Skip to main content

View Diary: Sci-Fi Fantasy Club: Which Ugly SF/Fantasy Ducklings became Literary Swans? (140 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  I'm sorry, but LOTR is not a good book. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, poco, lunacat, pico, Winston Sm1th

    Or rather, it's not a good novel.  Not even its subsets are good novels on their own.  Each one was about as dry as a history book (not quite as bad as The Silmarillion, but still pretty bad) and included a lot of elements that not only failed to serve the story, but at times undermines it.  I only finished the trilogy out of shear obstinance rather than enjoyment.

    Peter Jackson successfully trimmed the obese fat bubbles from the books when making the LOTR movies and created something quite amazing out of what are extremely imaginative but very poorly written books.

    "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

    by kirrix on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:15:01 PM PDT

    •  Them's fighting words 'round these parts . . . (13+ / 0-)

      Just speaking for the Sci-Fi Fantasy Club. Certainly, millions of readers find your opinion anathema: LOTR has topped some readers polls, out of all 20th Century books.

      For myself, I find LOTR does many things very well, but doesn't do everything a literary novel's expected to.

      Yesterday, in a different diary, TheOtherMaven said

      LOTR was doing something completely different. It's high fantasy at its highest, with just enough realistic touches to put it across to modern audiences.
      Tolkein did a great job of storytelling. He sold 150 million copies of a 1500 page book, and many of its readers have read it several times. So, in weaving a tale that has enormous power to suck us deeply into his world, he succeeded at a very high level - even if it's not for everyone.

      He achieved what he set out to do. He wrote a new kind of tale, in his own fashion, and it works.

      But he was writing a sweeping epic, not a modern novel. He doesn't waste time exploring the complexity and development of his characters, because their inner life is unimportant in his scheme - he has kingdoms to sway and quests to push forward. I don't think they're poorly written novels, they're masterfully constructed epic fables.

      Peter Jackson did an amazing job (with a lot of committed and talented help), translating Tolkein's vision on the page to his own interpretation on the screen.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 08:47:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've probably read LOTR (9+ / 0-)

        over a hundred times between junior high school and mid-thirties.  I don't know if it is a great book.  I do know it took me to a very different place.  

        Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

        by barbwires on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:00:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Certainly epic proportion stories, but even epics (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, lunacat, terrypinder, dandy lion

        must be about characters in order to be good fiction.  LOTR isn't about characters, it is about the world.  There is room for that, but that room is supplementary books that are textbooks of the world (like those books written about the technology of the Naboo fighters for Star Wars).  That is only one of my problems with his writing.  There are literally multiple page descriptions and dialogues that serve no purpose.

        In The Two Towers there is a three and a half page argument between Aragorn and Hama in which they don't actually disagree about anything.  Hama just keeps saying "we can't let you see Theoden while you are armed" and Aragorn says "don't touch my sword" over and over again.  Finally he puts it down and no one touches it.  The argument serves no purpose whatsoever except to add pages to the book.  The same scene in the movie?  Hama calls on the them to disarm, they do except for Gandalf's staff because Gandalf is a tricky bastard.  Much better.

        Another big problem I have is the inconsistency regarding the ring.  The supposedly pure evil ring able to corrupt anyone fails to corrupt two individuals at least that I can remember.  One is Tom Bombadil, who serves no purpose in the story but to distract and was thankfully cut when they were writing the script for the movie, and Faramir, who in the book feels no compulsion to try to claim the ring.  This severely undermines the threat posed by the ring itself and weakens the overall narrative.

        There are in all honesty only two things that I actually like better in the books.  One is the concept that there are forces of nature even more powerful than Sauron (the one I mentioned previously, however, still just annoys me).  The other is the hobbits returning to an enslaved Shire and leading a revolt against Saruman.  Again though, I feel this section was poorly written.  Tolkein is a wonderful conceptualist, but The Hobbit is really the only good thing he's written.  And Peter Jackson is doing better with that than him again.

        "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

        by kirrix on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:14:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I won't mount a sustained defense of the strengths (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Youffraita, RiveroftheWest, CorinaR

          of Tolkein's work - it's too long since I read it.

          I'm not sure your repetitive three and a half page argument is a major flaw. Atlas Shrugged has a seventy page speech of turgid, tendentious propaganda, which knocks the reader into a coma. I happen to think the book just sucks, but I've seen it on several Best 100 Book lists.

          I'd have to reread that 3+1/2 page argument, to see what it added to the book. As I said, I think LOTR succeeds both in its very ambitious grand design, and in sucking readers into the experience of another world.

          I just figured Tom Bombadil came from a prelapsarian nature, and the ring couldn't touch him. I saw Jackson's first Hobbit movie, and thought he's losing Tolkein's vision, stuffing in too much of his own. But, as I said, I don't have a clear enough grasp of Tolkein's text to be certain of my arguments.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 11:14:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  OMG Brecht! (7+ / 0-)
            Atlas Shrugged has a seventy page speech of turgid, tendentious propaganda, which knocks the reader into a coma. I happen to think the book just sucks
            IIRC, it was ninety pages in the mm pb version I read in high school.

            That was the didactic 90 pages that convinced me that ALL writers need good editors (b/c clearly she wouldn't stand for having her precious prose touched by someone so merely prosaic as an editor who knows something about prose style, not to mention good writing) and that The Fountainhead -- a much better book -- must have had a devil of an editor to wrestle her prose into something better than she was capable of writing.

            And I was still in high school when I had that epiphany.

            Needless to say, I never read another word of hers. Clearly she was incapable of putting them together in a readable manner.

            In other news, yeah, I'm with you: I loved LOTR and read it a whole bunch of times...in high school. Maybe college too, although I think by then I was reading too much for classes to read much else. So...haven't been close to the text in decades.

            Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

            by Youffraita on Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 11:33:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes. 'The Fountainhead' was a far better book - it (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ender, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

              was kind of fun, mostly.

              As with Dan Brown, Ayn Rand's great success at selling poorly written books makes me wonder just what they have that does work. Maybe libertarians just like to identify with superheroes, and pretend that they're just like them, except for their tiny lives and minds.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 01:44:14 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Check Your Weapons At the Door (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ender, RiveroftheWest, CorinaR, Brecht

            I suspect that the reason why Tolkien devoted space to the irrelevant argument over Aragorn's sword in the Hall of Theoden is because it's the kind of thing that would occur in a Medieval tale, and because it is a point of knightly ettiquite that a Medieval audience would find important.  And Tolkien was a big-time Medievalist.

            And I think it does serve a purpose, albeit perhaps a minor one.  In the scene as written, (I'm going from memory here), Gandalf mediates in the clash between Aragorn and Hama, acting as the Voice of Reason and telling Aragorn not to be a butthead.  Having done so, when it comes his turn to relinquish his staff, Gandalf is able to say, in effect, "Hey, we're willing to comply with reasonable demands but this is stupid."  Hama feels like now he's being the butthead, and so he lets the wizard keep his funny stick.

            Contrast that with the way the scene plays out in the movie.  Hama requests that everyone relinquish their weapons.  Aragorn complies.  Gandalf refuses.  Now Gandalf is one looking like a butthead.

            Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at http://www.kurtoonsonline.com/

            by quarkstomper on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 05:56:21 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I have to agree (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Brecht

          Because it seems to me that the fact I have been unable, in several attempts, to slog through LOTR means there is something wrong. Fans have told me that you must first read it when you are 14, and I missed this crucial deadline by several decades. As it is, LOTR takes you over the river and through the woods and across the creek and up and down the hills and through the woods again, until you are ready to scream.

          The short conclusion is that it is strictly plot-based, and I prefer character-based fiction.

          I have read and much liked The Hobbit, so it is not Middle-Earth that bothers me, it's just Tolkien's ponderous way of telling a story, and the peculiar and shallow characters he uses to tell it, that bother me.

          The movies were great, however, and I would like to go to NZ and see the beautiful mountains where they were filmed.    

          "You can observe a lot just by watching." ~ Yogi Berra

          by dandy lion on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:35:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Tolkein forged a new kind of epic fantasy, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest

            and his heirs have been playing with its possibilities ever since. There are writers who are trying to conjure up the same immense panoramas Tolkein did, of millenia, continents, and world-shattering wars between heroes and demons - and also to squeeze in fully developed characters.

            Alas, most who get anywhere near that end up with series twice as long as LOTR. George R. R. Martin might pull it off, with a series twice as long as LOTR, full of fascinating characters, that's actually worth reading from end to end.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 12:44:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Im glad you said this (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ender, RiveroftheWest, CorinaR, Brecht

      I disagree, but I know where you are coming from.

      When I was 12, I read the Hobbit and thought it was the greatest book ever written.  I got LOTR as soon as I could, and it just lost me.

      I had tried to go back and read it a few times and it just never stuck.  My mind just kind of rolled off the page and I couldn't get into the narrative.

      Then years later I was traveling in Latin America and got a wicked fever that had me bed bound for like a week, and a friend gave me a ragged copy of Return of the King.  I was so bored that I read it, and without being able to do anything else, I just savored and devoured it.  

      I am a fast reader, so I think I was too impatient with it when I had tried to read it before, but with no other distractions, I got swept up into the depth of the story, and when I went back to the Fellowship, I finally got what everyone had been raving about all those years.

      •  It amazes me that so many teenagers, and younger (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Winston Sm1th

        children, make it all the way through LOTR with delight. It's a massive book, with long dry spells - that endless slog through Mordor, with such trivial adventures. But loads of kids keep going, which shows the power of Tolkein's original spell.

        I've had the same experience you had, with other books. Moby Dick and Swann's Way, when I was a teenager, just didn't offer enough handholds to grasp in their early pages. When I returned to them in later decades, I spoke book much more fluently, so all their subtler charms sustained me until the plot kicked in.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 10:26:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  heh. I agree. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ender, RiveroftheWest, Brecht

      I was only able to complete the written trilogy AFTER i'd seen the movies.

      Still say the scouring of the shire shoulda been in there.

      Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility- mperiousRex.

      by terrypinder on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 05:48:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In the words of Michael Moorcock (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Brecht

      They are Epic Pooh.

      Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

      by Wisper on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 04:55:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site