I read something the other day that really got me fired up, but am only able to write on this subject now. As a self-proclaimed fantasy nerd (and proud of it!), I was raised on J.R.R. Tolkein’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Authors also on my list were Anne McCaffery, Mercedes Lackey, R.A. Salvatore (of which a lot of my time high school years were spent in his books), Jennifer Fallon, and James Barclay. But it was Tolkein who started it all, has stayed at the top of my favorite authors list, and has forever captivated my heart and soul (as well as my imagination).
As such, it came as a great shock the other day (as well as to many other Tolkein fans) that when I arrived upon an article taken from The Gaurdian (which looks like an online newspaper or one that at least has an on-line version) I heard phrases that I never would have imagined would be placed in the same sentence with Tolkein’s name. The full article can be read here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/05/jrr-tolkien-nobel-prize?newsfeed=true (can’t get the link thing to work. Sorry.).
The article introduced the public to Nobel Prize notes back from 1961 that have recently been declassified. Tolkein had been nominated by the famous C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia books. As a literary professor Lewis was one of a select group of individuals who were qualified to make nominations (according to the article). It should not be surprising that Lewis would suggest Tolkein. But what did shock me, were the harsh, contemptuous, and dismissive remarks that came from one of the head jurors. Tolkein was accused of “second-rate prose” and having “not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality”.
Wow! Talk about a burn. The words ‘Epic fail’ come to mind and all I could really do after my initial shock wore out was wonder how in the heck did they come to that conclusion.
I looked around the web to see if I could get an idea about how many copies of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ had been sold to date and couldn’t find a definitive number from a reliable source, but the overall guesstimate was in the hundreds of millions. It has been acclaimed as one of the best beloved books of all time and even in this day and age captures the hearts of readers around the world. Now tell me how that is second-rate prose?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this guy ( as well as all the others) knew what they were doing. I mean, come on, its the Nobel Prize we’re talking about. No one can inteligently say that the guys didn’t know what they were doing and I am sure the author who won that year derserved it; however, I have to say their commentary on Tolkein was inaccurate.
Tolkein’s portrayal of the scenery, milieu, and characters are top quality. The way he writes portrays the landscape and how it changes along with the tone of the books as they progress is simply captivating. You truly believe that you are there with the characters as they travel on their journeys. The reader becomes surrounded by the vastness of Tolkein’s world. The tiny little nuances like all the songs the elves sing, the Lay of Luthein Aragorn sings, the languages he created, the history that is woven into the text, cause the reader to become fully immersed within Middle Earth.
I can see one arguing that Tolkein’s characters are left a little wanting. You don’t fully get the character depth that most novels bring to the table, but think about it: Tolkein gives you so many characters and they all have their differences that make them uniquely stand apart. Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf can arguably be the most developed characters; however the reader can feel a closeness with all of the main character through their own individual story arcs they experience (such as the tale of Aragorn and Arwen, the other love story of Faramir and Eowyn, or the fate of Legolas).
Second-rate prose my foot. Daft I call them! Consider also that according to the same article these jurors excluded authors such as Robert Frost from winning because he was, in their opinion, too old. What kind of ridiculousness is that?
In my opinion, irregardless of whether or not Tolkein should have won the Nobel Prize that year, to say that Tolkein displayed “second-rate prose” and that his works did “not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality” is a deep injustice to the man.