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In Defense of Tolkien
by Abraham Epton

In Defense of Tolkien


Why His Critics Are Generally Idiots

Let’s face it; no matter who wins the scholarly debate over the quality and credibility of J.R.R. Tolkien, he’s here to stay; and while he may not be taught at Yale and Harvard with the same ferocity as Shakespeare, he’ll always be a staple of American popular culture, to one degree or another. So this debate, basically, is pointless — what is said here means nothing to the general population, and as for the academic population… well, they’ve made up their minds already anyway.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m going to sit idly by while a bunch of literary malcontents and snobs attempt to demean my favorite author of all time, and one of the most influential of the twentieth century.

Certainly the claim that he’s one of the most influential authors of the twentieth century is hard to refute; everyone has read him, and those who haven’t will. The fantasy genre owes its creation entirely to him, and popular culture is forever in his debt. Although similar could be said of any number of shoddily-made artifacts of popular culture, I believe that in Tolkien one can find a level of quality almost unmatched by modern authors; indeed, one has to look back to Shakespeare, Dante (this comparison is especially apt given Tolkien’s alleged moralizing) or any other canonical writers of the past to find his equal.

Unfortunately for Tolkien, he wasn’t alive during the pre-modern era, and thus must be evaluated under a modern (post-modern?) lens, and evaluated well, to be considered "good" by academia.

The inherent idiocy of this should be immediately obvious to even the simplest of readers; however, for those lacking such cranial capacity, such as literary critics, I’ll explain it. If George Orwell decided to write a novel in a style and frame of mind unused for centuries, thoroughly rejecting post-modernism in favor of something more to his liking, would it be fair to attack the work for not being "modern?" Would it make any sense at all? Of course not; and no one would do such a thing, but they do it to Tolkien all the time. Perhaps because they lack better arguments, which is quite possible.

Post-modernists deride Tolkien for several reasons: lackluster poetic ability (which I’ll concede, but so what?), "archaism," not confining to the pointlessly rigid post-modernist style which, oddly enough, is based upon rejecting rigid structures (you’d think these people would love him!), not infusing irony or any other similarly modern inventions into his work, and for being too prosaic.


First off, his prose is fine; great, even. Certainly it does the job of transporting the reader out of a more modern, twentieth-century frame of mind (Cockney accents and other anachronisms notwithstanding), and into one dating back before recorded history; yet more elegant than humanity will ever know. And frankly, if anyone gets to criticize prose skills, it would be a philologist like Tolkien; certainly one of his eminence gets a certain amount of slack in this regard. Who do you think is more qualified to evaluate prose authenticity, anyway: a snobby New York Times lit critic, or the most preeminent linguist of a time where linguists were fairly prominent and numerous?

I’m not even going to address the charges that he doesn’t use irony, or allegory, or any such device, which somehow makes his writing unacceptable; I already have, more or less, and he eschews them for something far more important, far grander and more elegant, which is plot. Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings, is telling a story told thousands of times before, yet never told as well; the story of a powerless, contented figure completely irrelevant to the politics of his world suddenly becoming the most powerful figure on it is timeless, and what Tolkien weaves around it are themes as grand, majestic and ancient as the nature he so reveres: betrayal, love and loss, loyalty, honor, greed, good, evil, lust, power, death, decay, the birth and death of a society, life, afterlife, the decline of a culture, industrialism (not, perhaps, as ancient as nature, but still…), destruction and finally the Nature of Man.

But I keep forgetting; Tolkien’s irrelevant. Let’s all go read Gravity’s Rainbow and pretend it’s better than that crap the masses enjoy (shudder!).

Abraham Epton
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