Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Cimmerian refutes Epic Pooh

Many years ago Michael Moorcock wrote an essay called 'Epic Pooh', in which he attacked and blasted J.R.R. Tolkien's works at great length, often using terminology which suggested he hadn't actually read the books or, if he had, fundamentally misunderstood them. His suggestion that The Lord of the Rings ignores death is at odds with the very common reading that the book is about nothing but death, and his notion that Tolkien 'glorifies' war is bemusing, given Tolkien's horror at the thought of mass conflict (a result of serving on the Somme) and his musings on that in the book during the passage of the Dead Marshes, or the discussion on if the human soldiers in Sauron's armies were really evil or just swept along into the war without much choice and would rather have just stayed at home in peace.

The Cimmerian - a fine website dedicated to the works of fantasy in general and Robert E. Howard in particular - has published an article which is an interesting rebuttal of many of Moorcock's points, including his factually dubious ones. It is a very interesting read, although it's a shame one of the most interesting lines of enquiry - that Moorcock's dislike of Tolkien but lauding of Pullman can only be explained by his disagreement with the politics of the former and agreement with the politics of the latter - is curtailed and relegated to the footnotes. It's an interesting read that goes beyond the, "Oh yeah, and so is your mum!" responses I've seen the 'Epic Pooh' essay generate in other quarters over the years to tackle the substance of Moorcock's argument. Interesting fodder for debate there.

10 comments:

Shawn said...

I'd agree that the money shot line in the footnotes is the REAL reason Moorcock (and many other modern fantasy writers) take posthumous shots at him today.

But if Mr Elric wasn't as interested in being prolific and actually cared half as much about his craft, I might actually have enjoyed reading him.

Jeff King said...

Any “real” reader of J.R.R could not discredit his work. It is amazing and brings a world to life, so well crafted it leaves the reader in awe.

Someone who would bash him could only be looking to piggyback of his success, hoping to be recognized by doing so...

Thx

Jon Hunter said...

I think Tolkien is open to the criticism of writing from the time and place in which he was and no more.

Tolkiens worldview was created before the wars, to judge through theyes of a post 60's worldview is fatally flawed

Paul D said...

Give me a break Jeff King. Lots of readers have read Tolkien and no enjoyed it. Not the majority, but certainly lots. No writer is immune from criticism. I like LOTR, but do find his anti-progress message a bit strange.

Adam Whitehead said...

Tolkien certainly isn't above criticism, but some of the things Moorcock criticised Tolkien for go to the core of Tolkien the writer, rather than LORD OF THE RINGS the individual work, and it's clear that Moorcock did not do his homework on Tolkien's life, the context of how the work was written and so on. He also claims to have read THE SILMARILLION, but I do not see how that is the case with his suggestion that Tolkien enjoys 'happy endings' (of Tolkien's work only THE HOBBIT has a 'really' happy ending, and much of that is undone by LotR).

Anonymous said...

My personal main criticism is that there are so many similarities to the New Testament in the LotR. Aragorn, Faramir, Gandalf, they all bear striking resemblances in some way to good ol' Jesus. It's however not near as flat as in C.S. Lewis' work (only saw a few dreadful minutes of the movie version on TV).

vacuouswastrel said...

I don't like to pimp my own thoughts too much, but a while back I put up a post on my blog along similar lines (although not addressing Moorcock specifically):

http://vacuouswastrel.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/why-tolkien-isnt-a-conservative/

Anonymous said...

If Moorcock knows a better author writing beowulfian fantasy, he can say right out.

Dave said...

Interesting debate. I was so disappointed by where Pullman's series went (not politically, but stylistically and relationship-wise) that I almost didn't finish the second half of the last book. But I was sick in a hotel in Malaysia and had nothing better to do.

Anyone that could praise Pullman while bashing Tolkien... let's just say their musings go in a much different direction than mine.

Matthias said...

Everyone who likes Tolkien also appreciates Folk Rock. That's what the whole Mumbo Jumbo boils down to. (Initially I thought it was about growing up in a city or in a town, but the Folk thing is probably better and more to the point.)