Thursday, September 28, 2017

Happy Hobbit Day (belatedly)

So, thanks to Janice S. and Janice K. for the following link to a piece in THE ATLANTIC marking the 80th anniversary of the release of THE HOBBIT last week.  It's nice to see a good example of the mainstreaming of Tolkien's work: I was particularly struck by the use (here and elsewhere, in the pieces on Walter Judd's book) of the word legendarium to describe his imaginary world.

The ATLANTIC writer, Vann R. Newkirk II, early on makes clear that he's an admirer of the book, calling it "the best that literature has to offer".

He's not being condescending by describing Tolkien's book as "quaint, virtuous, and tidy" but wants to emphasize how much such hobbitlike virtues stand out in contrast with R. R. Martin's work. It's  also good to see Newkirk acknowledge how deeply Tolkien's work permeates the fantasy genre, establishing the conventions against which later-day writers react. I do think he overstates his case for Martin as the quintessential modern fantasy writer, failing to take into account, say, J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, or Sir Terry Pratchett, or Phillip Pullman, or Neil Gaiman, et al.

To his credit, he gets the importance of the languages, and on one point he certainly gets credit for originality: I don't think anyone has ever compared Bilbo with Mohammed Ali before.

Newkirk does ding the book for "paternalism, imperialism, and racial essentialism" but these do not detract for him from its celebration what he calls "quaint values": "the dignity of humanity, the virtue of generosity, a respect for life, a duty to do good, and  the ways in which brotherhood can be used to move men toward those ideals".

I wish the average piece on Tolkien that comes out in mass market magazines was half as good as Newkirk's piece.

Here's the link:

--John R.

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