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Old 6th January 2012, 07:29 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Tolkien's 1961 Nobel snub

I have to agree with both points mojboze makes in the comments but thought it was interesting and figured I'd "light fuse and get away".
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Old 10th January 2012, 12:34 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Encountered many literature academics that don't understand where Tolkien is coming from with his prose, accusing him of having no stylistic purpose.

He is writing a mock-translation in order to achieve the authenticity of an ancient text and pulls it off brilliantly. I've known people who haven't read any other books at all until they've read Lord of the Rings; Tolkien's done a lot more for people's reading habits than critics who seem to think their job is to tell the public they shouldn't be reading his work, while offering nothing but acute tastes themselves.
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Old 20th February 2012, 07:30 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

I agree with the Nobel committee. LOTR is not Nobel-worthy. It is fantastic for a number of other reasons - many other reasons, in fact - but the writing and the plot and the essential elements of craft are not up to snuff. I think that's why it got snubbed by the committee. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED the books. They took me to a whole other world, which I needed at that point. Be that as it may, I wouldn't consider the writing excellent at all.
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Old 22nd February 2012, 01:46 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Depends entirely on what you think a novel is about. If it's about telling a story which transcends age and genre and catches the imagination of millions, I'd say LOTR is worthy of any prize you care to mention.

If a novel is about showing off one's clever word play, let's just give the prize to any first year English Lit undergrad who's had an hour with Derrida.

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Old 22nd February 2012, 02:54 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

What peter said. I read the Lord of the Rings when I was twelve years old. That was even before I went on to my Brian Jacques "Redwall" series addiction. The Lord of the Rings MADE me read. Ever since, reading is my most favorite hobby. Well, writing is a close second.

I don't intend to comment on his prose. I remember enjoying every minute of that story, and that is all that I care about.
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Old 22nd February 2012, 03:04 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Personally, I found Tolkien's prose a touch heavy-handed, but I have to disagree with Nobel judge Anders Österling's comment:
Quote:
the result has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality
I think LotR succeeds in what Tolkien was trying to achieve in creating a story reminiscent of the early Anglo-Saxon myths.

At the same time, I think it's necessary to remember that this was 1961, with some very different views on the table. Look who else they passed over: Lawrence Durrell, EM Forster and Robert Frost; the last two because they were too old, Durrell because he had a lot of sex in his work.

I don't think Tolkien was a great writer in many ways, but he was a good storyteller.
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Old 22nd February 2012, 05:48 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

I would imagine that, just like the rest of us, the judges on the committee had their own prejudices when it comes to good prose.
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Old 22nd February 2012, 08:53 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Ivo Andric won the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature.

On the goodreads website his book The Bridge of the Drina was reviewed by 1,506 people, giving it an average rating of 4.18 (47% of them rating it with 5 stars).

By comparison the Lord of the Rings was reviewed by 110,733 people, giving it an average rating of 4.38 (58% of them rating it as 5 star).

Not very scientific but then neither are the views of a few academics.
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Old 22nd February 2012, 10:57 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Of course LOTR isn't Nobel-worthy - people actually read it.
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Old 24th February 2012, 02:29 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Quote:
I don't think Tolkien was a great writer in many ways, but he was a good storyteller.
i think it important to mention as a World Builder, Tolkien has no equals. As a writer however, is where he stumbles. His prose is meandering and as much as we may be compelled to trudge through to get to the story, its also a distraction. And sadly, its a distraction that is probably needed.
I find Tolkien's story-telling, especially in Return of the King, to be thoroughly 2nd rate. Fellowship is magnificent from start to finish, excepting the ridiculousness of Tom Bombadil (could there be a segment of ANY book of Fantasy fiction as entirely irrelevant to the story as the chapters involving this cartoonish waste of pages?). Two Towers is also a very good story. Return of the King seemed to become very rushed at the end. And it wasn't simply a matter of pacing. The Scouring of the Shire was another issue. Its a very anticlimactic finale to such an epic work of fiction. I can understand its meaning, and did so, immediately, even at 13 when i first read it. But its also infuriating for some reasons, and incredibly childish due to others.
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Old 26th February 2012, 11:03 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Tolkien wanted readers to follow the story and had absolutely no ego-related problems about wanting the reader to hear his 'voice', which so many other writers seem to take as their primary motivation.

Because of this, his use of language was delicate an unobtrusive, but there are no lazy sentences in LOTR. Every sentence is there to fit his philosophy and has great depth not always seen on first reading. Pick a random sentence/para and I'm confident we can come up with something those who doubt his writing ability won't have noticed. Happy to accept the challenge?
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Old 27th February 2012, 04:59 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Quote:
Originally Posted by River Boy View Post
Tolkien wanted readers to follow the story and had absolutely no ego-related problems about wanting the reader to hear his 'voice', which so many other writers seem to take as their primary motivation.

Because of this, his use of language was delicate an unobtrusive, but there are no lazy sentences in LOTR. Every sentence is there to fit his philosophy and has great depth not always seen on first reading. Pick a random sentence/para and I'm confident we can come up with something those who doubt his writing ability won't have noticed. Happy to accept the challenge?
River Boy, sounds like you should start a new thread? The trivia challenge has slowed in the last year or two, maybe this new one will perk up some interest.

Have at 'er, River Boy.
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Old 18th March 2012, 09:40 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

I don't know about the quality of the prose, but I have never read any author in the genre who comes close to the quality of story-telling. Tolkien's tale stands head and shoulders above the rest.

There are a number of second tier authors; Eddings comes to mind, but his return again and again the the same basic story-line is a big mark against him. The Mallorean and the Belgariad are practically the same tale with a few differences in characters. Then there's Kurtz's Deryni series, an excellent foray into the world of magic and fantasy. Feist made his own excellent effort but fails if for no other reason that his melding of fantasy and sci-fi. Brooks' Shannara series was also entertaining though very derivative of Tolkien's work.

Then there are the really dreadful like Jordon (Rigney). The man wrote what has to be the most interminable, confused, and meandering series in history. Having, with grim determination, managed to get all the way through vol. 10, by which point I was skipping whole chapters, I can only surmise that he knew he had written a novella and decided that, with enough irrelevant dross, he could expand it into an epic spanning volume after volume and sucker people into buying them.

There's just something about LOTR that keeps me returning to re-read and re-visit his world.

His descriptive powers varied from mediocre (usually in his descriptions of characters) to "Conradian" in his detailed descriptions of the world around his characters.

Of course Tolkien was trying to build a "national mythology" for Britain reminiscent of the Eddas, rather then just telling a fantasy tale. Remember, unlike any of the other authors, his story came about from his love of languages and the need to build a world in which to house his invented languages.

Everytime I read another author, I am forced to sit in awe of what Tolkien achieved . . . and the influence he had in essentially creating an entirely new genre of fiction.
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Old 24th June 2012, 09:45 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

What is amazing about Tolkien for me is that he didn't just write the books, he created a genre, and a world, then even created the history of the world.
Sure, they may not be the easiest books to read, and I wouldn't have left the hobbit chapters in one big block, but intersperce them amongst the others, especially in the two towers, but it is still readable.
And I can't think of any other author who wrote in a much depth as he did. It's almost as if he aimed to leave not a single question unanswered (he did leave a couple, but only to create a sense of mystery). Whether he was to get a prize or not, he was an outstanding author.
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Old 24th June 2012, 11:22 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Nobels: Tolkien's prose doesn't measure up

Michael Moorcock attacked Tolkein for sounding too much like A A Milne, and while I don't agree with all of Moorcock's critique, I do see his point. The problem I have here is that LOTR isn't really about the real world in the way that, say, 1984 is (ok, there's a few parallels, but it's pretty tenuous), nor is it an attempt to create amazing new prose or talk about "great issues". For all its achievements, it doesn't move literature forward. In a way, by sounding like a turn-of-the-century novelist in parts and a translation of Mallory in others, Tolkein just looks back and away.

In terms of prose, and only of prose, LOTR is an excellent pastiche. This probably makes me sound like a terrible intellectual snob, but if the question is whether a Nobel prize requires something more than that, then I'd say yes, it does.

For me, LOTR is a little like Gormenghast. Gormenghast is better written, while LOTR has a more comprehensive background/world-building. But both are peculiar, off-on-a-tangent entertainments, brilliant in their own ways. Ultimately I wouldn't give a Nobel prize for that. (To counter the argument about creating a mythology for Britain, I always thought Britain had plenty of mythology anyhow).

However, I would say the same about plenty of writers critics rave about. "Literature" is full of artificial, stilted prose far more awkward and unreal than Tolkein's, even among up-to-the-minute, hard-hitting novels. Cormac "Verily I wish I'd written the King James Bible" McCarthy, I'm looking at you!
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