Tag Archives: scathing critiques

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.***


Filed under Lord of the Rings