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Book Cover: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien invented Modern Epic Fantasy, and a thousand writers have followed in his massive footsteps. The Lord of the Rings was an asteroid that hurtled from space to earth, changed the climate of fiction, and gave birth to dinosaurs. George R.R. Martin may become the first disciple to surpass the creator's work.

What does it take to be a Good Writer? What does it take to be a Great Writer? Would you rather be Best in Show or Alpha Wolf?

What exactly did Tolkien accomplish? Which are his skills as a writer? Which are his weaknesses? Why do many critics and literati say that he's not much of a writer?

How does The Hobbit compare to The Lord of the Rings? What are the best things about The Lord of the Rings, and which aspects of the storytelling and writing are weakest? How is George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series stronger than The Lord of the Rings, and how is it weaker?

Champion Dogs: Crufts Quality vs. Wild Vitality

The commonest density among critics and literati is: they are blinkered by rules and fashions; they are reluctant to dive into any book they find (once it's been labeled UnGood), and unwilling to apply their whole heart and imagination to exploring it. So they don't discover what's actually there, but only what they already knew to look for.

A Good Book, to the blinkered and backward-looking critic, should perform like a showdog at Crufts. Is it purebred? Does it conform to its breed type? Is it trimmed, combed, polished and well-fed? Does it trot eagerly through its paces, impressing judges for agility, obedience, showing, handling, grooming and a couple of even more contrived events? This is what it takes to prove Crufts Quality. In the world of serious literature, low-brow, genre fiction and books for teenagers aren't even allowed in the main tent.

Consider J.R.R. Tolkien as he appeared to these critics in the '50s (although his reputation has grown enormously in the following decades). Tolkien's first success, The Hobbit, was written for children. His masterwork, Lord of the Rings, was more complex in every dimension: vocabulary, style, plot, characterization, length and resonance. But it was still about elves, dwarves, magic and a made-up land. At the time, fantasy was a low-brow genre for children and Oxford dons who had never finished growing up.

In language and style, Tolkien fell somewhere between the cozy English pastorals of twenty years' past, and the legends and romances of bygone centuries. To a critic of the '50s, Tolkien didn't look cutting edge, he looked out of date.

Sixty years later, we're not trapped in that critical tent. We measure the stature of Lord of the Rings by how it has survived and flourished in the wild. Picture a fierce, handsome wolf. He attracts fit bitches, and sires many litters upon them. These wolf pups spread through the forests, and their offspring thrive. Half a century later, the wilderness is full of wolves bearing features of Lord of the Rings. One book to rule them all . . .

Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies. This already shows that it fills a broad human interest - as did The Da Vinci Code and Fifty Shades of Grey (which I think are both poorly written books, flashes in the zeitgeist). Lord of the Rings also works on deeper levels, so that many fans reread this long trilogy several times. Going deeper still, it shaped the imagination of hundreds of writers, so that we see echoes of Tolkien (and reactions against him) in more than half the fantasy written today.

.

Good Books vs. Great Books

By Good I mean, approximately, the kind of books Crufts Critics admire, and award Nobel and Pulitzer prizes to. By Great I mean, bravely original books, which influence writers for decades to come, and which readers reread through the centuries.

How Tolkien is a Great Writer

Tolkien spun Myth, Epic, Chronicle and Novel into High Fantasy. He invented a loom large enough to weave magic, superheroes, history and realism into one immense, but coherent, tapestry. He captured sublime dreams bursting with color, and brought them close enough to run through our fingers. Middle Earth is close to eternity; those who plant their whole selves there, come home again with larger imaginations.

Great Writers before Tolkien caught glimmers of this, but none attempted it on such a scale, with so much detail filled in. Homer and Dante each painted cosmic tableaux, and also nailed instants of action that transport us to Troy or Hell. Tolkein stumbled across a hole in the ground, which led him to The Hobbit. Once he had gone there and back again, he grew into the voice that could carry us through Lord of the Rings. But Lord of the Rings is hardly his largest and best creation: that would be, Middle Earth.

Tolkien's Greatness is that he is the Master World Builder. He built a world huge, bright, real and beguiling enough that a few percent of earthlings followed him there. This world was so solid and compelling that it inspired hundreds of writers to spend decades of their lives attempting similar feats. Which also led to Dungeons & Dragons, all Role Playing Games, and millions of hours building and exploring worlds.

Writers imagined other lands, even complex worlds, before Tolkien. C.S. Lewis wrote 7 Narnia books, and L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books. They are all rich with vivid details and flights of imagination. On a larger scale, closer to home, Honoré de Balzac conceived of 137 works in his Comédie Humaine (he finished 2/3 of them), in which he examined France and Parisian society from several angles.

But when you look at the most ambitious world-builders before Tolkien, you see that they lacked his thorough system, and couldn't compete with the due diligence he applied in laying his foundations and background. Tolkien was born for this, for he was Übernerd. He drew maps (and ever since, most fantasy books have a map at the front). He worked out geography, plants and animals, economies, cultures, languages, millennia of history, myths, the creations of the races: thousands of pages of charts and notes before he started working on his story.

'I desired to do this for my own satisfaction, and I had little hope that other people would be interested in this work, especially since it was primarily linguistic in inspiration, and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of "history" for Elvish tongues.'               - J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreward to Lord of the Rings
Tolkien didn't just take the road less traveled: he built a lab, synthesized several tons of dynamite, blasted a path straight through a mountain range, and laid down a highway there. We who followed him came out coated in sweat and the dust of Middle Earth. And many of us went back to quest again.

I am, for now, ignoring the conventional measurements of a writer, to examine Tolkien's brave original gifts. He had three faculties which enabled him to build Middle Earth and invent his High Fantasy narrative voice in Lord of the Rings. First, he was Übernerd. He toiled over his plans and theories of Middle Earth like Darwin, who spent decades ironing out every detail in his theory of evolution. Second, Tolkien had the phenomenally fertile imagination to come up with thousands of pages of charts and backstories (Surprisingly few of which were boring. At least to other nerds. Just ask Colbert). Third, Tolkien had studied and taught Old English, Celtic, Germanic, Finnish and Norse languages, literatures and legends. So, like Smaug, he was sitting on a vast treasure trove - of stories, phrases and themes, to armor and adorn his champion Middle Earth.

Writers had been borrowing from Greek and Roman mythology for ages, until all their best stories and characters were common currency to readers. Tolkien had always hankered after a proper English mythology. So he plundered every adjacent myth-stock, and stocked an imperial hoard of memes to furnish his creation. He studied Beowulf, discovering layers that other scholars had missed. He scoured the original Norse, Finnish, Germanic and Celtic sources, and gathered strong textures and sheaves of weird details, to make Middle Earth alien, yet coherent and familiar, at once. I don't know whether anyone has yet matched Tolkien's world-building prowess, but I doubt whether anyone else could have developed a broad array of world-building techniques as thorough and effective as Tolkien's. Even after Tolkien's books and papers showed his working methods, few of his followers managed to build a world as robust as Middle Earth.

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How Tolkien is Not a Very Good Writer

In 1961, C.S. Lewis submitted Tolkien to be considered for the Nobel literature prize. A note from the committee, revealed much later, said that Tolkien's prose "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality". How very Crufts.

That note completely misses the mark: Tolkien's storytelling is one of his notable strengths as a writer. He has an instinct for unwinding a tale, with symphonic variations in tone, surprising turns, and mysteries that emerge piece by piece (e.g. Aragorn). The Hobbit is his strongest book for shape and pacing. The storytelling crackles and flows, while occasional deep descriptions inform the world and characters, but never bring the story to a standstill. It is easy to read The Hobbit from end to end, always hungering for what lies over the next page. We sit comfortably inside Bilbo's point-of-view, and we grow more committed to our protagonist as he gradually becomes wiser, braver and better.

Half of this fresh, thrilling and intimate flow gets lost in Lord of the Rings. There is still a fine story there - but it's twenty times as complex and much more awkward, stuffed with sub-plots and back story. Tolkien is more involved in building buttresses and carving gargoyles for Middle Earth than he is in shaping a strong narrative flow for his Ring Quest and looming apocalypse.

Tolkien spends several pages giving an encyclopedic account of pipe-weed, which is irrelevant and brings his story to a halt. It only adds a smidgen of character, and it's boring. He has digressions like this packed through Lord of the Rings. Luckily many of them are interesting diversions, and others enrich the colors and solidity of Middle Earth. He loved jumping into the past, or standing in awe before an intricate tableau - but he frequently deflates all the momentum of his plot, and risks confusing or boring his readers.

Tolkien brought Middle Earth to life like no other world before, and few if any since. He showed a whole genre how it's done, and he had a visionary instinct for which aspects of his world would fascinate millions of nerds. Now that he's blazed that trail, his descendants find world-building much easier than Tolkien made it. Today's best writers of fantasy epics weave their world-building throughout their plot, so that we discover all we need to know, without getting bogged down in ten page descriptions. George R.R. Martin may yet succeed in crafting a world with as much color as Middle Earth, and far less clunkiness.

Tolkien's biggest flaw as a writer is the awkward flow of his plot, especially his pacing. Then again, he got millions of teenagers to slog through hundreds of grim pages of Mordor. Lord of the Rings asks more of its readers than suspension of disbelief - it asks us to adore Middle Earth as Tolkien did. We must be willing to dive into this strange world, and soak it up even when almost nothing is happening. If you aren't, Lord of the Rings probably isn't for you.

It's hard to get the measure of a new kind of book. Tolkien is as foundational to Fantasy as Austen is to Romance, or Conan Doyle is to Mystery. Austen has magnificent style, and a startlingly modern voice. Tolkien has a stranger style, with rarer ingredients. When Tolkien feels awkward, it can be hard to tell whether he's being clumsy, or merely weird. But the pacing of Lord of the Rings is jarringly clumsy. A couple hundred million readers enjoyed Lord of the Rings - but just as many tried it and gave up, when they found it slow and boring. Even readers who love other fantasy series often find Lord of the Rings dry and rambling.

Beyond the clumsy pacing, I see three other flaws in Lord of the Rings - but these may be in the grain of the oak Tolkien was carving: roughnesses that were integral to his design. My best guess is, these are roughnesses that Tolkien never had a chance to plane away, as he was more interested in exploring all the grit and depth of the world he was building. He might have achieved a complete Middle Earth and a better shaped narrative in Lord of the Rings - but only by taking the time to completely rewrite his trilogy. Here are the other flaws I see: are they accurate criticisms of Tolkien's writing in Lord of the Rings, do you think?

1) Tolkien's world and characters fall mostly into a simple Good/Evil scheme, with little exploration of all the shades of humanity in between, or of the interiors of the major characters. His characters aren't supposed to breathe and flex, they're there to serve the plot; which is a vehicle to display his main creation, Middle Earth.

2) There is too much dry chronicle. The best of Tolkien's descendants keep us in the thick of the action, where we get just as much story, from a more dramatic viewpoint. Also, later authors give us more sex, drugs, violence and savagery than Tolkien did.

3) Tolkien had a sentimental, self-indulgent side. He waxes poetic, he has way too many long songs, and his descriptions of nature can get very purple and cliched.

Each of these flaws made Tolkien a less perfect and well-rounded writer than he might have been. There are a few hundred twentieth century writers who reliably wrote more shapely, flowing, lively prose than Tolkien. On the other hand, his flaws made him much more Tolkienesque, which is where his originality and rich imagination dwelled. Tolkien is not very good as a mainstream twentieth century writer, but he is a genius at being J.R.R. Tolkien. I suspect that if he had written half a dozen successful books before embarking on The Hobbit, then he would have crafted a better polished but less original Middle Earth.

What Makes a Book Great? I've shown my opinion: Originality and Influence, on readers and on other writers; also, books that live forever. The writers who impress me most are those who change the course of literature (e.g. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Austen, Flaubert . . .). They are not the same as my favorite writers. What do you think makes a book Great?

What Makes a Book Good? I'll spend the rest of my life pondering this question, and elaborating my answer into a system of analysis. For me, it includes at least some of: Storytelling, Plot, Characterization, Dialog, Description, Voice, Style . . . but even with a list of fifty elements, a Good Book might do just ten of them superbly, and still keep the reader's interest. What do you think makes a book Good?

What must a writer cover to build a convincing World? This World-Building is a weird enterprise, but it is close to what all the best novels do, whether Tolstoy is painting Moscow, Joyce Dublin, Woolf London, or Kafka his oppressive paranoid mindscape. Lawrence is adept with flowers, Twain with slang, and Dickens with walk-on characters. There are thousands of elements a writer might focus on to show the depth and solidity of their world: which ones enchant you the most? From your favorite fictional world, which parts do you remember most vividly?

Is J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin better at crafting an Epic Fantasy adventure? Which one builds a more immersive and comprehensive world? If you look back at the four weaknesses I pointed to in Tolkien, you'll see that Martin has pushed the other way in each of these areas. But we can't rate his plot until he's finished it, and even then he may end up with a less dense and deeply defined world than Tolkien. I expect it will be a matter of taste in the end, whether a given reader prefers the noble romance of Tolkien or the gritty mindgames of Martin.

Which is your favorite Fantasy world of all? Which series do you still reread, or which most transported you and stretched your imagination when you were a child? I've listed fifteen more epic worlds in the poll. But even after discarding all the SF worlds, I then had to lose almost all the Young Adult series, and a dozen others. Miéville, Moorcock, Peake, Pullman and Wolfe each invented colors no other writer found - but I could not fit them in the poll. If I left out your favorite epic author, please mention them in a comment below, and tell us what makes their world so rare and memorable.

Sun Apr 06, 2014 at  1:28 AM PT: I'm putting this here for posterity, even though most readers of this diary have already been and gone.

I followed my own tags, and found two previous Daily Kos diaries on Lord of the Rings. I'm including their links here, so that anyone who's curious for different views and other comments on Lord of the Rings, may easily find them.

On June 10th, 2011, crose wrote: Books That Changed My Life: Tolkien's Great Work

On April 9th, 2012, MichiganChet wrote: My Favorite Authors: JRR Tolkien, the Lord of Fantasy and Imagination

Poll

Which Writer Crafted the 3rd Greatest Fantasy World?

8%8 votes
4%4 votes
3%3 votes
1%1 votes
0%0 votes
2%2 votes
8%8 votes
7%7 votes
20%20 votes
8%8 votes
9%9 votes
14%14 votes
2%2 votes
2%2 votes
10%10 votes

| 98 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar & (50+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:






    DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
    SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
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    Sundays
    2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
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    Sundays
    2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
    Sun (occasional) 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
    Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
    MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
    Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
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    Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
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    Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

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

    by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 10:22:59 AM PDT

  •  Coming Soon to Books Go Boom! (13+ / 0-)


    Snow Country   -   Yasunari Kawabata

    Lamb: the gospel according to Biff, Christ's childhood pal   -   Christopher Moore

    Fathers and Sons   -   Ivan Turgenev

    Ready Player One   -   Ernest Cline

    The Tin Drum   -   Günter Grass

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

    by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 10:24:21 AM PDT

  •  Coming soon to this very diary: Brecht (18+ / 0-)

    When this diary publishes, I'll have just left Dallas. It'll take me a few hours to fly over New Mexico and Arizona, and get back to my home in LA.

    But I hope my views in this diary will kick up some lively debate, and I will be replying to your comments late on Friday evening, and on throughout the weekend and beyond, for as long as you choose to visit this comment section. You're welcome to disagree with anything I've said - but if so, I hope you'll back up your argument with reasons and evidence.

    Thanks for reading my diary, and for bringing your own opinions to share in our conversation.

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

    by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 10:24:57 AM PDT

  •  Known Space/Niven and Riverworld/PJ Farmer (7+ / 0-)

    Fight them to the end, until the children of the poor eat better than the dogs of the rich.

    by raincrow on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 05:25:53 PM PDT

  •  the best example of this is frankenstein (16+ / 0-)

    that book really did stink. but talk about original- nothing like it before. it really changed literature. shame it couldnt have been written by a better writer. but then again supposedly it is about mary's miscarriages... so i guess we take what we get

    the hobbit was a better book in my opinion, but i devoured all of tolkiens work in HS and loved them.

    •  I love that a teenage girl beat Shelley and Byron (9+ / 0-)

      in a storytelling competition. It was also, at the time, by far the closest book to 20th century SF - so, yes, enormously original. Very rich themes. I wouldn't say it stunk, but personally I have a high tolerance for antiquated prose.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 10:50:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Just out of curiousity (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      live1, No Exit, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

      Could you cite an example of what you consider to be a good book that was published contemporaneous to Frankenstein?

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:55:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  anything by jane austen. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WB Reeves, No Exit, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

        good point though- dont think literature really peaked until the mid 1800's. thanks in large part to the russians. but  Eliot, hardy, did their part for the english writers.

      •  Interpreting contemporaneous narrowly: (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, WB Reeves, Radiowalla

        1816: Emma (Jane Austen); Adolphe (Benjamin Constant)

        1818: Frankenstein (Mary Shelley); Nightmare Abbey (Thomas Love Peacock); The Heart of Midlothian (Sir Walter Scott); Persuasion (Austen)

        1819: Ivanhoe (Scott)

        1820: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (w. "Rip Van Winkle" & "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" - Washington Irving); Melmoth the Wanderer (Charles Maturin)

        1822: The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (E. T. A. Hoffmann)

        1824: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (James Hogg)

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

        by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 12:52:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Being raised in the South, I've had an aversion (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Radiowalla, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

          to Sir Walter Scott since childhood.

          See Twain's comments on Scott's influence if you'd like to know why.

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 11:45:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I've seen Twain blame the US Civil War on Scott (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            WB Reeves, RiveroftheWest, poco

            and he may have invented the phrase "Great Scott" to insult him:

            Another possible source comes from Mark Twain's hatred for Sir Walter Scott and his writing, which popularized historical fiction and romanticized war in general. Twain's disdain for Scott is evident in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), in which the main character repeatedly utters "great Scott" as an oath, and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), where he names a sinking boat the Walter Scott.
            I find Scott OTT and cliched (in fairness, he did invent many of those cliches). But he was immensely popular and influential. He took world culture by storm, and inspired dozens of other authors tried their hand at historical romances.

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

            by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 04:01:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Larry Niven is third. (8+ / 0-)

    Pratchett is first. Prize for second . . .

  •  Tolkien's Ubernerdiness is his greatest strength (24+ / 0-)

    but also, IMHO, the great curse he laid on modern fantasy fiction.  I'm really tired of great sprawling multivolume epics.

    What makes Tolkien really work for me is the obvious genuineness of his love for nature, particularly the English countryside and his real feel of mythology and language.

    One of the problems with the world-building is that, to some extent, it destroys the mysterious quality that, from my point of view, is essential to really good fantasy.  Magic, where you know all the rules, is just some exotic form of science.  One thing I loved about the Hobbit is that all these surprising events and characters appear, are never really explained, and then they fade away.

    This quality of mystery within a much more thoroughly developed world makes The Fellowship of the Ring, particularly the first half, absolutely spellbinding to me.  It is a real world with lots of digressions and details.  And then malevolent oaks and Tom Bombadil.  It was the best fairly tale I had ever laid eyes on.

    I voted in your poll reluctantly.  I love Pratchett but I felt that voting meant I had to agree with your premise that whatever I picked was third.  I've never read Game of Thrones so it makes it difficult to answer.

    "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

    by matching mole on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 05:37:13 PM PDT

    •  I don't really think (17+ / 0-)

      Tolkien has much of anything in common with all the mega-fantasy series that came after him, not to take anything away from those books and those who enjoyed them. I do totally agree with your assessment of Fellowship. I can absolutely see Tolkien taking a stroll in the woods at twilight and imagine elves inviting him to dinner by the elven campfire.

      •  "I don't really think Tolkien has much of anything (7+ / 0-)

        in common with all the mega-fantasy series that came after him"

        Most of the authors in the poll wrote very different series. What I think Tolkien does have in common with them is the world-building. Each author had a rich imagination, and created an extensive and varied land on which to paint all the aspects of fantasy and realism that intrigued them most.

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

        by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 11:16:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It was less the idea that they share a lot with (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          No Exit, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

          Tolkien as the huge influence that LOTR has had on fantasy publishing.  It seems almost impossible for an author to publish a fantasy novel unless it is part of a series based on some elaborate imagined world.

          "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

          by matching mole on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 06:06:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I'd have to say there are great world-builders (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Brecht

          still working.

          David Weber's one.
          Eric Flint's another.

          I voted for McCaffrey.

          But where's the love for Lois Mcmaster Bujold, either for the Vorkosigan adventures or The Sharing Knife chronicles?

          LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

          by BlackSheep1 on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 09:41:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  There's more Fantasy and SF than I've kept up with (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest

            so by the time I got to my poll, I was relying partly on lists and articles to get a sense of books I didn't know.

            I read one Lois Mcmaster Bujold and was disappointed, partly because it'd been overhyped to me, and also I didn't realize it was the second in a series. I'll try her again, but haven't yet.

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

            by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 03:44:34 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Bombadil! And his lady, Goldberry. (20+ / 0-)

      Probably my favorite hybridized characters of the whole series. Gods and yet not; part of the natural world and yet not captive.
      I understand, a bit of a digression, but they bring such richness to the landscape.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:45:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree with you, but (10+ / 0-)

        a quite astonishing number of people absolutely hate them.

        •  I am not surprised. Amused, maybe. ;) (8+ / 0-)

          Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

          by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:35:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I like the Idea of Tom Bombadill... (7+ / 0-)

          ... but spending three chapters in his company gets extremely tiresome.  I guess I'm just A-Ring-Ding-Dillo-intolerant.

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

          by quarkstomper on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:20:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hello quarkstomper, thanks for dropping by. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            quarkstomper, RiveroftheWest

            I added an update to this diary, linking to two previous diaries. I've been enjoying your comments in both of them. I'm including the first one you wrote, which I enjoyed greatly:

            My First Year of College. I had read LOTR before college.  My first exposure to Tolkien was when I was in first or second grade and the local high school put on a stage version of The Hobbit.  The actor playing Bilbo was about seven feet tall and fought Smaug in hand-to-hand combat.  Still, the actor playing Gollum was memorably slimy, and the artwork on the promotional posters was cool.

            My Dad, an SF fan, picked up the Ballentine paperbacks with the hallucagenic covers around 1970; but he was not impressed.  I think he was put off by what Tolkien himself called the "Hobbitry" of the early chapters.  I plowed into them, however.  They became my favorite "travelling books" for reading during the long car journeys to visit relatives in the Twin Cities.

            But when I went to college, I had to leave my books behind.  I wanted to pack light and bring only what I needed.  After all, I reasoned, there was always the library.

            It was a lonely first year.  My two roommates belonged to a couple of the college's choral groups and were frequently gone for the weekend.  And about a month after I started, my Dad, who was a pastor, received a call to serve in another congregation in another state.  I frequently found myself alone in the dorm, without any books.

            Well, not without any books.  One of my roommates had Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant the Whiner books and the first two volumes of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series.  I disliked Thomas Covenant, but read him anyway.  The Riverworld books were better, but the second one ended on a dreadful cliffhanger.

            Then, one day, I happened to look out my dorm room window.  Our room looked out over the roof of the Student Union, which was located in the basement of the Boy's Dormatory.  There, in the middle of the tarpaper roof, I saw a paperback book, lying amongst the scattered bits of paper cups and cigarette butts.

            I climbed out onto the roof to retrieve it, and found it was a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, scortched and charred in spots as if it had come through dragonfire.  My guess was that someone had lit it on fire with a cigarette lighter and chucked it out the window on an upper floor.

            Needless to say, I rescued the book, and read it and re-read it.  That book became my friend during that lonely first year of college.  And it still has a special place in my heart.

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

            by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 03:51:28 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  "they bring such richness to the landscape" (10+ / 0-)

        and they add depth to Tolkien's cosmic and moral scheme, standing before and outside of the great war of light vs. dark underpinning the whole series.

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

        by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 11:18:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Bombadil was an annoying character to me. (5+ / 0-)

        I'm glad Percy Jackson dropped that episode from the Fellowship movie.

        Hey, Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadil-do!
        He's so annoying, I wanted him killed-oh!

        Find out about my next big thing by reading my blog. Link is here: http://bettysrants.wordpress.com

        by Kimball Cross on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:46:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I liked the Bombadil subplot, but it did feel (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, RiveroftheWest

        a bit like some other story bleeding into the main one, almost like a crack between this universe and an alternate one. I seem to remember Tolkien once saying in a letter that he wasn't sure whether to include it.

        What may bother some obsessive-compulsive types about Bombadil is that he's about the only being in Tolkien's world who doesn't have a clearly-defined origin narrative; he simply doesn't fit into any taxonomy of the inhabitants of Middle-Earth.

        Unfortunately when smart and educated people get crazy ideas they can come up with plausibly truthy arguments. -- Andrew F Cockburn

        by ebohlman on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 04:27:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  NB I enjoy disputation. If I ever make assumptions (7+ / 0-)

      that my readers don't buy, then I hope I will get called out on them: which leads immediately to livelier chats, and eventually to clearer conclusions.

      I felt that voting meant I had to agree with your premise that whatever I picked was third
      I just figured readers would pick their own favorite fantasy world which I hadn't mentioned yet; and if it weren't in the poll, would put it in a comment. Having only read half the series in the poll, I can't claim a solid opinion on the all-time best-built-world. Though I won't be surprised if, to my taste, Martin ends up with it.

      I think Pratchett is far better than Tolkien - well, really, it's just a different style of writing - at sketching a world so that the reader applies their own imagination to elaborating his vision. You know, the Shakespeare method, of handing you the best questions to be getting on with.

      I'm really tired of great sprawling multivolume epics.

      What makes Tolkien really work for me is the obvious genuineness of his love for nature, particularly the English countryside and his real feel of mythology and language.

      The temptation Tolkien presented to writers with overactive imaginations is, he showed a great way to cram all your personal obsessions onto one huge canvas. The mythology and language he studied to the Nth degree; the loving nature and observing plants was a bond his mother had shared with him in childhood.

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

      by Brecht on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 11:11:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, yes, yes... (6+ / 0-)
      I'm really tired of great sprawling multivolume epics.
      I really do find it annoying to scan the "recent SciFi/Fantasy" shelf at the library and note that almost every book is "Volume 3 [4, 6] of..." or whatever.

      Heck, I'm not looking for a space opera to be distilled into a haiku, but c'mon folks... concision is a good thing.

      Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

      by angry marmot on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 05:32:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd agree he's not the greatest writer (17+ / 0-)

    But he could tell a good story. I first read The Hobbit and LOTR back in the 70's, and when I was done I tried to get into some of the other fantasy fiction that became popular back then. The only series I ever really enjoyed was Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (I gave him his only vote up there). I honestly don't enjoy fantasy fiction much, but Tolkien was so much more than a fantasy fiction writer.

    That said, on those occasions when I do re-read LOTR, it's always the same. I love Fellowship but start to bog down somewhere in the Two Towers. By the time I get to the end of The return of the king, the ponderous language just beats me down and I give up.

  •  Originality can be written, but Influence (14+ / 0-)

    can't. Is Influence the child of Luck and Zeitgeist?

    And what books have been hailed as Great that a later consensus labeled merely Good?

    "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

    by GussieFN on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 05:43:14 PM PDT

    •  Happens sometimes when writers (12+ / 0-)

      are right in line with the political/social Zeitgeist: they're heavily lauded while the Zeitgeist lasts, but forgotten later on.  Good cast study: Maxim Gorky.  Used to be synonymous with great Soviet literature, because his work was in good political alignment with the state (err... sometimes).  Now he's mostly an historical rather than literary figure, apart from one or two works - The Lower Depths in particular.   He has some very good short stories, and his memoirs are a lot of fun to read, but Gorky is nowhere near the capital-G Gorky he used to be.

      Or just scroll through the list of earlier Nobel prize laureates. It's a graveyard of forgotten names: of the first twenty, maybe three or four are still widely read?

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:13:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've never read Gorky-- (7+ / 0-)

        I secretly (well, not anymore) believe that he's related, somehow, to Martin Cruz Smith.

        I wonder if there's a length of time that locks in Greatness. If  a book is considered Great for X decades, it can't be ungreatified.

        "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

        by GussieFN on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:38:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  More likely to be forgotten (5+ / 0-)

          than ungreatified, I think?  Or little-read if not forgotten.  I know we talk about Sterne sometimes, and how much the massive success and influence of A Sentimental Journey hasn't continued (I don't know a single person who's read it), while the less-liked Tristram Shandy is now the typical point of reference for Sterne fans.  So I guess we could say ASJ has been ungreatified, but does anyone even have an opinion on it anymore, for that matter?

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 10:08:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I have, by chance, read 'A Sentimental Journey' (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, GussieFN, No Exit, pico

            I'm a huge fan of Tristram Shandy, so I tried a second helping of Sterne. It had several charming patches, but only a fraction of Tristram's humor and thoughtfulness. It's worth reading once, only because it's short.

            Journal to Eliza was even less impressive. His very first work, the mock epic A Political Romance, was a little funny for the parish gossip behind it. They were in the same book as A Sentimental Journey, which I picked up second hand for about $1.

            A better direction to travel from Tristram Shandy is to all the writers Sterne influenced, to produce books like Jacques the Fatalist, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, and The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas.

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

            by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 01:08:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Well, being forgotten or little-read is (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dandy lion, pico, No Exit, Radiowalla, Brecht

            the inevitable fate of Good books, I suspect.

            I'm trying to think of recent books that have been hailed as Great. The Secret History? Gilead? Infinite Jest? The Corrections, Harry Potter (as timeless as Beowulf according to the New Yorker), Kafka on the Shore?

            Is it even possible for a book to be Great anymore? Or do books no longer command sufficient attention and authority, as they now compete with other media?

            "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

            by GussieFN on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 09:54:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I remember Tristam Shandy (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pico, Monsieur Georges, Brecht

            and thought it was hilarious at the time.  One of my favorite bits was the hobbyhorse to which I often refer when someone belabors and belabors a topic.

            A Sentimental Journey?  Yikes.  I don't know it.  

            It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

            by Radiowalla on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 06:04:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  "what books have been hailed as Great that a later (6+ / 0-)

      consensus labeled merely Good"

      That's an intriguing question. Pico's Gorky is a good answer. Many authors were fashionable because their styles were polished and pitched towards the reading public of their time, and now they seem far slighter: Bulwer-Lytton (of "It was a dark and stormy night" notoriety) was hugely successful; Turgenev was rated better than Tolstoy or Dostoevsky at the time, because his style was more European and polished (so again, bold new styles get underrated). I'm certain there are a few dozen writers who have been widely touted from great, and now are practically unread. Henry James was a paragon, and now few readers have time for him - but I think he's a more complicated case, who does have several skills, though his output is uneven.

      The biggest example that comes to mind is Thomas Aquinas, who had a huge impact on Western thought and writing, was seen as immensely skilled, but is actually dryer than sawdust and (seems to me) irrelevant to our world.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 12:51:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Haven't read LOTR since I was 14 (27+ / 0-)

    But I read it four times before that.  It was enthralling and alien and heroic and utterly unlike my life.

    I recall the long digressions, the songs, the endless descriptions of slow progress across amazing landscapes.  I don't recall these being impediments.  The "flaws" in Tolkien's pacing actually felt like they pulled me into a world with a different sense of time -- an older world where people could stop and take the time to ponder pipeweed deeply.

    The depth and detail of Tolkien's world is revealed in these slow passages.  His writing gave this young reader the sense of being in a real world, vast and unknowable in its entirety.  No other books I've read bring this sense in the same way Tolkien did.  The sense of time is fascinatingly different, just as the sound of the language is, just as the moral priorities are.  Different, but recognizable and relatable.  In this way the style of the writing reinforces the substance, rather than getting in its way.

    I can see how literary critics would turn away in horror from this writing style, but they're not Tolkien's natural audience.  Good books are declared by the Crufts judges, I take it.  Great books find a life in generations of readers.  Good books are very rarely great, and great books are sometimes good.  

    We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

    by Dallasdoc on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 05:44:07 PM PDT

    •  Not that I presume to tell you what to read, (12+ / 0-)

      but I'm confident you would see more in them (both in terms of Tolkien's creation & his sources) now than you did at 14. Even if you do remember it very well, as it seems.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:49:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Strong opinion, insightful comment, thank you. (10+ / 0-)
      The "flaws" in Tolkien's pacing actually felt like they pulled me into a world with a different sense of time -- an older world where people could stop and take the time to ponder pipeweed deeply. . . . No other books I've read bring this sense in the same way Tolkien did. . . . In this way the style of the writing reinforces the substance, rather than getting in its way.
      I agree with all that. Tolkien simply wrote orthogonally to what we consider trim and polished writing. A huge number of readers can't stomach three long books of this; but the readers Tolkien was writing for can't get enough of it, so that many of us reread all the books several times.

      Very few writers compare with Tolkien for enveloping us in a rich world of otherness - if you happen to enjoy Middle Earth, and let it sweep over you.

      The sense of time is fascinatingly different, just as the sound of the language is, just as the moral priorities are.
      Lord of the Rings casts a spell, it takes us to weird corners of experience, to seldom seen parts of our own humanity. Add to this that most of us first go there when young, with very plastic imaginations, and the impact of the journey really stretches us. It certainly has had a great effect on all the writers who drank this potion.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 01:24:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They are not flaws. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SusiesPurl, kurt, RunawayRose

        It's a different writing style than what most readers are used to.  He conveys meaning more through plot and language than through character POV and cheap drama  .Tolkein didn't just "study" Beowulf; he wrote the definitive canonical interpretation.  If you understood how the heroic sagas conveyed meaning you would have a better understanding of Tolkien's opus.

        Frankly, I don't think much of your analysis of this work.  

        The critics who panned Tolkien favored books long since pulped into toilet paper.  

        •  You're very certain. Shouldn't you write your own (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dallasdoc, dandy lion, RiveroftheWest

          diary, sharing your perfect interpretation of Tolkien with the world?

          Don't get me wrong - I think you've done quite enough getting me wrong already. Please read my exact words, not your feelings, and comprehend them:

          I enjoy spirited debate. You are most welcome to present contrary views here, for as long as you like, and to come back to future book diaries of mine. However, you say:

          Frankly, I don't think much of your analysis of this work.
          Well, frankly, I don't think you've comprehended my layered and ambivalent views of Tolkien's work.

          I read your many comments in MichiganChet's LotR diary from two years ago.

          Your first comment there was in reply to a long comment, which began:

          The books are not perfect. The first volume (Fellowship) drags quite a bit, IMO. It takes forever for the Hobbits just to get out of the Shire! Personally, I'm not fond of Tolkien's poetry, and though I love the ideas of Lothlorien and Galadriel, those chapters dragged for me (as did some of Rivendell), perhaps because I am not an immortal, so that spending a lot of pages in their company is boring for me. . . Some of the dialogue is a bit stilted. . . .
          You replied:
          Flaws? What flaws?! Heretic! ;-p
          You're joking, but you mean it too.

          You make 19 comments in that diary, and it's clear that you've read and thought a lot about Tolkien. I was both sarcastic and sincere when I suggested you share "your perfect interpretation of Tolkien with the world". Although you have much to say on Tolkien, you also appear so emotionally attached to Tolkien's work that when you hear him criticized, you defend him before you've taken the time to comprehend the critique. As you say in a later comment:

          I read LoTR many many times beginning when I was ten or so and each time I discovered new things.  I have literally worn out my copies. I think the appendix on Elvish gave me a pretty good grounding in linguistics too. . . I began by thinking about hobbits and have since meandered through the nature of beauty and the nature of evil. It's an amazing book.  My all out favorite book ever
          I appreciate that, beyond your love for Tolkien, you have a complex knowledge and understanding of his work. Unfortunately, instead of reading all the layers and contrasting views embedded in my diary, you read a far simpler diary colored by your emotional allegiance to Tolkien. If you cannot simultaneously be prosecutor, defender and judge, you will not comprehend this diary.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:15:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Love your diaries, Brecht, (12+ / 0-)

    but I know zilch about tonight's topic.  The only books in the poll that I have read are the Wizard of Oz series and that was awfully long ago.

    I'm not sure why fantasy fiction has not spoken to me over the years, but I think I've missed out on something big.  

    Safe travels to you.  

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 05:53:30 PM PDT

  •  OMG. (15+ / 0-)

    C.S. Lewis isn't a good enough writer to tie Tolkien's shoes. OMG. I don't think Tolkien is the be-all and end-all of heroic fantasy writers...but Lewis isn't even good enough to include in the same fucking sentence.

    (Welcome back, Brecht: I've missed you.)

    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

    by Youffraita on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 05:58:44 PM PDT

  •  I'm looking forward (14+ / 0-)

    to using your poll as a TBR list. Thank you for it.

    I have read the Wheel of Time books, though I haven't returned to it since Robert Jordan passed away. The books toward the end became preachy and repetitive.

    I have read a few of Diskworld books. They were amusing but did not really draw in. (I know that is heresy, so it is probably my fault.)

    Lord of the Rings has been a yearly read of mine since I first discovered it 40 years ago. For that I'll always be grateful to J. R. R. Tolkien.

    Diaries are funny things Sam. Type one letter and you never know where you might end up. My apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.

    by Caddis Fly on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:01:00 PM PDT

  •  As far as I’m concerned, (18+ / 0-)

    George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t even come close to making the shortlist: I find it unreadable.  I tried, but there weren’t nearly enough characters with whom I wanted to keep company, and most of those got killed off.  And it’s not because I can’t tolerate grimth, though I grant that my taste doesn’t really lean that way: Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen will never be one of my top favorites, but I enjoyed it and consider it far superior to the Martin.

    Some (non-urban) fantasy worlds to which I return repeatedly:

    • The Five Gods world of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt.
    • The world of Joy Chant’s Red Moon and Black Mountain and The Grey Mane of Morning.
    • The world of Diane Duane’s Tale of the Five.
    • The world of Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy.
    • The world of Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.  I consider The Blue Sword a genuine classic.
    • Tamora Pierce’s world of Tortall, which just keeps getting better.
    • Michelle Sagara’s Essalieyan and Elantran universes, the former as Michelle West.
    • The world of the city of Astreiant: the Point of ... books by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett.
    • The Fairyland of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series; who could possibly resist the Wyverary?

    And yes, I also return repeatedly to the worlds of L.E. Modesitt, Jr., especially those of Recluce and the Imager Portfolio.

    Alison Croggon’s quartet The Books of Pellinor is likely to find its way onto that list.  Valente’s two volumes of The Orphan’s Tales create too many worlds for me to put them on the list, but they certainly made an impression.

    •  I am not familiar with most on your list, (10+ / 0-)

      but I will say that I enjoy Robin McKinley's writing very much.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:51:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree (10+ / 0-)
      Michelle Sagara’s Essalieyan and Elantran universes, the former as Michelle West.
      As Michelle West:

         Hunter’s Oath
          Hunter’s Death
         Sun Sword series
           Broken Crown
           Uncrowned King
           Shining Court
           Sea of Sorrows
           Riven Shield
           Sun Sword

      As Michelle Sagara:

      Cast in Moonlight a prequel from an anthology Harvest Moon    
           Cast in Shadow  
           Cast in Courtlight
           Cast in Secret
           Cast in Fury
           Cast in Silence
           Cast in Chaos
           Cast in Ruin
           Cast in Peril
           Cast in Sorrow

      Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

      by cfk on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:03:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Glad to see someone else note Bujold (10+ / 0-)

      I am entertained and enlightened by the depth she brings to her characters.

      In Paladin of Souls, one of the more interesting scenes is early in the book, where Ista is confessing the truth of her great crime against Lord dy Lutez, out of desperation. And yet the questioning by dy Cabon about her circumstances brings her to realize how much she failed to appreciate at the time.

      Bujold has a gift for putting her characters through personal discoveries.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:38:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  She is wonderful (8+ / 0-)

        Her science fiction is also excellent. I think of her as building more in characters than in worlds.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 09:37:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The worlds of fantasy and SF have grown more 3D (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kurt, RunawayRose, xaxnar, No Exit

          in the last fifty years, and the characters have too. Before then SF especially had a tendency to get by on dazzling ideas, without the writing to back it up (e.g. Asimov).

          But it looks to me like all genre writing has gotten more literary and self-aware, for better and for worse. There's more craft and clear expression, but also more pretension. I see it in mysteries, horror, historical and young adult fiction. The ambition's good, and I like to see aspiring authors writing in every established genre, and inventing new ones.

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

          by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 10:41:00 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Another fan of Robin McKinley (9+ / 0-)

      and Tamora Pierce here. They're usually in the young adult or juvenile sections.

      I think I like Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic best of her worlds. Tortall was her first world and the early novels suffer for it. For some reason, the two Circle of Magic quartets really call to me and I've reread them several times. They're very fast, light reads for me.

      Robin McKinley always writes rich, deep books, and usually they're standalones rather than series. I loved the world she wrote for Pegasus and the way she let the human protagonist see herself through pegasus eyes.

      It's easy for adults to dismiss the books for young readers, but IMHO some of the tightest, most wonderful modern writing is in that genre. People who write kids' books know that the pages have to turn themselves, and I find that far more pleasurable than a ponderous, pretentious "literary" style.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 09:36:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree that Tammy’s early novels (7+ / 0-)

        are weaker; the later ones are much better.  The first one that really stands out for me is Squire, the third volume of the Protector of the Small quartet.  The Tricksters duology may be even a bit better, and the Beka Cooper trilogy is outstanding.

        Mind you, I like the Circle books, too; I’m especially fond of Street Magic and Battle Magic – Evvy is a doll – and Magic Steps, Sandry’s second book.  (All else being equal, I’ve always had a preference for female protagonists.)

        If you’ve not discovered Kristin Cashore, you should definitely give Graceling a try: I wasn’t very far into it before I was thinking Tammy Pierce might almost have written this.  In particular, the character Katsa could be a Pierce character.  Cashore has two other books in that world, Fire, and Bitterblue; the last is a bit of a sequel to both of the first two.

      •  I see lots of fine writing aimed at young adults (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, RunawayRose, No Exit

        If a writer can find the next Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games, they can sell millions and the movie rights; and younger readers will soak up good storytelling, without asking it to fit their labels and expectations.

        There are also some phenomenal YA series written several decades ago. I was tempted to put more of them in my poll, but had more books than I could fit. I'm not sure I know any YA series that built worlds with a breadth and depth of detail comparable to Middle Earth.

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

        by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 10:49:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Riddlemaster of Hed (10+ / 0-)

      will always be my very favorite book (I've only ever been able to get the trilogy bound as one). I understand that McKillip now thinks that it's not very good, but I firmly disagree.

      Tortall is awesome, and I buy the books for my daughter, who loves them.

      “He said it was better to belong where you don't belong than not to belong where you used to belong, remembering when you used to belong there.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

      by LoreleiHI on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 10:48:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What a fine contribution, for our To Be Read lists (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BMScott, RunawayRose, No Exit

      thank you.

      You're way ahead of me. The only one I've read, of all the new books you mention, is Paladin of Souls. I make a point of reading any book that wins both the Hugo and the Nebula. But I think that one suffered a bit, by my jumping to the second book of a series. I'll have to try The Curse of Chalion.

      George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t even come close to making the shortlist: I find it unreadable.  I tried, but there weren’t nearly enough characters with whom I wanted to keep company, and most of those got killed off.
      I'm a big fan of moral chiaroscuros, and all the shades of gray in between. Martin writes a lot of characters who I find interesting, and want to see what they'll do next.

      I have been frustrated when he kills off characters who are central both to his plot and to the moral balance of his realms; on the other hand, I find it exhilarating that I can never take anything in his world for granted. This feeling of whiplash and sawn-off shotgun blasts is a rare and shocking thrill, to jaded readers like me:

      Reading a novel is a little like commanding a battle: you're always reconnoitering, trying to guess where the author will go next, what's a feint and where the action is really heading. I don't know when I have ever been as comprehensively and pleasurably outgeneraled as I am when I read Martin. He raises and raises the stakes, long past when any other writer would have walked away from the table, and just when you think he's done, he goes all in. There is, apparently, no piece he will not sacrifice, no character that you (and one suspects, he) love so much that he will not orchestrate that character's doom.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 10:04:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You’re very welcome. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, RunawayRose, Brecht, No Exit

        In some ways I’m a jaded reader — I have, after all, been reading sf voraciously for 60 years or so! — but I simply don’t want that kind of uncertainty.  In a bricks and mortar bookshop I will almost always take a quick look at the end of a book before buying it, because I’m not interested in real downers or cliffhangers.  (E.g., I think that Flowers for Algernon is a superb story — but I very much doubt that I will ever be able to bring myself to re-read it.)  Not being able to do this is for me the single biggest drawback to buying books online.  I’ve also been known to read a book out of order to reduce the tension a bit.  (Drove Mary Gentle nuts, since it sabotages some of the effects into which she puts considerable effort.)

        I also need to have enough characters with whom I want to spend time, at least in a fictional world — they aren’t always people with whom I’d be likely to become friends in real life.

    •  i read the riddle master of hed series several (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht

      times in my youth...  enjoyed it immensely.

      If you didn't care what happened to me, and I didn't care for you, we would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain, occasionally glancing up through the rain, wondering which of the buggers to blame, and watching for pigs on the wing. R. Waters

      by No Exit on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 06:00:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Brecht, I don't remember but (9+ / 0-)

    I'm under the impression that The Hobbit was written after the trilogy. IOW, he spent three novels learning how to write.

    What makes a brilliant novel? I don't know, but C.S. Lewis ain't it: he never met the paper bag he could write his way out of. He never met the sentence he could WRITE.

    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

    by Youffraita on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:12:36 PM PDT

  •  Lovely diary, Brecht. Tons of fun to read. (16+ / 0-)

    Got to admit I have a serious weakness for Ged and the Earthsea trilogy by LeGuin, which is actually a Good novel according to your parameters, and Great as far as I am concerned.

    I also absolutely love Pratchett. So this was a hard poll!

    Have you read any Jasper FForde? he is my latest find and his Thursday Next series set in a dystopian future sci-fi world are great, especially as they are so chock full of literary allusions and puns. His The Eyre Affair is absolutely a hoot, retelling Bronte's Jane Eyre. So much more fun, though not as meaty as The Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

    Just a minor disagreement--you wrote:

    It's hard to get the measure of a new kind of book. Tolkien is as foundational to Fantasy as Austen is to Romance, or Conan Doyle is to Mystery.
    I like Doyle and Holmes, but I think the laurel should go to Dickens in Bleak House (amazing mystery and Buckett as the first detective) or Wilkie Collins for either The Moonstone or preferably The Woman in White, or even Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret.

    All of these are just AMAZING 19th century British mysteries that (as far as I am concerned) seriously overshadow Doyle.

    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:13:29 PM PDT

    •  Yay, poco! I am with you. (14+ / 0-)

      Love Earthsea, Ged, and Tenar. They were formative novels for me, not least because Tenar is so vital, not secondary to her own story in any way. But that's what one would expect of LeGuin, one of my all-time favorite writers. As far as breaking boundaries is concerned, and writing truth harshly but with beauty, she is far preferable to Doris Lessing, IMO.

      Likewise with Bleak House. That is a masterful novel indeed. I tried to re-read Conan Doyle recently and couldn't, the racism was so ingrained and gross. (I have no idea how I tolerated it 40 years ago either.)

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:58:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Isn't it funny how as children we sort of (7+ / 0-)

        just imbibed the racism and class-ism in the novels we read?!! And took them totally for granted!

        I completely agree with you, Tenar and later Tehanu are just amazingly drawn characters and you can't help falling in love with them. Though I do absolutely also like Doris Lessing a lot too, albeit more for her The Golden Notebook and less for her sci-fi fiction. The Golden Notebook was a formative book for me.

        And Bleak House is (perhaps after Villette) perhaps my favorite novel ever.

        It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

        by poco on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:15:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Funny and sad both, yes. Totally normalized. (7+ / 0-)

          Based on your recommendation, I will give Lessing another try. It's high time I re-read Bleak House, too. But--it is so devastating, so relentless, that I'm not sure I can bear to go through it again. I had almost no critical distance from it whatsoever, as you see.
          Yes, I am very fond of Tehanu as well. I can't remember the name of the last/latest, a set of short stories. But they were also very satisfying. Liberating in the best sense.
          I like LeGuin because to me she writes very well about love in all its forms.

          Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

          by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:23:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Relentless, you (don't) want relentless! (7+ / 0-)

            IMHO, nothing compares to either Beloved by Morrison or It's a Fine Balance by Mistry for being so relentless that you lose the will to live.

            But I do know what you mean, Bleak House is bleak through and through. And Esther;s marriage to Jarndyce is a bitter pill. As is Biddy's marriage to Joe in Great Expectations.

            It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

            by poco on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:37:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, yes. I do think that Beloved (8+ / 0-)

              is a masterpiece, but I can't fathom how it winds up on HS reading lists. I understand that no fiction (no non-fiction either, for that matter) can ever do more than approximate the lived historical reality, and I agree that the profound evil of slavery must be explained and taught to every American, at least. Yet the impact of that one novel is so intense, I am inclined to think one should have more experience before tackling it.
              On the other hand--what is the best or the right age to learn about evil? I suppose children younger than 14 have brushes with it far more often than I like to admit.

              Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

              by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:19:48 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  How should we face pain, chaos, soul-ripping tales (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                dandy lion, Radiowalla

                Big question, with so many painful truths in the world, and us handling them so clumsily (e.g. Climate Change).

                Yet the impact of that one novel is so intense, I am inclined to think one should have more experience before tackling it. On the other hand--what is the best or the right age to learn about evil?
                I tried Beloved in my 20s, and made it half way, then quit. And I'd already faced a fair amount of darkness, in life and books, at half that age. I don't think Beloved's the best place to first jump into Morrison's work (though many of her books have some share of disturbing in them).

                I believe it's very important to expose children and youths to disturbing stories and facts - but we should do it gradually and with great care. You shouldn't just turn on the TV when you're 8, to discover The Omen, Clockwork Orange, or footage of War or 9/11. Books don't have the immediate shock and awe of visual footage, but they can haunt your imagination.

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

                by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:07:20 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I'm currently reading Beloved (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Brecht, RiveroftheWest

                  and struggling with it. On the one hand, it is so true and evocative; on the other, it seems false in many ways, possibly because it's a culture unfamiliar to me. Morrison does expect intelligence, organizational skills, and persistence from the reader. My rebellious soul thinks that if we are going to work that hard, we should be paid.

                  It may be telling that this 1987 edition, found in a coffee shop, is virgin sturgeon….

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

                  by dandy lion on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:36:45 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I'd felt for ages I should finish a Toni Morrison (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    RiveroftheWest, poco

                    novel, and then two months ago I was completely blown away by the still dark, but with a much more varied palette, Song of Solomon (link goes to my dairy on it). She tells of so much American experience (black, female, poor, rural) that I hardly know - I learn a lot from her.

                    You said "it seems false in many ways, possibly because it's a culture unfamiliar to me." I found it took some getting into, both because much of it was alien to me, and because Morrison is such a serious, complex writer - but also very lyrical and honest. Her books are crammed with substance, and do require commitment and attention:

                    "I want to write for people like me, which is to say black people, curious people, demanding people - people who can't be faked, people who don't need to be patronized, people who have very, very high criteria."                        - Toni Morrison
                    I'll certainly get back to Beloved, because I now intend to work my way through most of her books.

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

                    by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:40:37 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

          •  Might I suggest Mary Gentle? (10+ / 0-)

            She's brilliant. Her first (that I am aware of) was Golden Witchbreed, and it was science fiction, but she's written a bunch of different things since then.

            If it weren't for the whole sf/fantasy ghetto thing, she should be classed among our greatest contemporary literary writers.

            English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

            by Youffraita on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:08:07 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I find both LeGuin and Lessing very skillful and (0+ / 0-)

        brave writers. LeGuin's Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness are SF classics, but the Earthsea books captured my hear and imagination around age 11, and I've felt a personal attachment to her ever since. Lessing's Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five couldn't compete with that. The Golden Notebook had a great impact on me; I wrote a diary on it, but it's really about the epiphany it gave me - it's 1/3 Lessing, 2/3 Brecht.

        But I need to read several more Lessing, as she's written all kinds of books; and a few more LeGuin, and all the Earthsea again.

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

        by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:55:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  LeGuin is one of the best writers in SF & Fantasy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, No Exit

      Earthsea is enchanting on many levels, and a favorite of mine. LeGuin doesn't do the dense world-building of Tolkien, but what she did sketch out created an atmosphere which stays with me decades later. And I never got bogged down in Earthsea, though the dark shadow race across the open sea gets featureless and grim. She could have earned a Nobel, I think.

      The only Fforde I've read is Shades of Grey. The Eyre Affair appeals even more to my sensibility.

      For pioneering mystery, Poe's stories (e.g. Murder in the Rue Morgue) are usually mentioned, too. I enjoyed both those Wilkie Collins, and Bleak House. I was thinking specifically of how Conan Doyle worked out so much of the template of mystery-puzzle, which guided the genre for half a century after his work.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:50:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm one of those who constantly re-reads it (21+ / 0-)

    I've read LOTR at least once a year since the '80s, and I always find something new in it - maybe because I change through my own experiences, and I'm never the same person I was before. Also, the characters are like old friends, and I enjoy visiting with them. And maybe that's also why I don't find certain 'plot mover' characters shallow - because I've known them so long, I've probably built character and motivations into them myself!

    Thought I'd share my 50th Anniversary edition of 'The Hobbit' here too - it didn't come with the One Ring, that's mine! Although it might actually be a Two Ring... I've never had it checked! Illustrations by Tolkien, I'd never seen color illustrations of the story before I got this edition.

    hobbit1

    hobbit2

    hobbit3

    Kind daypart! I do not have the masculine heat alongside. One Love, but imitations under it are thousands. - Russian mail-order bride Tatiana

    by Fordmandalay on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:14:11 PM PDT

    •  that picture of smaug on his gold was on the cover (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fordmandalay, Brecht

      of the edition of the hobbit i owned as a child and it was immediately in my mind when brecht made the evocative comparison of tolkien to smaug resting on his treasure...

      If you didn't care what happened to me, and I didn't care for you, we would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain, occasionally glancing up through the rain, wondering which of the buggers to blame, and watching for pigs on the wing. R. Waters

      by No Exit on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:57:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for sharing your lovely pictures (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jbsoul, Fordmandalay

      which perfectly augment this diary. I like their elegant fairy-tale simplicity.

      I've read LOTR at least once a year since the '80s, and I always find something new in it . . . the characters are like old friends, and I enjoy visiting with them. . . . I've known them so long, I've probably built character and motivations into them myself!
      However much literary craft Tolkien poured into his work (and I think he poured in a great deal, but was just crafting in new directions instead of the paths we were used to), he poured all of himself into it. There is so much humanity and heart in his work. He shared with us everything he loved or held precious, as well as what he feared.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:19:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sweetie, it's apples and oranges: (13+ / 0-)
    Is J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin better at crafting an Epic Fantasy adventure? Which one builds a more immersive and comprehensive world?
    My vote goes to Martin b/c I met him years ago, and b/c his world is a political mirror to our own.

    My vote goes to Tolkien b/c although I never met him, his world is a mirror to our own.

    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

    by Youffraita on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:16:59 PM PDT

    •  It is apples and oranges. It's also as if Martin (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Youffraita

      grew up on apples, and tried dozens of other fruits, but lived in a citrus-free world. Then, after designing other foods for decades, he set out to create the orange. There are some aspects of his world-building where he walks close to Tolkien's footsteps, and others where he strikes out sideways from the past.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:23:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And yet he's all about (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht

        the Wars of the Roses, which are definitely PAST. I confess I'm not quite sure what you meant in that comment.

        Ice & Fire seems very plausible to me (well, except for the fantasy elements which -- this being fantasy -- belong).

        English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

        by Youffraita on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 12:29:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tolkien wasn't inventing Middle Earth to make (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

          a statement - he just got carried away with an unusual personal game, and LotR was the prize he found at the end.

          Martin has had a career with ups and downs, in different genres, and TV. And he came to Epic Fantasy half a century after Tolkien. After he'd written a few installments, his Ice & Fire series became by far his greatest success, and now he's deep into the TV adaptation of it too, and conquering the zeitgeist.

          Martin is a writer who's learned many professional skills, and has absorbed the books by his best Epic competitors. And he finds he's writing his masterpiece, his shot at making it into the Canon.

          So in creating his orange, he's making a statement on many levels, and I believe he's trying to encompass the best that Epic Fantasy's achieved, and express his whole imagination and personality, and is also deliberately changing the formulae. He is writing towards eternity, and inventing new edges for Fantasy.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:53:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Okay, well, damn, I read something today (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, poco, RiveroftheWest

            that I really would like to blockquote to you, with a link to the original & it wasn't Maureen Dowd and I don't think it was the Baltimore Sun, so I am kind of at a loss...maybe it was Saturday's NYT review of the fourth season of the show Game of Thrones...except I can't find the quote there, either.

            What it was, it was someone saying something nice about Tolkien kind of Christianizing his worldview in LOTR (no, I do not know exactly what that means) vs. Martin having a (insert ancient Greek philosophy here) on the subject. The writer wasn't pro or anti either author: just saying that the worldviews were different, and Martin was, perhaps, more realistic (if you're me) or more cynical (if you're Tolkien).

            English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

            by Youffraita on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 12:34:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  And some readers who read fantasy to escape prefer (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

              to escape to a more black and white world, where good people often come into great power, and where good can triumph outright in the end.

              Tolkien comes closer to this than Martin. Both of them are complex men. Having read some of Martin's chilling horror (e.g. Sandkings), and some of Tolkien's whimsical tales, I suspect that Martin has deeper and colder darkness in his imagination; and he lives in a darker and more cynical time, where selfish people have taken over and degraded many of our institutions and much of our culture.

              If there is a religious underpinning of Fantasy Epics, it is the Battle between Good and Evil, in all its forms. Tolkien and Martin each handle this well, according to the texture of their worlds.

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

              by Brecht on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:55:18 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  That's it exactly: I love Martin's work (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Brecht, RiveroftheWest

                because it isn't black/white, good/evil, in the classic sense.

                You don't want a favorite character to get offed? Don't read Martin. (Or Rowling, for that matter.)

                I also love Martin (and Rowling) b/c they have created sprawling worlds of wonder with the potential for good OR bad to be revealed whenever you turn a stone.

                If you know what I mean (and I'm sure you do).

                English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                by Youffraita on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 12:13:29 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Does Asimov's 'Foundation' universe count? (10+ / 0-)

    After all, it was a completely different universe, set tens of thousands of years in the future when there was no longer an Earth. And then of course I'd have to include Frank Herbert's 'Dune' universe! Both incredibly complex worlds with deeply crafted organizations, governments, and religions.

    Kind daypart! I do not have the masculine heat alongside. One Love, but imitations under it are thousands. - Russian mail-order bride Tatiana

    by Fordmandalay on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:44:27 PM PDT

    •  If I'd included any SF worlds, I'd have had Dune (0+ / 0-)

      in there, as it is an immensely dense and original creation.

      If Asimov had set out to build a world as solid as Middle Earth, he might have done it - but I think he had little interest in doing so. The Foundation books have some powerful ideas behind them, and enough character and story quirks that we get engaged in the plot; but Asimov doesn't worry much about the details and atmosphere, beyond what he needs to get us to travel with him from A to B.

      Both incredibly complex worlds with deeply crafted organizations, governments, and religions.
      Really? Well, I did read it long ago; but if it was that vivid, it's surprising how little of it stuck with me. I loved the socio/psychology predicting, the history and politics was fun, and The Mule was great character and story. But I can't remember atmosphere to compare with Orwell, Bradbury, Rendezvous with Rama or Neuromancer.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:31:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Awesome! (9+ / 0-)

    I have no interest in Epic Fantasy, thus I am not familiar with most of the works you cited. I do love Mythology, most of which I read from age eight on throughout my teens. My (step) grandfather had an impressive collection of books and I couldn’t go through them fast enough.
    I have little to no interest in the subject matter, but I am fascinated with your writing.
    I am “standing in awe before an intricate tableau.”
    Another masterpiece, Brecht.

    Maya Angelou: "Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."

    by JoanMar on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:44:35 PM PDT

    •  "I do love Mythology". I read my way through the (0+ / 0-)

      Greek and Roman stuff, and then was thrilled to bits when I discovered the weirder Norse stories. Celtic also has the weird in it, and I like some of the Egyptian and Hindu tales.

      I'm also a sucker for any book at all which brings its world richly alive around me, and I have a lot more interest in the nooks and crannies of personality than I did, back when I loved nothing more than a magic carpet to sweep me to some utterly new experience.

      Thanks for your kind compliments, I will try to live up to and one day exceed them. It's healthy to yearn, and work harder.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:38:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This doesn't match my LitCrit, at all (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate, pico, Brecht

    Genre is specifically allowed, can't be escaped anyways, and should be a matter of awareness.

    •  With respect to the diarist, (10+ / 0-)

      it doesn't match the history of Tolkien criticism, either.   Most of the early reviews were very positive, so I don't really know what to say about this supposed group of "critics and literati" and whatnot.  Certainly no one dismissed him as out-of-date, as far as I can see. The only major critic who took aim at LOTR was Edmund Wilson (no surprise), and as he himself pointed out, he was in the distinct minority.  The "critics and literati" were overwhelmingly on Tolkien's side, and always have been.

      The Nobel Committee in fact did not dismiss Tolkien on the grounds of bad prose: that's an unfortunate game of telephone from a note in the Nobel archives, partially given in a Swedish newspaper, badly interpreted by English sources.  Here's a direct translation from the Swedish:

      [Tolkien's] trilogy, one of the twentieth century's greatest literary successes in the commercial sense, was viewed thus: "the result has not in any way measured up to work of the highest quality"
      No further elaboration, unfortunately.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:01:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, I learn more from disagreements, and you (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, pico, No Exit

        always have thought behind your opinions, and knowledge to back them up. I would say early critical reception of LotR was mixed - but since a friend's just turned up unexpectedly, it'll be several hours before I can give your comment the reply it deserves. For now:

        Shippey . . . burns with generous indignation at the scorn with which many literary critics have treated Tolkien, and his subtitle, "Author of the Century," is meant to provoke. But provocation is only one of his purposes. His book has three main strands. His first aim is to bring his professional expertise as a medievalist and a philologist to bear on The Lord of the Rings, in order to track down Tolkien's sources and to analyze the creative processes that brought Middle-earth into being. His second purpose is to champion the literary quality of Tolkien's work, arguing for its moral depth, its psychological richness, and its technicalskill. The third element in the book is the knockabout bit: Tolkien's detractors are hauled into court and convicted of snobbery, elitism, professional jealousy, and other kinds of bad faith. It is all very lively: a clear, forceful, engaging, ingenious, sometimes wrongheaded book.

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

        by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:10:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not very impressed with Shippey's work. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          No Exit, Brecht

          Have you read it?  The excerpts I've read of his book aren't particularly well-argued: he apparently started with the thesis that there was critical hostility to Tolkien and did what he could to build a self-righteous fortification against it.

          That's why I linked to Wilson, who cites his critical colleagues' generally positive reactions.  Shippey excerpts anything that looks like a criticism (along the lines of "brilliant book but there was one thing I wasn't sure about") to turn it into a jeremiad.  It's not exactly honest scholarship.

          (Then again, Wilson was doing the same thing in reverse, so this is kinda typical.)

          ((Anyway, the point I was making is that Tolkien's reputation was solid from the start, and there never has been critical resistance to him or his work.  There are individual critics who dislike him, but there are individual critics who dislike anything, so I don't think it stands as a paradigmatic case of elitist snobs v. general readers.  Especially since Tolkien's big defenders, in the early going, were critics and philologists and poets.  I mean, Auden practically drooled over his work.))

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 05:37:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Your comments raise the most substantial questions (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pico, RiveroftheWest

            against my theory, the sharpest ones I need to address, and the ones that I will learn the most from considering carefully. So I'll be taking some time to reply, but not until I've spoken to the other comments here.

            I mean, Auden practically drooled over his work
            I've read his NYT review, where he said he'd read no better book in the last five years. And I assume Auden was reading an awful lot of books at the time. I took it with a grain of salt, as I believe Tolkien had been a beloved professor of Auden's.

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

            by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 08:47:57 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'll agree with you on one big point, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Brecht, RiveroftheWest

              which I suspect is the overall point you were trying to make: no matter how good the reviews or how beloved the books are, I can't think of many (highbrow) critics who'd put it on a list of the very best works of the 20th century.  And I think that's what Shippey is getting at: he believes Tolkien is absent from these lists due to critical snobbery, which isn't wrong per se.*  So in part his book is an attempt to argue that, far from a critical outlier, Tolkien's book has the best claim to being "the" book of the century.

              (I just think he's not particularly good at marshaling evidence to support that view.)

              * Then again, you know my favorite work of the last century is Perec's Life a User's Manual, and I can't think of any critics outside the French-speaking world who'd have it on their list, either.  Critics can be blind in more ways than just elitism.

              ** Also, while the literati can be snobby and elitist and all those things, I also think (based purely on anecdotal observation) that they're somewhat less narrow than the average reader.  To use one of Shippey's favorite whipping-boys: do you think it's more likely that the average reader of Ulysses will have picked up Tolkien, or that the average reader of Tolkien would have picked up Ulysses?  We tend not to paint the latter as elitism, but it's the same narrowness.

              Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

              by pico on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:31:45 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Your comments made me think, go read some articles (0+ / 0-)

                and then think again. I like how open your mind is, how much you think for yourself, and how your challenges sharpen my own theories.

                On Monday I spent 40 minutes writing a reply here, filled with luscious links and logic. As I finished it, and was checking it over, my iMac took one glance at it and et the whole thing up, nom nom.

                It was very discouraging.

                I haven't read Shippey; I thought Richard Jenkyns (who wrote the Shippey review) made several interesting points. Edmund Wilson also made some good points. I think his overwrought language (at points) betrays that there was a large emotional component to Wilson's reaction to Lord of the Rings, which skewed his objective comprehension of the whole:

                These characters who are no characters are involved in interminable adventures the poverty of invention displayed in which is, it seems to me, almost pathetic. . . . There are dreadful hovering birds - think of it, horrible birds of prey! There are ogreish disgusting Orcs, who, however, rarely get to the point of committing any overt acts. There is a giant female spider - a dreadful creepy-crawly spider! - who lives in a dark cave and eats people. What one misses in all these terrors is any trace of concrete reality. . . . An impotence of imagination seems to me to sap the whole story. The wars are never dynamic; the ordeals give no sense of strain; the fair ladies would not stir a heartbeat; the horrors would not hurt a fly. . . . certain people - especially, perhaps, in Britain - have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash. . . . You can see it in the tone they fall into when they talk about Tolkien in print: they bubble, they squeal, they coo . . .
                There is some criticism in there, but the two main points I get are, 1) Tolkien didn't cast his spell on Wilson, and 2) It really bugs Wilson to hear so much effusive praise for a book he doesn't get.

                Having heard your points, and read further, it seems to me that there were always critical plaudits (some extreme) for LotR - and there were always readers who just didn't get it, some of whom wouldn't relax enough to try, as I said in my diary. This is from an article in the London Review of Books, precisely one year ago:

                Auden thought that admiration for Tolkien was an indispensable sign of good literary judgment. That’s putting it too strongly, but you could certainly say that a willingness to read Tolkien with an open mind, and pass judgment on the work’s merits or lack of them, is a sign that no preconceptions about literary categories are in place. I once had to speak up for The Lord of the Rings at a retrospective version of the Booker Prize for 1954 – the other candidates were Under the Net, The New Men, Lucky Jim, A Proper Marriage and Lord of the Flies, which won – and needless to say I was the first to be chucked out of the metaphorical balloon.​ It was clear, though, that not only had a large part of the audience not read the book, there were no circumstances under which they would consider doing so. There was something depressing about that.
                I agree with you, more Ulysses readers would give LotR a try than vice versa. The rest of what I wrote on Monday concerned readers and critics generally thinking, but very few of them thinking with an open, flexible, comprehensive curiosity. I've recently enjoyed Zadie Smith's and J.M. Coetzee's reviews, because they dive into books and tell me things I'd never have thought of. But too often, the more you know the less you're willing to think again. Harold Bloom once struck me with his questing energy, but now he seems to be spouting Harold Bloom.

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

                by Brecht on Sat Apr 12, 2014 at 10:53:07 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary and questions! (12+ / 0-)

    I esp. like this:

    Middle Earth is close to eternity; those who plant their whole selves there, come home again with larger imaginations.
    I know why people complain about my polls, now.  I love 12 of your 15 choices.  I did vote, but it was agonizing. :)

    As with Harry Potter which showed that children would indeed read big books, so Tolkien showed that fantasy was not just junk.

    I would also mention Saberhagen's Sword books, White's Tales of Sector General, all of McKillip's, all of C. J. Cherryh's, Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, Chronicles of Prydain by Alexander...just to name a few.  :)

    So many wonderful worlds...so little time.

    I would like to mention some newer authors that I follow:  Kelly McCullough's Blade series and Courtney Schafer's The Whitefire Crossing and sequel, The Tainted City.  It is hard to come up with something new in the field and they managed to do it.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:47:12 PM PDT

  •  Lived with 'Lord of the Rings' for a long time ... (11+ / 0-)

    ... part of my own history, since I read it during critical periods of my life.

    Tolkien was explicit about his influence from Andrew Lang, but I have yet to read anything he may have said about William Morris:

    From The Sundering Flood circa 1890

    Polymath Morris wrote about seven Heroic Fantasy novels -- the best ones are well-structured, and very much worth reading.

    In addition, Brian Aldiss compares Mervyn Peake's style with Tolkien's in Billion Year Spree, but chooses rather good Mervyn to lay beside rather weary JRR.

    The first time I "got through" the trilogy, if felt like a chore, but the Appendix immediately made me fall in love with Middle Earth all over again with 'Tale of the Years.'

    Jack Gaughan's covers for Wollheim's end-run around copyright laws, which motivated Ballantine's phenomenal paperback breakout of 'Lord of the Rings.'

    Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

    by MT Spaces on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 06:54:50 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for the three paperback covers - very nice (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      There's a fair amount around the internet about Morris influencing Tolkien. Here's wikipedia on J. R. R. Tolkien's influences:

      One of the greatest influences on Tolkien was the Arts and Crafts polymath William Morris. Tolkien wished to imitate Morris's prose and poetry romances, along with the general style and approach; he took elements such as the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings and Mirkwood in The Hobbit from Morris. He was also influenced by the modern fantasy author, George MacDonald. . .
      And here's The Literary Link Between William Morris and J. R. R. Tolkien:
      J. R. R. Tolkien fans who have longed for more of that same sense of joy they get from The Lord of the Rings will find it in the writings of William Morris. It was he who founded the literary style that Tolkien brought to perfection. As a young man writing to his future wife, J. R. R. Tolkien has this to say of William Morris: "Amongst other work I am trying to turn one of the short stories [of the Finnish Kalevala] . . . into a short story somewhat on the lines of Morris' romances with chunks of poetry in between." . . .
      I particularly enjoy Peake's originality - I've never read another book remotely like Gormenghast, which has an atmosphere and characters all its own. I'm not quite sure what Tolkien got from him - but the man did read a fair amount, and it all became grist for his great mill.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:05:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Aha. I found your comments in 2 other LotR diaries (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      3 years ago you showed 3 different covers (which I prefer); almost exactly 2 years ago you showed the same 3, and then your next comment in the thread has a lovely drawing Tolkein did, with Smaug flying.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 01:20:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had to make myself finish LOTR. (9+ / 0-)

    I couldn't stand the books. I wanted to read them because they're so foundational to modern fantasy storytelling and I reasonably enjoyed the films (though there are definitely flaws there too). But it took everything I had to make myself finish them. There's only so many times I can read about them walking up a hill and then down the other side of the hill and then up a second hill and then down to a creek and then past some trees that reminded them of trees they had seen a few miles back but then they went up a curved bank and then down another hill. The storytelling in it is just way disproportionate to its importance. For example, Gandalf's arrival and Helm's Deep to the end of the battle is like only a third of a page, but there's like a page and a half later discussing what day of the month it is. I can appreciate the level of detail Tolkien put into worldbuilding, but that doesn't make an interesting story. So, so much of the books felt monotonous to me. The overarcing idea of the Ring and how everyone will fall to the allure of power is good. It's just the specific drafting of the narrative that is really, really off to me.

    Plus, I really hated how Arwen is nothing but a prize for Aragorn to be given to him by her dad and how Eowyn falls apart and wants to die because Aragorn wasn't interested in her.

    •  I haven't read LOTR since high school... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, No Exit

      and in high school I had a much higher tolerance for turgid prose.

      I'm not saying the prose in LOTR is turgid: it has been too long for me to remember.

      Just sayin'.

      English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

      by Youffraita on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:20:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  He didn't really do women (5+ / 0-)

      for sure.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 09:45:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In contrast (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kurt, No Exit, Brecht

      I had much the same reaction to the battle of Helm's Deep in the Two Towers film.  It was way too long, I wanted it to end before it was half way through so they could get back to the story.

      "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

      by matching mole on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 06:36:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's why I never could read LOTR (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges, No Exit, Brecht

      They went up the hill and down the other side and across the creek and through the woods and up the next hill and through the trees and down the hill and across the creek and….

      It drove me nuts. Of course, I was an adult. I've been told that you must be fourteen to successfully read the series.

      I wanted to read them, I just couldn't. It was like being on a long trail ride, the wrong trail ride, on the wrong horse, for the longest time ever….    

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

      by dandy lion on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 04:19:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'd say Tolkien had a good storytelling instinct, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      so that all his major plot points make a well-shaped tale. But in LotR he lost his sense of proportion, and put trivial points, irrelevant to the main flow, under his zoom microscope. As an obsessive world-builder must, if he's going to check the texture and grit of his creation.

      It's like being shown around St. Peter's in Rome by a knowledge-stuffed, slightly senile monk. He'll stop to wax lyrical on Michelangelo's sculptures, but then he'll stop twice as long to point out the woman who's been roasting chestnuts for tourists for forty years now. If St. Peter's is the front step of your heaven, you'll soak up every blessed detail; if you want to see just the greatest art and history, and still get out of there in time for dinner - then you picked the wrong monk for your tour-guide.

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

      by Brecht on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:20:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Tolkien said the book was too short (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, RiveroftheWest

        and I can agree that it's a little disjointed.  Plus he picked it up and put it down over the course of seventeen years and World War II.  

        Tolkien lived in Middle-earth for a very long time, and of course his preferred work was never published.  His son published a version of JRRT's The Sil, but it was cobbled together and incomplete.  

        "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." — Oscar Wilde

        by chicagobama on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:52:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  "his preferred work was never published": It looks (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, chicagobama, poco

          like almost every scrap of it's getting published, year by year. Tolkein published approx. six books-full of matter in his life, and several times as much again posthumously. Including the twelve volume History of Middle Earth that came out through the '80s and '90s.

          I don't expect to make it past The Silmarillion, myself.

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

          by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 06:06:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I guess I meant his version (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, poco, RiveroftheWest

            There are many gaps in the posthumous works that Christopher Tolkien had to fill, and he has said he made some of the stuff up.  We'll never know what JRRT intended, although I think we got 90% of what he wrote.

            History of Middle Earth is a compilation of JRRT's notes on the development of Middle-earth, from the creation of the world through LOTR.  It's not an end-to-end story but shows us uber-geeks the process that the books went through (Aragorn was originally a hobbit, for example).

            I don't disagree with your point - just splitting geek hairs.

            "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." — Oscar Wilde

            by chicagobama on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 03:18:28 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I'd like to elaborate on poco and JoanMar's (10+ / 0-)

    comments a little bit (speaking only for myself, of course).

    For all Tolkien's imagination and erudition, it is a major, major shortcoming of his book to have some of the same-old, same-old racial/color hierarchies built in. That is a great disappointment and a serious limitation.

    Similarly, he did not do well at all by his female characters. Though some, a very few, might have been powerful, they weren't knowable as his male characters were. Far too close too close to perfection, most of them. And Eowyn, accessible at least, becomes in the end almost a plot device. Yuck, in a word.

    These factors do undermine the significance of his work for me in an insurmountable way.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:08:29 PM PDT

  •  I greatly enjoy Martin's series, but (5+ / 0-)

    there are FAR too many names and characters thrown at you, especially in the first two books. It's impossible to read and appreciate the flow of the story when you are constantly paging back to remind yourself which Ser is who.

    •  I didn't have that problem on the first reading (6+ / 0-)

      but when I want to read a new novel in the series, I had to start over from book one...until recently. I think I finally have them all memorized.

      But yeah: I get your problem. Martin's doing the Wars of the Roses and there are a lot of players to keep track of.

      English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

      by Youffraita on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:26:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have to throw in a loud vote for (11+ / 0-)

    The Deed of Paksennarion, and subsequent books in that world (now up to 9), by Elizabeth Moon. I'm a Tolkien fan, not so much a Martin fan, and will gladly reread Feist and LeGuin and McCaffrey. And Marion Zimmer Bradley.

    I also want to give a secondary callout to a rather more obscure trilogy by Barbara Hambly - The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, and The Armies of Daylight.

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:15:49 PM PDT

  •  Tolkien is rather one-dimensional (16+ / 0-)

    When it comes to characters, as noted above.

    I've read LOTR several times through. What strikes me is, among the other things it inspires, is a sense of tedium. Middle Earth is a great canvas that dwarfs its subjects, "poor players who strut and fret their hour upon the stage" and put on quite a show while doing so, and yet…

    Sauron is a huge menace in LOTR - and yet we keep getting reminded he is greatly diminished from the power he once was, lacking the ring. The elves are leaving Middle Earth, meaning it will henceforth be a drabber, more mundane place. The Mines of Moira show how far the dwarves have fallen. The eventual future where Middle Earth will be solely given over to humans seems inevitable, like a fade into twilight.

    In a sense, LOTR is analogous to watching the triumph of entropy, as the arrow of time points to the heat death of the universe.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:59:46 PM PDT

  •  One on the list, one missing. (9+ / 0-)

    When it comes to world building, Terry Pratchett certainly stands out in the crowd. While the early stories from the Discworld are fun as fantasy with a bit of tongue in cheek satire in them, Pratchett's later works have some incredibly rich characters and powerfully compelling meditations on the nature of humanity (and the other assorted denizens of the Discworld.) Small gods, the Nightwatch, The Truth, Thud! - these and other works in the series transcend the genre at times.

    The author missing from the list has written some great SF - but her fantasy works are excellent as well. I'm talking about Lois McMaster Bujold, of course. The Chalion universe, spanning three books, takes a world loosely modeled on the Europe of Ferdinand and Isabella - but the Quintaran Faith really makes it memorable. Bujold's expositions on the nature of miracles, saints, and the contrast between how the Gods of Chalion see the world versus how the people of Chalion experience it, well it puts matters theological into a new perspective.

    Her other fantasy series, the world of the Sharing Knife, is in some ways almost an anti-fantasy. It has none of the usual hallmarks - no gods, demons, dragons, elves, wizards, or any of the other customary cliches of the genre. There were gods once, but they've fled. And yet there is a kind of magic in it.

    The survivors of an ancient disaster forged of hubris are reduced to coping with an ongoing battle to clean up the toxic remnants of the great battle, lest it finally be lost for all time. They have inherited abilities that appear magic to those lacking them, but they come with very human limitations. And yet Bujold still manages to bring magic into a world by the way which ordinary people may still do heroic things - and find ways to be human with each other. Like Pratchett, she's created memorable characters in both series. (And she's a lot better at including sex in the stories than Tolkien ever was.)

    The four books of the Sharing Knife constitute one long story that unfolds over the course of a year. The characters within it over that time change and grow - and Bujold manages to maintain both a story arc within each book, and a larger one that builds over all four of them. At the conclusion, one is left with both a sense of accomplishment for what has been won, and a sense of anticipation for what lies ahead.

    It's quite a contrast with LOTR, where the surviving characters at the end seem to be winding down in a diminished world.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:27:54 PM PDT

    •  Bujold is wonderful (7+ / 0-)

      I quite enjoyed The Sharing Knife.

      Somehow I'd missed Chalion - will have to go hunt that up.

      Friends of mine themed their wedding reception around the Vorkosigan world. :-)

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 09:50:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  While it didn’t instantly seize me (6+ / 0-)

      the way The Curse of Chalion did, I agree with you that The Sharing Knife is a splendid job of world-building.  And I’m very fond of Fawn and Dag.  And it should definitely be read in one go, all four volumes.

      Lighter, but a little bit reminiscent of it, is Pat Wrede’s YA Frontier trilogy: Thirteenth Child, Across the Great Barrier, and The Far West.

    •  Yay Lois! (7+ / 0-)

      She's great to her fans, on top of being a wonderful, fun writer. It's always thrilling to have her comment on a thread of thought on the Bujold mailing list.

      I liked her fantasy, but I prefer her sci-fi. It's amazing. She thought up WiFi, Skype, all sorts of things back in the 80s, writing the first 'Vor' novels (Shards of Honor). Also, real live disabled main character, not played for pity! Pity Miles at your own risk.

      Also, Ethan of Athos was really groundbreaking, in it's very positive outlook towards homosexuals. Lois is downright subversive.

      “He said it was better to belong where you don't belong than not to belong where you used to belong, remembering when you used to belong there.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

      by LoreleiHI on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 11:11:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for such interesting comments, xaxnar (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, RiveroftheWest

      This and the one above it ("Middle Earth is a great canvas that dwarfs its subjects") especially.

      I've read two Pratchetts, and I'm planning to read many more.

      So many people adore Lois McMaster Bujold. I fear I was overhyped on her. Then I read Paladin of Souls, since it won both Hugo and Nebula. I didn't know it was the second in a series, and found it underwhelming.

      But I like what you say about her Sharing Knife books, and think I'll look there next.

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

      by Brecht on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:02:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The problem I have with Martin and (12+ / 0-)

    Song of Ice and Fire is that I don't care much for any of the characters, except Jon Snow and Arya.  While it's more realistic to have favorite characters die, and Tolkien is to be faulted for not killing off characters in LOTR except Boromir, Martin kills too many people.  He forces me to be indifferent because it's highly likely a likeable character will be killed off.

    It's hard to stay engrossed in a story when the loathsome characters triumph and the good people die.  Tolkien lets us get involved in the characters and we can follow their story through good times and bad and eventual triumph.

    Martin's Westeros is thoroughly depressing.  There is no joy in simple things, but Tolkien makes us fall in love with Middle-earth as much as we love the characters.  It's like Thorin says "If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

    One of the best things about Tolkien is his concept of eucatastrophe - the idea that victory is sweet as well as bitter.  The elves are in decline, and many leave Middle-earth.  Frodo learns he really can't go home again and be healed, even though it was the thought of the Shire was what sustained him.  

    "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." — Oscar Wilde

    by chicagobama on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:39:16 PM PDT

    •  "He forces me to be indifferent because (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chicagobama, poco, RiveroftheWest

      it's highly likely a likeable character will be killed off."

      I know what you mean - but what he's aiming for is to keep his readers on their toes, taking nothing for granted. Still, I felt shortchanged when the best King for the job was knocked out early on.

      Martin's Westeros is thoroughly depressing.  There is no joy in simple things, but Tolkien makes us fall in love with Middle-earth as much as we love the characters.
      In the end, some readers will find Tolkien speaks more to them, others will hear more realism in Martin. I'm not sure I'd say "There is no joy in simple things" in Martin's world, though I sure don't see much redemption there. There are plenty of color and vitality in Westeros, and so much humanity that it's easy (for me) to stay fascinated.

      I expect the whole will feel more satisfying when it's all done, and wrapped up into one coherent story - Martin enjoys challenging his readers, but he also has an instinct for what his readers can bear in the end. And he'll lose many along the way, who prefer returning to Middle earth.

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

      by Brecht on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:15:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh, there's another: Philip Pullman's trilogy, (10+ / 0-)

    His Dark Materials.
    Perhaps they're off the list because of being YA novels?
    At any rate, there's a lot to be said about his world-making ability, at the least.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:41:23 PM PDT

  •  I've tried to read other fantasy after LOTR (12+ / 0-)

    and while I have slightly enjoyed some of it, I can't get into anything like I can his world. It's not just because it is such an intricately crafted world, but the foundation it was built on.  I don't sense that other writers are building from the same depth of love or knowledge of Northern European mythology or languages that JRRT had.  No one can touch Tolkien with a 10 foot pole because they didn't read Old Norse for fun!

    Another thing, I don't get the same sense of horror of our present world/society.  Tolkien tapped into a fear of modernity and bridged a gap from the ancient to allow us a (temporary) escape from it.  I see our world full of double-dealing and destruction of the natural environment and want to escape to his world where a person's word is their bond and trees are honored.

    Following on from xaxnar's comment, that sense of everything fading - the triumph of entropy - also makes Middle Earth so relatable.

    I  respect other people saying they get bogged down in the description or are bothered by sexist/racist things they notice, but as bad as those things are, they help to create a sense of  'oldness' as well (as well as being foibles that I don't expect a man of Tolkien's time and place to overcome).  

    Specifically as to the tedious descriptions: I felt that way when I tried to read some 19th century American stuff, so I relate. I guess I'd become enamored enough of M.E.  that I didn't mind the description of every leaf of it. :) Besides, if everyone could have zipped from here to there, while it would have technically helped the pacing, it wouldn't be a real journey. People in M.E. took time to sing songs. They walked. They trudged, like JRRT did as a soldier at the battle of the Somme.

    Tolkien's real creation is the Silmarillion-related mass of writings, anyway. LOTR is just wrapping-up and synopsis, if you will, of a body of even older legends.  

    •  You speak for me; thanks for your comment. n/t (6+ / 0-)
    •  There are so many Epic series out there - I bet (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, RiveroftheWest

      there are a couple you'd enjoy, but haven't found yet. Though I do get what you're saying, and I'm sure there's nothing to grab your heart like Middle Earth. It has several distinct flavors in it; it is it's own cuisine, in fact. I wonder what else there is that delves into all those Norse roots - they're so rich that I'm certain other authors have plundered there.

      I liked your insights into what worked for you in LotR, and why some "flaws" I mentioned never bothered you. I've found that many readers are more invested in Middle Earth, with both their heart and their mind, because they first traveled there as teenagers, when they were hugely receptive to such a rich field of imagining, and not remotely jaded by too many books and responsibilities.

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

      by Brecht on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:30:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You may get a chuckle from Bill Maher's (16+ / 0-)

    description of Game of Thrones:

    Game of Thrones returns this week...I am sure you know this is a magical fantasy where you are never quite sure who's gonna live or die. Or maybe I was thinking of Paul Ryan's budget. (wild applause)
    Haha.

    Maya Angelou: "Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."

    by JoanMar on Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 08:57:37 PM PDT

  •  George RR Martin (5+ / 0-)

    For all of his recent commercial success, I find that reading the Game of Thrones series was almost like a chore.  I am compelled to find out what happens next, but with his later books, I am usually disappointed.  There is only one character that I care about at this point, but I have no faith that once she achieves her goal, Martin won't somehow needlessly kill her off in some surprise "gotcha!" scene.

    •  Yes, this a frequent complaint: that Martin breaks (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, RiveroftheWest

      an unwritten contract with his readers, by betraying characters who we're invested in, and who are fundamental to his story. I think I'd get tired of this if a lot of authors started doing it, but in Martin I found it fresh and startling, and crucial to his own ruthless style of storytelling. I'm not saying it's a good thing - just that Martin makes it work for him, to a degree.

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

      by Brecht on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:34:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Mighty Mythopoeic Manner (5+ / 0-)

    I've linked to this before, but a while back I wrote a piece about one of C.S. Lewis's other favorite writers, the Victorian fantasist George MacDonald, and Lewis's contention that even though MacDonald was not, in strict literary terms, a Good Writer, that his writings were nevertheless admirable for what Lewis called their mythopoeic qualities; their ability to stir the imagination the way a good myth does, that makes them greater as stories than the sum of their stylistic faults.

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

    by quarkstomper on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 07:44:21 AM PDT

  •  I've a limited appetite for straight up fantasy (9+ / 0-)

    I've read and reread LOTR and enjoyed it. I think that Fellowship is the strongest and most sustained of the three volumes. Most likely because it is more tightly focused and linear. The break up of the Fellowship and resulting diffusion in the narrative seems to weaken both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, at least for me.

    I don't recall being surprised by much in the tale's development. I think I twigged to Aragorn being the King pretty early on, since his mysteriousness and obscure background seemed a dead give away. I never believed that Gandalf had died in Moria, so I was fully expecting his reappearance. Given Treebeard's character, I never thought that the White wizard he referred to was Saruman. Arwen's battle with the Witch King was foreshadowed, so that was no revelation either.

    I think the charge that LOTR's characters are either purely good or evil is ill made. The moral axis of the story is the exact opposite of this, IMO. The strongest theme in the book is the corrosive and corrupting effect of evil on the good. The characters of Gollum, Boromir and Frodo himself illustrate the point that neither the simple, the noble or the innocent are immune to corruption. This is further underlined by the refusal of other characters to so much as touch the ring for fear of the possible consequences.

    Given Tolkien's Christian beliefs, I think this theme correlates with the doctrine of the innate sinfulness and depravity of humanity. The world of Middle Earth is as much a fallen world as our own. It also addresses a question that dominated the 20th century; can evil be defeated by the use of evil means? For those who are looking for the influence of WWI and WWII on LOTR, I think this is where it is most apparent.

    LOTR is an epic tale in a fully realized universe. As such, it pretty much sated my appetite for fantasy based on Medieval models. The closer subsequent fantasies are to the original, the less likely I am to take them up.      

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 10:34:19 AM PDT

  •  No love for Gene Wolfe? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Monsieur Georges, No Exit, Brecht

    I would place the four books that make up The Book of the New Sun at #3 if not #2.

    Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    by Arilca Mockingbird on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 11:00:57 AM PDT

    •  I find Wolfe sometimes clear and vivid, at other (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      times obscure. So I felt like The Book of the New Sun did some splendid world-building but at other times, like Penelope at night, unpicked what was already woven.

      I preferred The Wizard Knight for its strong enchantment, cosmic system, and deepening development of a maturing consciousness.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:50:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Aragorn in 3-D (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, ebohlman, chicagobama, No Exit, Brecht

    I can't find it at the moment but somewhere I have a collection of essays on LOTR by a writer named Paul L. Kocher titled The Master of Middle-Earth.  One of his essays is an in-depth exploration of Aragorn and argues that far from being a cardboard Good Guy, there is more depth to his characterization than is sometimes credited to him.

    It's been a while since I've read the essay, so I doubt I can do Kocher's arguments justice, but his book is a good one and worth reading by the Tolkien fan.

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

    by quarkstomper on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 12:00:47 PM PDT

    •  Agree. It's out of print (4+ / 0-)

      but well worth the effort to find Kocher on e-Bay.  I was disappointed in his analysis of The Silmarillion, but his Master of Middle-earth book is outstanding.

      "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." — Oscar Wilde

      by chicagobama on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 05:15:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A crucial tension in 'LotR' is the electromagnetic (3+ / 0-)

      moral field, which surrounds the characters, and is pulling them both toward the light and the dark. Gandalf is nicely gray - but then he gets pulled too.

      Tolkien had studied enough literature to see many elements, which he chose not to develop in his own work. Here, from various letters Tolkien wrote, are 5 Tips for Creating Complex Heroes.

      There are depth and mystery in Aragorn. There are also complex personalities if you choose to read the main hero as spread out across three or four of the ring bearers; and the Sam/Frodo/Gollum interplay gets almost Dostoevskian.

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

      by Brecht on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:45:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd like to put in a word for P.C.Hodgell. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No Exit, Brecht, Ahianne

    Her Kencyrath series has suffered misfortunes - disappearing publishers after the first two or three books - but now that she's with Baen, it's all republished and up to the seventh book.

    Dark yet humorous fantasy, definitely not derivative.

    C'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la pomme de terre.

    by RunawayRose on Sat Apr 05, 2014 at 12:38:21 PM PDT

  •  CJ Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No Exit, Brecht, Sharon Wraight

    has good world building.

    A well-done YA dystopia is Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker. Anxiously awaiting the third in the series.

  •  My compliments! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No Exit, Brecht

    I like a good analogy, and the best in show vs. alpha wolf is perfect!

  •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Brecht, poco

    very much for linking to my diary about LotR. It has been plain over the last decade that JRRT created a world where many of us lived for a time (and some of us still return) and did so because Middle Earth was so real. JRRT was the first to write this way--he composed or wrote most of the Middle Earth works long before they were first published. They were indeed very much an imagining based on the what England looked like between WW1 and WW2, and of course richly embroidered tapestry of Medieval history before that. And because they were writings of that time, the descriptions seemed very much dated to later non-Anglophilic readers. Men whose lives were shaped by a horrific war and by the idealized idyl preceding it will describe battle strategy better than peaceful procedings.

    If JRRT's heroic tales of love and loss attracted me, his geographical descriptions held me. All of the natural history books I had read previously left me longing for a way to picture myself in the grand landscapes of the Romantics. I was able to envision Tolkien's descriptions of Middle Earth because they so easily matched my own memories of the Alps, standing on the rim of Vesuvius, looking out to the far reach of the Atlantic at Land's End and walking in half-timbered villages in the heart of England. When reading of Middle Earth, I felt like I belonged to a story so much more colorful and ancient than actual history.

    Only two subsequent authors have influenced my mood as deeply as JRRT: Ursula LeGuin and Frank Herbert. Both were perhaps better writers, but I had already been primed for living on Arrakis or in Earthsea because I had previously been so much alive in Middle Earth.

    Good diary, Brecht! Thank you.

    •  LeGuin and Herbert each cast rich enchantment, and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      I'm smitten with Earthsea - but Tolkien found a larger, stronger spell. He put so much heart and grit into Middle Earth that it feels solid.

      LeGuin is a very gifted writer. I'm not sure that Herbert is a better writer than Tolkien. Well, as you've seen, I think Tolkien had an impressive array of skills, but many of the strongest fell far outside what we usually look for in polished writing. The first Dune wowed me, and had heaps of originality, but I found the later volumes less and less impressive.

      All of the natural history books I had read previously left me longing for a way to picture myself in the grand landscapes of the Romantics.
      Tolkien was seeking ahead of his generation of readers, and he may have spotted a huge hole in what had been written before, which he diligently filled - and then found that others had felt a similar cavity, and were also fulfilled by his work at mapping some neglected hinterlands of our collective imagination.

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

      by Brecht on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 04:22:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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