Friday, July 3, 2009

My Mind Boggles (China Mieville)

So, while I was in Milwaukee Jeff Grubb* forwarded to me a link to a piece which boggled my mind:

Here, it's not so much what's said (Tolkien is the major shaping influence on modern fantasy) as who's saying it that's remarkable. Perhaps the most notable Tolkien-basher of the last decade has been China Mieville, most famously in the following bit from, I think, 2003:

Even more negative, though I can not now find that link to it, is a short bit he contributed to a tribute to Tolkien several years back (circa 2001?) in which he gloried in being the sole negative voice; I remember he was specifically hard on Bombadil.

I've always assumed that Mieville's statements were less expressions of his convictions (political or literary) than attempts to curry favor with Moorcock and similar fringe figures of an older generation whom he personally admired. And, frankly, try to ride on Tolkien's current high popularity from the 'Author of the Century' polls and the movies' buzz to get a little shock-jock publicity for himself. Maybe now that he's no longer the new kid in town but has established himself as a major talent in contemporary fantasy --indeed, probably the preeminent writer in the 'New Weird' movement-- he feels he can ease off a bit. And, it must be said, completely reverse himself in every detail of what he'd previously said about JRRT.

Still, it's nice to see him come around.

--John R.

* (check out the June 27th entry for a picture that includes both Janice and myself)


MonteCook said...

I suspect you may be reading more into his comments (both positive and negative) than is actually there.

It's possible--obviously--to respect something you don't personally care for, or believe something has both positive and negative aspects.

I could, for example, write an essay about the things I don't care for in 4th edition D&D. It could, if I let it, get a bit hyperbolic. I could then write another extolling its various virtues, which are many. Have I reversed myself, or simply proven myself human?

Eosphoros said...

Or Miéville just did the reverse of what Richard Morgan did … Morgan elegantly ensured that (virtually) no Tolkien fan will ever again read one of his books, least of all The Steel Remains.
Miéville’s post, on the other hand, increases the chance that the Tolkien readership will be a Miéville readership as well.

I don’t think he got Tolkien’s idea of subcreation quite right, though. He seems to narrow it down to ‘inventing a cosmogony’ …

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Monte

Absolutely it's possible to respect writing that is utterly unlike one's personal taste; in fact, I consider that a sign of maturity. And it's possible to have mixed feelings about an author, praising the strong points without overlooking the shortcomings.

But I don't think that's the case with Mieville, who famously said

"Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature"

and went on to say

"you can't ignore it . . . The best you can do is . . . [to] try to lance the boil"

And, as I noted, this is not the most negative thing he's said about Tolkien, merely the most memorable. I think that goes a good ways beyond the 'respect [for] something you don't personally care for' motive that you suggest C.M. might have been expressing.

That said, all I've read of Mieville's work is the short-story collection LOOKING FOR JAKE, which impressed me a lot. If there's any single one of his novels you'd recommend more than another, I'd enjoying hearing about it and why.

I do need to check out the work of M. John Harrison at some point; I'm currently looking for his Tolkien-bashing essay, which apparently out-Mievilles Mieveille.

--John R.

Terry L said...

I think Mieville is basically giving out left-handed compliments here. he may have finally realized that his hard-core hate-on for Tolkien might be hurting his sales and so is trying to find the five least offensive things he can about him so that he can look like he's changed his mind.

I used to be able to almost respect him for at least having a conviction (however much I disagreed with it) that he held to. Now he's just showing that he can't even stick to his guns.

Cathy Walker said...

Bachelor of Sports Business- I have always thought that one of the main subplots of the trilogy was the growth, both literal and metaphorical, of Merry and Pippin: they start off as irresponsible and end up leading a military campaign. The "scouring of the shire" chapter is key to that subplot. They, like Middle Earth, have lost their youth and moved into a new age.