Our Sponsor Sideshow Collectibles Send us News
Lord of the Rings Tolkien
Search Tolkien
Lord of The RingsTheOneRing.net - Forged By And For Fans Of JRR Tolkien
Lord of The Rings Serving Middle-Earth Since The First Age

Lord of the Rings Movie News - J.R.R. Tolkien
Do you enjoy the 100% volunteer, not for profit services of TheOneRing.net?
Consider a donation!

  Main Index   Search Posts   Who's Online   Log in
The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Main:
Tolkien-inspired paragraph in Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace"?

N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 19, 8:20pm

Post #1 of 13 (1774 views)
Shortcut
Tolkien-inspired paragraph in Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace"? Can't Post

I've never read it, but I just noticed that Quinta Jurecic, an editor at Lawfare, has a quote from Atwood's 1996 novel pinned at the top of her Twitter feed:

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else."

Doesn't that remind you of Sam and Frodo talking about being part of a story as they rest above the steps of Cirith Ungol?

There are four lights.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 21, 6:33am

Post #2 of 13 (1694 views)
Shortcut
Oo, That Awful Auden. [In reply to] Can't Post

(This is totally unrelated, but I didn't want to start a new thread.)

David Bratman has been reading some Edmund Wilson and offers these thoughts on Wilson's disappointment with Tolkien admirer W.H. Auden on the Tolkien Society's website.

There are four lights.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


squire
Half-elven


Jan 21, 2:30pm

Post #3 of 13 (1661 views)
Shortcut
Very perceptive work by Bratman [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that. I posted an answer on that blog, as I've recently been reading about Wilson myself for completely non-Tolkien reasons. Bratman makes some new and interesting connections about Wilson that helps to explain the infamous Nation review of Lord of the Rings.
Is your discussion of "The Critics" of Tolkien still available on the Reading Room, NEB? Does this new piece echo any comments made back then by TORn's readership?



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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jan 21, 4:17pm

Post #4 of 13 (1650 views)
Shortcut
Sam and Grace [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else."

Doesn't that remind you of Sam and Frodo talking about being part of a story as they rest above the steps of Cirith Ungol?

It's very interesting to see that this connection struck you in this way, because Alias Grace happens to be a story with a postmodern "unreliable narrator", for which this quote is pretty much emblematic, and it's the Cirith Ungol passage that originally led me to bore everybody
in the Reading Room with the idea of unreliable narration in LotR all these years!

Grace is a simple servant girl in 19th century Canada who may (or may not) have killed someone, many years before the time the main narrative is set, when a young psychiatric doctor encourages her to tell her story in her own words. As with Sam, Grace's simple words often betray deep insights that more educated people tend to overlook, and I think that's where this passage really does echo Sam's words about stories on the stairs of Cirith Ungol. Like Sam, Grace understands the power of stories to give meaning to things, and she also knows that there can be more than one version of a story depending on who is telling it. She knows that the well-meaning people who try to help her in later life are partly just drawn by the thrill of being close to a murderess, and see her story very differently to the way she sees it herself. Which reminds me of Sam, musing on what Gollum's own version of their story would be, and whether he'd be "the hero or the villain".

Actually the words Grace uses in this passage ("
a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it") remind me of another bit of Sam's wisdom as well - his description of Galadriel, and how “you could dash yourself to pieces on her, like a ship on a rock; or drownd yourself, like a hobbit in a river.” It's got that same sense of powerlessness against greater forces, and I suppose the fact is that you can only take control of such overwhelming emotions by expressing them in words, and turning them into stories. I wonder if Margaret Atwood was at least subconsciously influenced by Tolkien in the quote above - she has certainly read him, and writes fantasy herself of course, although Alias Grace isn't a fantasy. But I think the quote is really about the style of storytelling she has chosen for Grace, of unreliable narration and the way memory is moulded into story through the worldview and beliefs of the person telling the tale.

I know I've tried to argue sometimes that Tolkien was the first "postmodern" writer (although he would have heartily disapproved of the very term I'm sure!), but even I don't think Margaret Atwood was actually inspired by Sam's musings in Cirith Ungol to come up with her own postmodern story! In fact, I think Tolkien came to his own insights about the power of language to shape our reality though his study of ancient myths and legends, and it just so happens that a number of "postmodern" writers have come back to an interest in fantasy and myth after the very different approach of modernist realism.

As for Tolkien as an inspiration for her writing, Margaret Atwood's main complaint about LotR seems to be that there aren't enough women ("
there are hardly any women at all, only two, but three if you count the spider, which I do. With a name like Shelob you really can’t miss it!"). She seems to have been inspired to rectify that with the female-viewpoint Alias Grace (not to mention The Handmaid's Tale, but that's another story...)

By the way, there's a very good dramatization of Alias Grace on Netflix at the moment, not up there with Handmaid's Tale but well worth watching.


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jan 21, 7:45pm

Post #5 of 13 (1632 views)
Shortcut
Oo, That Awful Wilson. [In reply to] Can't Post

Fascinating what one finds, opening the door to that dark closet or peeking underneath the rug.

I'd always thought Wilson came across as a prejudiced unlikeable grouch; this appears to confirm that. Thanks, NEB (and squire).

I wonder how many who read his review decided to take him at his word and not bother to read the book.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


Attalus
Lorien


Jan 22, 12:53am

Post #6 of 13 (1595 views)
Shortcut
Wilson [In reply to] Can't Post

I think "unlikable grouch" is the kindest description I would give Wilson. I remember reading "Ooh, Those Awful Orcs" back in the '60s and thinking that it was one of the most prejudiced, shallow reviews I had ever read, right up there with the Edinburgh Review's comments on Keats.

As for Margaret Atwood, don't get me started.Mad

EDIT: punctuation

We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior! Well, yeah, first he killed a bunch of us and another whole lot of Mauhúr's lads, and we had to shoot enough arrows into him to drop a Mûmak. But we got him!

(This post was edited by Attalus on Jan 22, 12:53am)


squire
Half-elven


Jan 22, 1:47am

Post #7 of 13 (1593 views)
Shortcut
With Wilson, I think we need perspective. [In reply to] Can't Post

As a Tolkien fan, I do find his infamous review insupportable. And from what I know of his personal life, he could be unpleasant as often as he could be charming. But there is always the question of whether we can criticize an artist's work based on the artist's personal life. By all accounts, Wilson's critical writing and critical mind were first-rate - beyond admirable and wonderful to those who live the life of the mind.

Here's an edited appreciation of Wilson from a later generation, which echoes, I think, Tom Shippey's words about him in explanation of his inability to enjoy Tolkien: Wilson lived entirely within the tradition of high literary modernism and the art novel in a historical context. Genre writing - escapism in the form of mysteries or fantasy - baffled or annoyed him. Thus, in short, his reaction to even a master fantasist like Tolkien.

As Bottum, the writer, concludes, Wilson's role as a critic has been destroyed and forgotten by later generations that no longer value what he and his fellow intellectuals thought near-sacred: the ideas that reading literature is a defining trait of a serious citizen, and that great art can be criticized, but not minimized, ignored, or mocked as 'elitist'.

Who Was Edmund Wilson?
America’s Greatest Reader

By Joseph Bottum | HUMANITIES, November/December 2008 | Volume 29, Number 6

By the end of his life—hell, by the middle of his life, Edmund Wilson was a fat, ferocious man: petty, pretentious, and petulant, a failure at many of the most ordinary tasks of life. But, man, could he dance: through a poem, through a book, through a library. He was the Nijinsky, the Nureyev, at what he did—a genius, really: probably the greatest reader America has ever known.

Do his own works still have an audience? Axel’s Castle, for instance, that astonishing first collection of literary essays he published in 1931? Or To the Finland Station, his 1940 analysis of the intellectual roots of socialism? Or Patriotic Gore, his 1962 study of the literature of the American Civil War? With two volumes of his essays and reviews in print from the canonizing Library of America, you’d think the answer must be yes. And yet, to read Edmund Wilson today is to get the impression that he belongs to some lost epoch—a day further gone than the real distance that separates us from his style of writing.
As a matter of history, his place is clear enough, I suppose. From the mid-1920s to the early 1960s, Wilson was the premier literary critic in America. As an editor at Vanity Fair in the 1920s, then at the New Republic, and writing all the while for the New Yorker, he defined the life of arts and letters in the United States, publishing volume after volume of selected essays and reviews.

That’s not to say he was the most influential figure of his time. During Wilson’s life, the followers of Marx and Freud changed literature far more than he did—which makes sense, if you think about it: Literary theorists, people with a system, make reading and writing easy; that’s why they gain such importance. Edmund Wilson could never begin to create that kind of system. His unique success came from his unique genius. Even he couldn’t teach someone else to do what he did: absorbing books and making intelligent points about them.

Sometimes he got it wrong. His prose was merely good enough—not sparkling; only clear and well organized—and he got nosebleeds whenever he tried to follow philosophy up into the stratosphere of metaphysics. For that matter, he never understood escapism, and so, in a golden age of Hollywood screwball fluff, he condemned American movies as inferior to European—to say nothing of his famous essay that thundered against mystery novels: “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?”

Mostly, though, he got it right. And if he seems lost to us now, that’s not just because we have no similar genius to occupy the space that he filled. It’s also because that space has nearly disappeared. The magisterial critic has no role left in America, really. We appreciate, we enjoy, we peruse, we watch. But we don’t define ourselves by reading anymore. The novel, the premiere art form of western civilization over the last two hundred years, has ceased to be the mark of civilization. And so what need have we of Edmund Wilson—that fat, ferocious man, so nimble on his feet?

Early in his career as a writer, Wilson set out to carry on, in the words of his biographer Lewis Dabney, “H. L. Mencken’s work of making prudery and naïveté unfashionable.” Seeking that end, he read his way across the spectrum of modern writers: Proust, Joyce, Eliot, and Valéry; Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Lermontov, and Pushkin, together with almost all the twentieth-century American writers. Along the way, he indulged his other great passion—for women. Several of his affairs ended up in marriage, the most famous being his wedding to Mary McCarthy, a woman seventeen years his junior.

McCarthy, in the words of one of her friends, had “wonderful gray eyes—searching eyes.” She was a sexual creature for whom “sex and love and social conquest were,” as she wrote, “inseparably wedded in my mind with men.” Her passion for sex equaled that of Wilson’s, who in his journals gives us literary versions of their sexual encounters. But there was also a deep intellectual connection between the two. As Wilson remarks in his journal of the time (published as The Fifties), “Mary had an uncanny instinct for knowing how my mind was likely to work; she established, in a peculiar way, very close intellectual and what may be called sensibility relationships—as when we used to have dreams that paralleled one another’s.” In the end, the age gap between Wilson and McCarthy—together with their drinking and infidelities—doomed the marriage.

His position as the nation’s chief critic and literary arbiter derived from his persistent attempt to promote a genuine artistic culture. In “Talking United States,” for instance—an article Wilson wrote about Mencken’s The American Language—he argued that American English offered real advantages to the writer, for it had grown beyond its British origins by incorporating the foreign elements brought to America by immigrants.

No, the problem for art wasn’t the American language. It was the American culture. Wilson was typical of his time in condemning the commercial aspect of life in the United States as an obstacle to creating anything of artistic value. The country, he wrote, is “simply not built” for artists, and so he urged Americans in search of culture to head to the Mecca of Paris and “drink it from the source.”

… Yet, Wilson’s real breakthrough, beyond the other critics of his time, came because he refused to simplify reading. The condemnation of Marxism as sterile for its “simplicity of vision” extends far beyond Marxism. It is, in Wilson’s writing, a weapon against all the ways in which a literary vision can be compromised by political messages or propaganda. For this reason, he rightly declared, Balzac “is worth a thousand of Zola.”

Long before his death in 1972, … the ground was shifting under his feet—or, rather, what had looked to the young critic in the 1920s as a vast plain of American letters was narrowing to a small ledge, and even someone as surefooted as Edmund Wilson was having trouble keeping his balance. What role was there, once we reached the 1960s, for a master reader of American literature? Lionel Trilling, Leslie Fiedler, Dwight Macdonald—all the great American literary critics of the time found their options and their importance dwindling.

Some of them went mad as a consequence—Dwight Macdonald racing up to the student riots at Columbia University in 1968, for example, to embrace the “youth culture” as the great new hope for America. Others settled back into curmudgeonly grumpiness. Others simply became irrelevant.

Perhaps that’s the best way to describe Edmund Wilson. However well he wrote, however well he performed the cultural hygiene of criticism, he seems astoundingly irrelevant now. Who reads him these days? Who, for that matter, reads the artists he worked to make central to the American experience? When was the last time you picked up a book by Upton Sinclair or John Dos Passos? When were Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser last passionately pursued by readers? Who even knows the name of Floyd Dell?

The culture that wanted to flourish from the twenties through the fifties faded away from the 1960s down to our own time, and we have no space left for a critic like Wilson to fill. The great reader—that fat, ferocious man, dancing through books—is astonishingly irrelevant now. The loss is not Edmund Wilson’s. It’s ours.



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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Attalus
Lorien


Jan 22, 4:52pm

Post #8 of 13 (1567 views)
Shortcut
We don’t define ourselves by reading anymore? I do! [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
“Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?”...<snip>
Balzac “is worth a thousand of Zola.” ...<snip>
Seeking that end, he read his way across the spectrum of modern writers: Proust, Joyce, Eliot, and Valéry; Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Lermontov, and Pushkin, together with almost all the twentieth-century American writers....<snip>
Who reads him these days? Who, for that matter, reads the artists he worked to make central to the American experience? When was the last time you picked up a book by Upton Sinclair or John Dos Passos? When were Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser last passionately pursued by readers? Who even knows the name of Floyd Dell?

Let's see. I idolize TS Eliot, admire Crime and Punishment , Taras Bulba, and In Search of Lost Time. I did my junior honors thesis on Sinclair Lewis.I read five or six books a month. I think that qualifies me as a reader. But however much I admire the essayist's prose (and praise of someone I dislike), I will go on rereading TLotR. And ignoring the early twentieth century writers. I note that I admire John Knowles, Pat Conroy, and Louis Auchincloss, though. Smile

Oh, and, who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd? I do.

We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior! Well, yeah, first he killed a bunch of us and another whole lot of Mauhúr's lads, and we had to shoot enough arrows into him to drop a Mûmak. But we got him!


squire
Half-elven


Jan 22, 10:58pm

Post #9 of 13 (1549 views)
Shortcut
You do, but the general culture doesn't [In reply to] Can't Post

At least, that's the conclusion of the essay I posted. And of course it's hard to pin down the validity of such broad statements. I would also say I define myself by my reading, but I'm the first to admit I read maybe a third as many books and magazines these days as I did thirty years ago.

There seems to be no doubt that Edmund Wilson, one of the most important intellectuals of mid-century America, is now not read and is unknown to the younger generations.



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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 22, 11:55pm

Post #10 of 13 (1543 views)
Shortcut
Sadly no. [In reply to] Can't Post

That discussion was on the old forums. And checking my files, I find I saved some of the other discussions from that week's series, but not the Wilson posts. Must have run out of time.

There are four lights.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


Attalus
Lorien


Jan 23, 12:11am

Post #11 of 13 (1541 views)
Shortcut
All Too True [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

There seems to be no doubt that Edmund Wilson, one of the most important intellectuals of mid-century America, is now not read and is unknown to the younger generations.

True enough. He is remembered mainly, it seems to me, to Tolkien fans who resent his superficial and condescending review. But, intellectual mavens are not long remembered, even by the literate, Well, except H.L. Mencken and Dr. Johnson. I am happy to see, however, that G.K. Chesterton, unknown to even the reading public in my youth except for the perennially popular Father Brown stories is now much better known and regarded, mainly for Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. I am sure Tollers would approve, as he admired GKC, and even cited "Chestertonian Fantasy" in "On Fairy-Stories.". Heh heh, I wonder what Wilson would have thought of that? Wink

We are the fighting Uruk-Hai! We slew the great warrior! Well, yeah, first he killed a bunch of us and another whole lot of Mauhúr's lads, and we had to shoot enough arrows into him to drop a Mûmak. But we got him!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jan 23, 7:41pm

Post #12 of 13 (1486 views)
Shortcut
That perspective really helps. [In reply to] Can't Post

Now I see how he was situated, almost as a self-appointed guardian and gatekeeper of modernist American literature, I can see how he would have found the positive reviews of LotR, which is so very much at odds with modernist literary approaches, as a challenge to the style of literature that he was trying to nurture. I'm starting to see the vehemence of his review rather differently, not so much as just general sneering at something of little value, but as a recognition that this was something powerful that he needed to nip in the bud. Maybe it's almost a backhanded compliment that he decided to attack the book as he did.

(As for his ridiculous suggestion about how Auden's homosexuality might have affected his tastes, I suppose we have to remember that Wilson was of the generation for whom the tastes and talents of (straight, white) males was simply assumed to be by definition the most valid. I couldn't help noticing that the "genre" writers he seems to have singled out for his displeasure are mostly female (Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie), and I'm guessing that such biases are very much in the spirit of his times.)

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Feb 22, 6:52am

Post #13 of 13 (1172 views)
Shortcut
Apropos of nothing. [In reply to] Can't Post

I chuckled at this political comment I came across tonight, which due to forum rules I can only present with some key words edited out:

"I continue to caution everyone against using the term '----- ---------.' It’s like the one ring; it serves only one master, and you cannot wield it for good."

It continues to impress me how much LOTR has pervaded mainstream consciousness.

Treason doth neuer prosper? What's the Reason?
for if it prosper none dare call it treason.


-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.

 
 

Search for (options) Powered by Gossamer Forum v.1.2.3

home | advertising | contact us | back to top | search news | join list | Content Rating

This site is maintained and updated by fans of The Lord of the Rings, and is in no way affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises or the Tolkien Estate. We in no way claim the artwork displayed to be our own. Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, articles, and other promotional materials are held by their respective owners and their use is allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law. Design and original photography however are copyright © 1999-2012 TheOneRing.net. Binary hosting provided by Nexcess.net

Do not follow this link, or your host will be blocked from this site. This is a spider trap.