LoTR and dwj

Charles Butler hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk
Wed Feb 18 08:58:06 EST 2004


This thread has become entwined in my mailbox with another going on at the
moment on the Sidney-Spenser list, where the current question seems to be
'Is Spenser the rich man's Tolkien?' One participant posted the following
extract from Tom Shippey's *Tolkien: Author of the Century?*, which I
thought was passing on:

"Tolkien's approach to the ideas or the devices accepted as modernist is
radically different because they are on principle not literary....One might
almost say that he took the ideals of modernism seriously instead of playing
around with them.  But what he forfeited in the process--like Bilbo Baggins,
who was never regarded as respectable again--was the underlying and, one has
to say, always potentially snobbish and elitist claim of so much modernist
writing, that it was produced for and could only be appreciated by the
thoroughly cultivated individual, the fine and superior sensibility.

This is probably at the heart of the critical rage, and fear, which Tolkien
immediately and ever after provoked.  He threatened the authority of the
arbiters of taste, the critics, the educationalists, the literati.  He was
as educated as they were, but in a different school.  He would not sign the
underwritten Articles of the Church of Literary English.  His work was from
the start appreciated by a mass market, unlike Ulysses, first printed in a
limited number of copies designedly to be sold to the wealthy and cultivated
alone.  But it showed an improper ambition, as if it had ideas above the
proper station of popular trash.  It was the combination that could not be
forgiven."  (Shippey, 315-316)

So - is Tolkien the poor man's Spenser (leaving James Joyce out of he
account)? My own opinion, FWIW, is that they don't have too much in common,
except perhaps via DWJ - whose *Hexwood* owes so much to the Spenser's Book
of Justice.

Charlie

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