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Essay: Grace in the Unredeemed Land of Middle-Earth

Attalus
Lorien


May 18, 7:17pm

Post #1 of 7 (1357 views)
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Essay: Grace in the Unredeemed Land of Middle-Earth Can't Post

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/...mp;mc_eid=4eeb7ff6ce

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


May 18, 8:32pm

Post #2 of 7 (1339 views)
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Gee, look, an actual temple in which Tolkien is the solitary idol. [In reply to] Can't Post

As acute as Birzer's observations are at a few points (very nice on the desacralized church imagery near the end), his prose betrays the skills he says he sees in Tolkien's writing. He goes over the top. He praises Tolkien's virtuoso prose in words that no author should have to bear the burden of: "in many ways, he is almost beyond compare in the English language of the twentieth century." "If there is a passage in all of English literature that better describes the horrors of the twentieth-century—its world wars, its gulags, its holocaust camps—I have yet to encounter it." Beyond a few glances at the details of Tolkien's style, he does not explain himself to his reader, but seems to expect that we will be swept away simply by reading the excerpts and being told they are the best -- ever.

This is not criticism, this is hagiography. It is the closest thing I have read in many years to the objects of Brian Rosebury's scornful put-down of amateur Tolkien fan-critics:
"Analysis and evaluation are always comparative: it is no use declaring an anathema on modern literature and then worshipping Tolkien in a temple in which he is the solitary idol. - B. Rosebury, Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon (2003)
Rosebury's point is that writers like Birzer, in their messianic enthusiasm, are neither analyzing Tolkien's prose nor evaluating it, by holding it against the other likely or already-acclaimed candidates for Best Author in 20th Century English or Best Author of Anti-Totalitarian or Anti-War Prose in the 20th Century. Until they do so, we have no reason to agree with the arguments of essays such as this one.



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


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CuriousG
Half-elven


May 19, 3:49pm

Post #3 of 7 (1291 views)
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Lessons on writing [In reply to] Can't Post

It's been a LONG time since I took a writing course in school, but I think my teachers would have marked up Tolkien's paragraph for having "too many adjectives" and also for committing the sin of repeating a word ("crawling day" followed soon by "crawling muds"). He does forge a wonderfully evocative description by breaking those rules so shamelessly, since it would be hard to read this paragraph and *not* imagine a horrid, "industrial nightmare" landscape.


Quote

Tolkien reveals his finest writing of all in the following paragraph:

Before them dark in the dawn the great mountains reached up to roofs of smoke and cloud. Out from their feet were flung huge buttresses and broken hills that were now at the nearest scarce a dozen miles away. Frodo looked round in horror. Dreadful as the Dead Marshes had been, and the arid moors of the Noman-lands, more loathsome far was the country that the crawling day now slowly unveiled to his shrinking eyes. Even to the Mere of Dead Faces, some haggard phantom of green spring would come; but here neither spring nor summer would ever come again. Here nothing lived, not even the leprous growths that feed on rottenness. The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light. (The Two Towers)

If there is a passage in all of English literature that better describes the horrors of the twentieth-century—its world wars, its gulags, its holocaust camps—I have yet to encounter it.


And I come back to the "crawling" because it's both literal and symbolic. With the exception of their time in Ithilien, it seems Frodo and Sam are crawling their way toward Mt Doom once they leave the Fellowship behind at Parth Galen. Quite literally they crawl at various times such as up the Endless Stair and in the Dead Marshes, but the whole journey's arc seems one of being wearily bent over and scrambling for the next foothold, versus the more heroic charges and gallant horse travel taking place across the Anduin with the other characters.

Anyway, it was a good read. Thanks for posting it.


Attalus
Lorien


May 19, 4:07pm

Post #4 of 7 (1286 views)
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Glad... [In reply to] Can't Post

...you liked it! Smile

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!


Aelfwine
The Shire

May 20, 11:30pm

Post #5 of 7 (1168 views)
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"Hagiography" [In reply to] Can't Post

"If there is a passage in all of English literature that better describes the horrors of the twentieth-century—its world wars, its gulags, its holocaust camps—I have yet to encounter it."

"This is not criticism, this is hagiography."

NO. Birzer is expressing _his_ experience ("_I_ have yet to encounter it"), and _his_ opinion based on that experience. He makes no claim to have surveyed _all_ of English literature (though he has certainly surveyed more than most); he makes no demand that anyone else share his opinion; he is making no "argument" (save for that implicitly made by the quotes from Tolkien he provides). He is on _that_ basis entitled to these statements, without charge of "hagiography" or other bias.

--
Carl F. Hostetter


Aelfwine
The Shire

May 20, 11:53pm

Post #6 of 7 (1166 views)
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Put another way [In reply to] Can't Post

Put another way: on what basis, acceptable to you/Rosebury, could ANY critic, expressing a personal superlative judgment, defend themself against a charge of "hagiography"? But then, on what basis could one(s) making a charge of "hagiography" defend themself, except on a subjective basis of alter- or anti-superlative?

The true response of disagreement to (falsely so-called) "hagiography" in matters of aesthetic judgment is, of course, to offer counter-examples that a critic regards as superior. (On, of course, a personal aesthetic basis — nothing wrong with that — but of course also subject to charge of "hagiography"....)

--
Carl F. Hostetter


Aelfwine
The Shire

May 21, 12:24am

Post #7 of 7 (1161 views)
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Put another way still [In reply to] Can't Post

"This is not criticism" (to quote someone), it is mere gainsaying anti-aesthetic.

--
Carl F. Hostetter

 
 

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