LoTR and dwj

Charles Butler hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk
Thu Feb 19 05:43:00 EST 2004


Minnow:
I don't have the impression
> that Spenser has ever been regarded as a footler who betrayed his proper
> academic status by writing rubbish for children and the feeble-minded,
> which is how it sometimes seems that Tolkien is dissed -- but I suspect
> that given a set-up in the 1590s by which books were as widely
distributed,
> to as high a literate proportion of the population at as comparatively low
> a price per volume, as they have were in the 1950s, Spenser might easily
> have been as popular among the "groundlings" as Tolkien.

Spenser was pretty popular, amongst brows of all altitudes, in his own time
and for at least a century and half afterwards. He made sure that his book
had enough recondite stuff to satisfy the intellectual elite, while giving
less educated plenty of adventures, romance, magic, and so on to enjoy.
Allegory's ability to appeal to different tastes and capacities in that way
was held to be one of its major strengths at that time, and Spenser
certainly exploited it. He was also a very astute self-publicist (apart from
alienating Lord Burleigh).

> If Tolkien is the "poor man's Spenser", is it for the work itself that he
> is a lesser figure or is it for the followers/imitators that work has
> garnered, seems to be what that makes me wonder, in other words.

FWIW, Spenser spawned a lot of imitators too! Where are they now...?

I think the reason Tolkien is less highly regarded by the academy is that -
well, to be frank, he's nothing like as good a writer - but also and less
defensibly there has over the last century (perhaps longer) been a decisive
shift in academic taste away from fantasy and grandeur of language, towards
realism and irony. (True, postmodernists have toyed with fantasy but they do
it in a self-consciously ironic way that still leaves Tolkien out in the
cold.) I don't approve of this, you understand, but that's my feeling
anyway.

Charlie

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