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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
"If you start thinking [about Tolkien], youíve got to stop reading."


Jan 8 2013, 2:39am

Views: 476
"If you start thinking [about Tolkien], youíve got to stop reading." [In reply to] Can't Post

I haven't ever read anything by Byatt, much less the work you are referring to. I looked around the web for clues. I found this interview from the Paris Review, in which she gives her opinion of Tolkien:
Given the place of Tolkien in Babel Tower, what is the place of Tolkien in all this?
It can be connected to what I got out of Calvino and Blixen, a sense that there were still mythical worlds going on. When I was teaching in the art school, student after student was painting pictures out of Tolkien, those who werenít painting hard-edged abstraction, that is. Sometimes they were doing bothóa hard-edged abstraction given a Tolkien name. They would say, You know, I havenít read anything since I was a child that I enjoyed, and then suddenly there was this. I think the cult of Tolkien in England was quite different from the cult in America. In America it had to do with the frontier, with the sense of Thoreau and Walden that the wild was better. One of the emotions I feel in Tolkien is to do with my ecological emotionóthat heís describing a world in which the landscape is as big and as endless as it is if youíre a human being who has to walk in it. Itís simple things like that. I donít actually like any of his people very much, but I like being in a world where you experience the midges and you canít ever get away from the midges. That I like, and a lot of its readers like that.

It also crosses over into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. I went to take my youngest daughter out, when she was at Newcastle University. Thereís a kind of deep dingle next to this rather good restaurant. As we arrived these Land Rovers drew up, and all these people got out in cloaks and swords and things. They were all dressed as different people out of Tolkien and they just vanished into the bushes! It is immensely powerful. I think you can read Tolkien, and you can identify with the very small people with furry feet, or you can identify with Aragorn, who has the weight of the world on his shoulders. You have to do it in a very primitive way. If you start thinking, youíve got to stop reading.

I read it as a sort of soporific. I read it when Iím very tired, and I read it partly because thereís no sex in it. I read it because itís not stressful, which is why I donít think the argument that itís too simple because the good are going to beat the evil carries much weight. You ought to know that. Itís that sort of story. Itís good that you know that nobody you really care about will die except the very old. Thatís very soothing, and children, after all, should have their literature. - The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 168.
She seems to emphasize the parts of Tolkien that appeal to the child in us, treating The Lord of the Rings like intellectual comfort food. This seems to agree with what little else I just read about her style as a writer: she has been criticized for being over-erudite. She is so well-read and well-versed in English literature and scholarship that she casually refers to a host of writers and thinkers from the past 200 years that most of her readers have never heard of.

Without meaning to prejudge her, then, I would guess from my research so far that she has read quite a lot of very good poetry and an immense amount of second-rate poetry. Against a standard like that, I'd probably agree that Tolkien's poetry is indeed "Not the real thing". That is, it is not worked out enough to challenge the masters - it is too simple in imagery and symbolism, and too conservative with vocabulary and emotion. One critic I've read points out that Tolkien was fascinated by verse form more than he was by verse message. He loved working out complicated meters and rhyme schemes, inspired by older poetry from the medieval writers that were his professional study. He also loved language in what I suggest was a tactile way - words were toys for him to handle and caress, and his poetry is often pure play with those toys. Finally, many if not all of his poems accompany his fantastic fiction in that they are set in an imaginative world of Faerie. The role they have in that world is primary, and excuses for many of his readers the technical simplicities or emotional shallowness of the verses when compared with Byatt's (and others') preferred poets from the mainstream of the English tradition.

Well, that's the best I can do with your interesting question. I hope we hear from some actual readers of Byatt who can give us more insight into her meaning here!

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Subject User Time
Tolkien's poetry nothinglikethesun9 Send a private message to nothinglikethesun9 Jan 7 2013, 5:22pm
    And... nothinglikethesun9 Send a private message to nothinglikethesun9 Jan 8 2013, 2:02am
        "If you start thinking [about Tolkien], youíve got to stop reading." squire Send a private message to squire Jan 8 2013, 2:39am
            AS Byatt's books CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 8 2013, 10:41am
        I don't know - geordie Send a private message to geordie Jan 9 2013, 12:15pm
        POSSESSION may allude to Tolkien's poetry. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Jan 9 2013, 1:28pm
    W.H. Auden, for what it's worth, NZ Strider Send a private message to NZ Strider Jan 9 2013, 11:19am
        Woot! squire Send a private message to squire Jan 9 2013, 11:32am
        OMG. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Jan 9 2013, 1:16pm
            Someone? VoronwŽ_the_Faithful Send a private message to VoronwŽ_the_Faithful Jan 10 2013, 1:42am
                Quick reply to all... NZ Strider Send a private message to NZ Strider Jan 11 2013, 5:42pm
            WNEBCFTPFY! // Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Jan 12 2013, 5:24am
    Corey Olsen analyzes the song of the Ent and the Entwife. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Jan 9 2013, 1:41pm


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