times, but a sad ending to a book or even a movie can leave me stuck on how it ends for weeks. That’s the point of most sad endings, of course. But I can’t handle every book I read to impact me that much. And, of course, I like to believe that though there are so many terrible things in life, sometimes people end up being happy.

One example of a good happy ending is, I think, (spoiler alerts ahead!) Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, the couple does end up getting together and getting married and all those other cliché happy-ending tropes, but Lydia is still married to Wickham. Her mother is still a fool—endings that are too happy change everyone’s characters into unrecognizable versions of their previous personalities—and her father still has to put up with her (or hide in the library). And as for Elizabeth and Darcy themselves… well, Austen makes it very clear that Darcy has a way to go in managing his pride, so their marriage will not be heaven. But I think it’s exactly those kinds of shots of reality that keep happy endings from becoming, well, too unrealistic.

How shall we call those endings? Gritty-yet-happily-ever-after?

But I think the best compromise between a happy ending and a sad one is a bittersweet ending. When things in life are happy, they’re never completely happy. The best book example I can think of this is Lord of the Rings. The One Ring is destroyed and the Dark Lord is vanquished forever, but Frodo is never the same again. Most characters go on to become leaders or get married, or do something great, but there is something about the world that is changed forever. It’s probably the best mix of the readers’ hopes andcynicism that a novel can achieve.

 

Now, I should go study for exams again. Comment below on what type of ending you prefer!

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Prince.CharmingLookin' GoodLooking for a story with an ending that won’t devastate you for days? I can promise you that if you find yourself mulling over my ebooks, Prince Charming or Lookin‘ Good, it won’t be because they leave you feeling gloomy on the inside. You can decide for yourself if the endings are happy or bittersweet!

 

Update: Lookin’ Good–a short, five-minute read–is now free at Smashwords.

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Filed under GENERAL Bookish Thoughts, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, On Writing

Do You Need to be Younger than 40 to Write Great Novels?

The other day, Little Brown Mushroom Blog linked to an article in the New York Times – an article which claims that most great novels are written by authors under the age of forty. The Little Brown Mushroom Blog was interested in this because they wanted to know if the same was true for photographers. I’m interested in this because I wonder if most great novels truly were written by authors under the age of forty.

Of course, I can’t deny the impressive array of evidence in The New York Times – novels including The Great Gatsby, Moby-Dick, and The Sun Also Rises (unfortunately, I haven’t read every one of these novels, so I’ll go along with the consensus view that all of them are ‘great.’) But I thought a good experiment would be to look at a selection of my favourite books, and find out at what age the authors wrote them.

Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
According to Wikipedia, Tolkien started ‘a new Hobbit’ in 1937, which means he was around forty-five when he started writing it. He didn’t finish till twelve years later. Well, if he could put out three massive tomes of epic fantasy despite being the ancient old age (in writer’s years) of forty-five, there’s hope for all of us. (All of us who are brilliant linguists and university professors, at least).

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis
It’s a bit fuzzy as to when exactly CS Lewis actually started The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it seems most of it was written 1948-1949. So Lewis would’ve been around fifty years old. Fifty! Another writer bucking the trend! Unless it’s merely British university professor who are clever enough to do this…

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Here’s a book I absolutely love, which is NOT written by a British professor. Honestly, I’ve read this book hundreds of times over without getting bored. So… it was published in 1986. Wikipedia has no information on when Diana Wynne Jones wrote it, but let’s take a guess and say she started it five years before that. Five years is a long time to write a book, but let’s exaggerate for the sake of fairness… if it took her five years she would’ve been… forty-seven! Well over the alleged age of author senility.

Emma, by Jane Austen
Shoot, she was only thirty-nine when she wrote this. Maybe it’s only fantasy authors who benefit from maturity.

Admittedly, The New York Times article’s point is not to claim there are no late-blooming authors, but rather to refrain from judging authors because they are young, since many younger authors are brilliant. I just needed to reassure myself that my talent doesn’t have a sell-by date. After all, the short story I’m currently working (set in Brazil, by the way) is refusing to end, and the novel I mentioned before has not made a ton of progress in a while. I might be forty before I write anything worthwhile. 🙂

What do you think – does an author’s age matter?

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Filed under Howl's Moving Castle, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, On Writing, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Why Scathing Critiques are More Fun To Read

Edmund Wilson – he does look like a critic. (PD – wikipedia.org)

Some of you may be of the opinion by now that I hate Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet and other assorted romances that don’t fit into my standards of “healthy romances.” I assure you I do not. As some of the comments pointed out, classics become known as classics because they relate to something in human experience. Of course they bring up some interesting aspects about human experiences, even though I may not love them as whole-heartedly as I do some other. That said, I can appreciate classic novels and criticize certain points about them at the same time.

All the same, I don’t think I’ve applied a “scathing critique” to any of the novels I mentioned. It might’ve been fun if I had. After all, scathing critiques are more fun to read.

I discovered this exciting fact after going to see Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I wanted to see what other people thoughts about it, so I went online and started reading people’s reviews. After reading a dozen or so going on about it being “visually stunning” and “breathtaking in scope,” all of which I agreed with, I thought it’d be interested to find out why anyone would HATE it. And so I searched one star reviews. And was occupied for hours reading about how the movie “completely destroyed Tolkien’s vision,” “left out key parts of the novel,” or “turned Gimli into a bumbling buffoon.” All good reviews were alike, but all bad reviews found a way to lambaste, critique, or otherwise rip to shreds movie in their own way.

Not that I agreed with any of this. Well, I agreed with some of it – I just liked the movie in spite of its faults, instead of hating the movie as a result of them (for example, I still can’t understand how Arwen’s character contributes to the movie at all…) But I rediscovered it’s boring to have everyone agree with you all the time. And that people are very inventive when describing something they hate.

For example, most serious Tolkien fans know about the well-known review of Lord of the Rings by Edmund Wilson (‘Oo, Those Awful Orcs’ (1956) – the title itself gets your back up!). It contains such lovely tidbits such as, “ the author has indulged himself in developing the fantasy for its own sake… emphasizing its inadequacies as literature” and “[Auden] comments on the badness of Tolkien’s verse –  [blind] to the fact that Tolkien’s prose is just as bad” and concluding with, “Certain people – especially, perhaps, in Britain – have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash.”

Oooooooo, so much to outraged at! So much to object to! Yet at the same time… I don’t always have patience for Tolkien’s poetry either (hands up, all of you who skipped ‘Song of Eärendil’ on your first read-through).

Not enough fun for you? Try, “Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down; they haven’t got the approval yet to put a new one in.” (Michael Moorcock in ‘Epic Pooh’).  I don’t think that describes Tolkien at all, but you have to admit, it’s a brilliantly amusing metaphor.

 

So, I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is that even when I love a book, I also love to hear why people hated it. I don’t even have to have a chance to defend to book (except maybe to myself in my own head, and to a few long-suffering members of my family) to enjoy it. I know not everyone is like that (see certain Twi-hards), but for me it is all part of the fun.

 

 

To all my faithful readers out there – have you ever done this with books or movies you like, or is it just me?

***Note: This does not mean I’d be incredibly pleased if someone scathingly critiqued my work, but I hope I’d be fair and try to judge if their critique has any basis in fact.***

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