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Nobel Prize for Tolkien dashed by 'poor prose'
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News From Bree

Jan 5 2012, 1:08pm

Post #1 of 32 (4724 views)
Nobel Prize for Tolkien dashed by 'poor prose' Can't Post

The Guardian writes that recently released documents reveal in 1961 Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" -- nominated by friend and fellow fantasy writer CS Lewis -- was rejected by the Nobel Prize jury "on the grounds of his second-rate prose." The news organization reports that though LOTR was "crowned the UK's best-loved book and sold millions of copies around the world," 1961 jury believed the book "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality."


Jan 5 2012, 6:41pm

Post #2 of 32 (3341 views)
How times have changed... [In reply to] Can't Post


Leviathan's Bane

Jan 5 2012, 6:46pm

Post #3 of 32 (3192 views)
Hmm.... [In reply to] Can't Post

Something about this article just seems kinda hokie to me...

"So knights are mythical!" said the younger and less experienced dragons. "We always thought so."

- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Farmer Giles of Ham"


Jan 5 2012, 6:56pm

Post #4 of 32 (3136 views)
Funny, but I've always said the opposite. [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkein's prose is what rescues it from the sometimes meandering plot... Smile

The cake is a lie.
The cake is a lie.
The cake is a lie.
The cake is a lie.
The cake is a lie___


Jan 5 2012, 6:58pm

Post #5 of 32 (3123 views)
Presumably the Nobel Prize jury .... [In reply to] Can't Post

... would be Swedish. Perhaps they didn't fully appreciate Tolkien's style because it was different from other contemporary writing in by English speakers. People who are very fluent in another language don't always appreciate the gulf that exists between their learned fluency and the understanding of a native speaker, which is cultural as well as linguistic.

Tol Eressea

Jan 5 2012, 7:06pm

Post #6 of 32 (3120 views)
I see the hand of Ake Ohlstrom in this [In reply to] Can't Post



Jan 5 2012, 7:13pm

Post #7 of 32 (3082 views)
WTH?!? [In reply to] Can't Post

Heaven forbid you might have to take some time to really appreciate his mastery. The guy is like a Zen master the way he expresses complex ideas with simple language... pfft!

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 5 2012, 7:13pm)

Registered User

Jan 5 2012, 7:22pm

Post #8 of 32 (3137 views)
Literary world is wrong again... [In reply to] Can't Post

It seems that, should any book become popular, it must immediately be of no "literary merit" because the average person enjoys reading it. Bleh.

The only complaint I have of Tolkien's writing is that he sometimes wrote awkward dialog, as well as using the word "and" a little too often.

His ability to describe a whole world, and to tell a story, however, is second to none.

(This post was edited by mithrandir7 on Jan 5 2012, 7:26pm)


Jan 5 2012, 9:21pm

Post #9 of 32 (3054 views)
It's the mixed styles, possibly [In reply to] Can't Post

Some of it is written very much like an Epic, with a very stylized format, and some of it is very approachable, especially when the hobbits are talking together, and then there are the songs, which are very poetic. And when you toss in created languages, how is anyone supposed to rate the righting style of something they don't understand. I've always felt you needed to be somewhat intelligent to actually be able to read, understand and enjoy Tolkien, so that could be the problem right there. Tongue

Peace, Love and Rock & Roll,

The orange stripey One

Cruise to Middle-earth

Grey Havens

Jan 5 2012, 9:43pm

Post #10 of 32 (2790 views)
*blushes* Could you explain your reference? // [In reply to] Can't Post


"I shall not wholly fail if anything can still grow fair in days to come."


Jan 5 2012, 9:52pm

Post #11 of 32 (2947 views)
Mod Real Bias [In reply to] Can't Post

This is hardly surprising. The Nobel Prize in Lit has always gone to hard-core modern realists. They sit comfortably in their snob-appeal attitudes and won't come out to play with us. Frown

On another thread I once argued that Tolkien is possibly the greatest writer of the English language, better than even Shakespeare. So many find this laughable -- but not me. I believe Shakespeare is so highly rated because the modernists see so much early modernism in him.

So I suggest we simply allow the Nobels to keep awarding their Lit prize to dense, abstruse, unknown mod real writers and let them bask in their superiority complex. I've found the Winner -- possibly for all time.

Tol Eressea

Jan 5 2012, 10:06pm

Post #12 of 32 (3031 views)
I'm very sorry - [In reply to] Can't Post

- I meant Ake Ohlmarks, the translator of the first Swedish translation of LotR. Dr. Ohlmarks overstepped the bounds of a translator by adding spurious 'biographical notes' about Tolkien, who was naturally incensed.

See Letters no.s 228, 229.

Tol Eressea

Jan 5 2012, 10:40pm

Post #13 of 32 (2780 views)
And this is important because........? [In reply to] Can't Post


I'm with Tolkien here. What does it matter what some other people think about the books you like, or the books you write. When I read a book, I'm listening the author telling me a story. If I got what he's saying and enjoy it, my life has been enrichened and I'm a winner. Wether some third person gets or doesn't get anything out of listening to the same story, really, it's between him and the author.

Sometimes.... no, often I feel people are way too interested in what other's think and do. Why? Is their acceptance going to save you? Make your life better? Make you a better person?

Those people dealing out their dissmissive comments are similar mortals as you. They go to the toilet, are stupid and blind about certain things, make mistakes, have embarassing moments.... their opinions are in no way more important than yours, and they have no authority to tell you how things are, or who you are.


<3 Gandy, Raddy, Sharkey, Ally & Pally <3

(This post was edited by Faenoriel on Jan 5 2012, 10:42pm)


Jan 5 2012, 11:17pm

Post #14 of 32 (2738 views)
Interesting... [In reply to] Can't Post

I have often wondered why he was overlooked for a Nobel Prize, but like Faenoriel said, what does it matter since we all love and appreciate his work for what it is... a masterpiece Evil

~*Haudh-en-Ndengin the Elves named it, the Hill of Slain, and Haugh-en-Nirnaeth, the Hill of tears... the earth beneath which the swords of the Eldar and the Edain crumbled into rust*~


Jan 5 2012, 11:28pm

Post #15 of 32 (2719 views)
This made me smile... [In reply to] Can't Post

Thankyou, Faenoriel. I always love your posts even if I don't always agree with them (although in this case I do).

As Shakespeare said:
"My beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues"


Jan 5 2012, 11:48pm

Post #16 of 32 (2808 views)
He's in good company. [In reply to] Can't Post

...the jury passed over names including Lawrence Durrell, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, EM Forster and Tolkien to come up with their eventual winner, Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić.

I've never heard of Ivo Andrić, but all of the "passed over" writers are outstanding. So that speaks volumes about the committee, doesn't it?

Stay tuned for a Reading Room discussion of Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon by Brian Rosebury, starting January 23!

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Jan 6 2012, 12:12am

Post #17 of 32 (2694 views)
I wonder what C.S. Lewis said about the matter. [In reply to] Can't Post

I looked in 3 of my reference books and a little on line but found nothing. It was at the time he was grieving over the loss of his wife and because of it, his faith.
I can only imagine though, the rapier tones against those that (my guess) were 'unworthy' to judge the whole of Tolkien's work. If i could have been the fly on the wall at such a time.

But these days Tolkien has his champions in many comprehensive writings, i do believe, that illustrate the grandeur of his efforts. And it would have been nice to have him, for his sake, celebrated with such an honor.

But it is also what we all think on the matter. I feel (for my part, for what little i know) that we can look upon such criticisms with a comical complacent smile that it is a body of so much chatter of little or no worth.

We know what we have:).

''Sam put his ragged orc-cloak under his master's head, and covered them both with the grey robe of Lorien; and as he did so his thoughts went out to that fair land, and to the Elves, and he hoped that the cloth woven by their hands might have some virtue to keep them hidden beyond all hope in this wilderness of fear...But their luck held, and for the rest of that day they met no living or moving thing; and when night fell they vanished into the darkess of Mordor.'' - - -rotk, chapter III

Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are one in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted."
— J.R.R. Tolkien

May the grace of Manwë let us soar with eagle's wings!

In the air, among the clouds in the sky
Here is where the birds of Manwe fly
Looking at the land, and the water that flows
The true beauty of earth shows
With the stars of Varda lighting my way
In all the realms this is where I stay
In the realm of Manwë Súlimo


Jan 6 2012, 12:29am

Post #18 of 32 (2650 views)
LOL [In reply to] Can't Post

(well, now it's LOL for me, after I got over my initial roar of rage:)Smile....

Sounds like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences these days. The insularity and utter snobbery. I think they just didn't want to admit that a purveyor of that lowly and despied genre, fantasy, could be both popular and good. Reward one, and it would encourage more to pen said trash. Again, lol....Tolkien basically "founded" modern fantasy. Tolkien's publicly stated claim that he wanted to "invent a mythology for a country that had been robbed of it' must have sounded to them especially rich. ("Who does he think he is, the author of Beowulf?"!)
It also reminds me of the mud slung at Carl Sagan not so privately, by fellow scientists who tried to say that science was an honorable profession and scientists had no business doing such things as writing best-selling novels and works of non-fiction. Utter rubblish.

Well....like you all said, last laugh. To know Graham Greene, Forster and Frost (!?!?!) were also passed over gives me comfort. Some things never change.

Tol Eressea

Jan 6 2012, 10:16am

Post #19 of 32 (2680 views)
blooming too radical for them I'd guess....! [In reply to] Can't Post

too darn amazing for them to comprehend hehe

tey were blinded by its sheer groundbreaking awesomeness, and so wouldn't dare to give the prize....

nah, its mostly due to the classic "high fantasy isn't literature" prejudice.
Completely unfounded of course


The Five Istari:

Sarry, Gandy, Raddy, Ally and Pally

A great bunch :)


Jan 6 2012, 12:04pm

Post #20 of 32 (2611 views)
Completely unfounded? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think most critics nowadays will not deny the fact that fantasy is a genre of fiction. However the genre is not hold in the highest regard, and I may say rightly so. There have been so many fantasy novels/trilogies/sagas/etc. over the last decades and most of them have fallen into the category "adolescent trash". It is just agonizing to read through all this unnecessary trifle. Tolkien is one of the few exceptions. He has created a world that stands high above those fictionial realms which have been created by his ill-advised "successors". Plus, the story is just better.

I am no fan of the Nobel Prize committee for Literature. They often give the award to certain recipients for political reasons or other aspects that are not important whatsoever for the quality of said authors' literature. However I have to agree with their assessment that Tolkien's prose is just not that good. The professor was not a professional writer (iditiotic pun on my behalf) and one can see that on many pages of LOTR. Tolkien's description of landscapes must be excluded from this verdict, for they are truly grand literature. Tolkien's strength however, the magic of Middle-Earth, lies in the power and richness of his self-envisioned mythology.

I end with three quotes:

"The twentieth century will perhaps be remembered as a golden age for epic and fantastic literature, a time when the morbid fog of the flaccid avant-garde was dissipated. It has already allowed the emergence of Howard, Lovecraft and Tolkien. Three radically different universes. Three pillars of a dream literature, as much scorned by the critics as it was enjoyed by the public. This is of no importance. Criticism always ultimately recognizes its mistakes; or, more precisely, the critics ultimately die and are replaced by others."

Michel Houellebecq

"I would suggest that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films surpass Tolkien's originals, because, to be blunt, Jackson makes films better than Tolkien writes; Jackson's cinematic style, sweeping, lyrical, by turns intimate and epic, is greatly preferable to Tolkien's prose style, which veers alarmingly between windbaggery, archness, pomposity, and achieves something like humanity, and ordinary English, only in the parts about hobbits, the little people who are our representatives in the saga to a far greater degree than its grandly heroic (or snivellingly crooked) men."
Salman Rushdie

I was introduced to the Tolkien trilogy—"The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," "The Return of the King"—and its prequel, "The Hobbit," by a history teacher when I was 15, the perfect age at which to read Tolkien. I plunged into the world of Middle-earth with a will, even acquiring the rudiments of Elvish and the ability to recite the dread inscription on the Ring of Power in the dark tongue of Mordor. I believe that the secret of the trilogy's enduring success lies in Tolkien's infinitely detailed creation of the world it inhabits—there is so much "back story" that is only hinted at, so much to do with the history and legends and religions of dwarves, elves and men, that the world we are given becomes almost too rich with allusion to that submerged information. And then, of course, there is one genuinely immortal character, a greater creation than Gandalf the Grey or the Lord of the Rings himself: that is to say, Gollum.
The above

Ceterum censeo montem artis magicae atrae esse delendam

The Shire

Jan 6 2012, 4:20pm

Post #21 of 32 (2696 views)
Yes, he is! [In reply to] Can't Post

Who cares about the Nobel when so many fantastics writers have been neglected. And the Nobel judges always have pompous reasons for doing so, of course.
I'm from Argentina, the country of J.L. Borges, one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, and we are very familiar with the ways of the Nobel.

Nobel, who needs you! Wink

Registered User

Jan 6 2012, 7:27pm

Post #22 of 32 (2594 views)
Dear Literature... From Genre [In reply to] Can't Post

And now seems the perfect time to post a link of a letter to Literature, from genre:



Jan 6 2012, 8:07pm

Post #23 of 32 (2617 views)
All genres have their fair share of adolescent trash. [In reply to] Can't Post

Even the genres that they do give Nobel prizes to.

And the negative assessment of Tolkien's prose is very much a matter of opinion.

Read some of Tom Shippey's books and see how Tolkien considered, weighed, and agonized over every word.

Then come back and say that his prose is "not that good."

It is always those with the fewest sensible things to say who make the loudest noise in saying them. --Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall Smith)


Jan 6 2012, 8:19pm

Post #24 of 32 (2598 views)
Words from the Professor himself [In reply to] Can't Post

"Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer. But even from the points of view of many who have enjoyed my story there is much that fails to please. It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody at all points, nor to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short."


Jan 6 2012, 9:34pm

Post #25 of 32 (2530 views)
This is of course true. [In reply to] Can't Post

Nevertheless, I think you would agree with me that the genre of fantasy has seen quite a lot of these particular novels over the last decades. One could of course point out to other genres that have fallen victim to this (for ex. Western/Sci-Fi) virus or even criticize "mainstream" literature (don't like the word) for its apparant lack of new ideas lately. As I have said before the Nobel Prize in Literature doesn't verify by any means if you are a good or a bad author (but it's gets you quite a fortune) and looking back at the laureates of the last decade there are quite a few who should not have been awarded whatsoever.

Indeed, the negative assessment of Tolkien's prose is very much a matter of opinion and personal taste. But so is every assessment of art. However, if we were to accept this relativistic truth in every aspect of its meaning we could not compare works of art at all. They would all be equally good and bad at the same time. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini would be equal to the Lord of the Rings as a work of high-fantasy, Dan Brown's Illuminati would match Dante's divine comedy in sheer richness of story-telling and no one could argue for the exceptional brilliance of Shakespeare. I am not saying by any means that you think this way and you have every right to believe in the power of Tolkien's prose. But the argument that an assessment on this matter would be a matter of opinion is a priori self-evident and does not lead us anywhere. Reading Shippey's books on this topic will hardly change my mind on Tolkien's prose, although I believe you when you say that Tolkien struggled to the very end to find the right words for his books. But looking for something and finding it are two different things. As I said before, Tolkien's way of writing often does not catch the right tone - however there are many fine and beautiful moments when it does, and his descriptions of landscapes are among the finest that have ever been written since man has learnt how to write. Nevertheless most fans of the LOTR and the critics who have supported the admiration for Tolkien's works have found far stronger elements in these texts: the themes, the sheer-richness of its world and in the end what Tolkien so brilliantly understood - the undying human need for myth. This is Tolkien's true legacy in my opinion, giving something to the world that many romantic writers before him tried to achieve (on another level and field of literature) and failed in doing so. That's what the Nobel Prize Committee failed to understand five decades ago and what many critics still cannot understand - that sometimes a work of literature transcends the normal criteria of evaluation, and creates something new and totally different. And I think this has been one of the seldom examples where the ordinary readers related to something that the literati could not: nowadays if you ask some ordinary LOTR readers (not the fans) a lot of them will tell you that they found the storytelling quite boring and long-winded. And still, nearly all of them would also tell you that they loved certain characters, the overlying themes and most important of all, the mood of Middle-Earth. There are not many books around who get this sort of dualistic treatment (the Bible comes to mind).

So I stand by my opinion that Tolkien's prose is not up there in the "Pantheon of prose" with Hemingway's, Joyce's, Turgenjev's, Tolstoy's, Faulkner's, Kafka's etc. However there is another pantheon, the "Pantheon of myth" and Tolkien's myth is one of the very, very few new ones the can stand side by side with the great myths of old, when men still believed in the power of the spoken word.

Ceterum censeo montem artis magicae atrae esse delendam

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