The Lord of the Rings Spork, Part One

 
The Lord of the Rings Spork, Part One

I realize that this is probably going to be a rather controversial spork. My past sporks have been (mostly) of reasonably obscure self-published fantasy books, and generally books that are more or less universally agreed upon as being absolute shit. Sure, Gloria Tesch’s parents think she is amazing, and I know Robert Stanek has at least one fan, but Tolkien? The man is considered the father of modern fantasy. His books are still wildly popular, and were adapted into movies that were also wildly popular.

On the other hand, Christopher Paolini and Stephenie Meyer are also wildly popular and have sold millions of copies of books, and both of them are absolutely terrible writers.

Tolkien’s influence on the fantasy genre is undeniable, and his success is nothing short of amazing. And, while some critics cite him as being a master world builder (I will argue otherwise), there are many who point out his shallow, two-dimensional characters, poor characterization, dragging plot, and the general bloated lifelessness that is Lord of the Rings.

I’ll be honest with you. I hate The Lord of the Rings with the passion of a fiery thousand suns. I think Tolkien was an atrociously bad writer and a hack. And I’m going to tell you exactly why.

My copy opens with a note on the text, which I couldn’t care less about, and then a forward by Tolkien himself, with some pretentious rambling about the writing of the novel, mostly detailing how long and difficult it was to write. Great, Tolkien, try and score some sympathy points right off the bat. Here’s an idea: if you’re going to spend TEN YEARS writing a book, why don’t you make it suck less?

Prologue – Concerning Hobbits

I hate prologues. They’re almost always boring and pointless, except when they contain an exciting bit of action from much later in the story, in which case they feel out of place. This one, however, will be boring and pointless.

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits, and from its pages a reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history (page 1).

Except, of course, hobbits don’t exist. Tolkien’s going to have lots of these little moments where he breaks the fourth wall to have his narrator explain random bits of trivia about his made-up world. In this case, he decided to begin his book with FIFTEEN PAGES OF INFODUMP about Hobbits. I’m dead serious. The worst part is that the book itself doesn’t begin on that badly of a note – it starts off talking about Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party, and the preparations for it, which is reasonably entertaining and actually starts propelling the plot along (to a point). If Tolkien was actually talented at this whole writing business, we would start there – you know, at Chapter One – and then he could work in the relevant details about Hobbits as we went along.

Tolkien name-drops The Hobbit, that shitty prequel to TLOTR that spawned reader interest into this literary abortion. You know you’re reading true literature when the author mentions a previous book he’s written and it’s mentioned inside the text of the next book.

So Tolkien starts talking about Hobbits. It’s very exciting.

They were, as a rule, shy of ‘the Big Folk’, as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find (page 1).

Because Hobbits really exist, kids. They’re just shy of us.

According to the Red Book (page 2)

I’ll touch on this briefly and then try to stop ranting about it because it’s something that pissed me off, and if I rant about it every time it occurs, I’ll never get through this trilogy, and it’s pretty fucking long anyway. I mentioned a moment ago about Tolkien breaking the fourth wall, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Periodically, he decides to pull out his narrator to inform the audience of things, but the really weird thing is that he tries to pretend that The Lord of the Rings is some kind of weird alternate history version of Earth, where Hobbits and Elfs and Dwarfs all exist. In Tolkien’s mind, The Hobbit (the prequel to TLOTR) was written by the protagonist Bilbo Baggins, but as the “Red Book” or “There and Back Again”. I’m not really sure if he was doing a whole “I just found this book and translated it” gimmick, but that wouldn’t surprise me. This was a man so full of himself that he would speak Elvish, the made-up language he invented, with his wife. How sickeningly pretentious can you get?

Tolkien rambles for a bit describing what Hobbits look like (fat midgets) and then he launches into a lot of backstory and goes into the different breeds (Yes. He says breeds) of Hobbits, and dives into a bunch of genealogy. It’s about as entertaining as reading the book of Numbers in the Bible.

Eventually he gets around to the subject of Hobbit-holes. If you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably unaware that Hobbits live underground in the somewhat obviously named Hobbit-holes. Well, not all of them:

Actually in the Shire in Bilbo’s days it was, as a rule, only the richest and poorest Hobbits that maintained the old custom (page 6).

Of course, that totally makes sense. Like nowadays: the very rich live in huge decadent mansions, and the very poor…live in tiny rat-infested slums. Yeah.

Part Two (yes, this prologue has multiple parts) is about pipe-weed. Because Hobbits smoke pipes. If you’re wondering why, well, here’s a picture of Tolkien:

They smoke pipes because he smoked a pipe.

Most of this section is just a quotation from Meriadoc Brandybuck from the book Herblore of the Shire, which, of course, doesn’t actually exist. Want to know a quick and simple way to make your story sound deeper and more layered than it actually is? Include quotations from books or records that don’t actually exist.

The third part is called Of the Ordering of the Shire, and is approximately as interesting as reading the minutes of your local city council meeting. The only part actually worth noting is this:

The Shirriffs was the name that the Hobbits have to their police (page 10).

It’s funny, see, because Shirriff is similar to Sherriff?

The fourth part is the most ridiculously unneeded part of this goddamn prologue. It’s aptly titled “Of the Finding of the Ring” and relates, in excruciating, Tesch-like detail, the section of The Hobbit where Bilbo meets Gollum and gets his magic ring. Now, I can sort of see what Tolkien is trying to do here. This is really the only part of The Hobbit that is actually relevant, and since The Lord of the Rings is all about this piece of jewelry, it kinda makes sense to give that piece of backstory in the prologue, so everyone who hadn’t read The Hobbit would know what the hell was going on, right?

Wrong.

Here’s the problem: all of this is actually going to be related later during the text. You know, where it actually makes sense to put this information? In Chapter Two, all of this story is going to be related between Gandalf and Frodo, in a scene that actually makes sense within the context of the story. Now, I don’t want to give Tolkien too much credit because Chapter Two is a mind-numbingly boring chapter that is nothing but excessive backstory, but at the very least, it makes sense to reveal this at that point. And, if Tolkien had waited, during chapter one, people unfamiliar with the Ring would be surprised by Bilbo’s sudden vanishing. Instead, Tolkien decides to spoil his own story. Smooth.

Towards the end of this section Tolkien mentions that originally, Bilbo wrote a different version of the story, one where Gollum promised to give him a present (the ring which Bilbo had already found), and then when Gollum realized it was lost, Bilbo made him show him the way out of the mines instead. This, of course, is Tolkien’s way of covering his own mistake: the original version of The Hobbit didn’t agree with the subject matter of The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien, not being a good enough writer to make it work, decided to retcon real life and to re-release The Hobbit with the changes. Being unable to man up and accept the consequences of his inability to plan ahead as a writer, he decided to write it into the story as a bullshit excuse for why the two versions don’t agree with each other.

Tolkien rambles through the rest of the plot of The Hobbit, which I guess is useful if you haven’t read the book, and finally ends on one of the most pretentious bits of this entire book, which is called “Note on the Shire Records”. In it, he relates the history of the various writings of fictional characters. Yes, this is a writer who is pretending that his writings, which of course are “translations” of fictional writings by fictional characters, are within the universe that he has created and are different from other versions of the story. So, instead of writing the story, he’s decided to impress us with his genius. To add to the effect, there’s even a footnote that asks us to look up things in the index. Nice try, John. Not going to happen.

Update 4/10/12: Yes….this was written for April Fool’s Day.

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  19 Responses to “The Lord of the Rings Spork, Part One”

  1. Have you read the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica by James. A Owen? Not really relate to LOTR, but Tolkien is the protagonist. It’s my favorite series.

  2. Also, Tolkien is not even close to GTesch, Paolini or SMeyer, so…..

  3. You had me going for a moment there.

  4. I don’t know if this is a joke or real

  5. I am all for this! I thought Tokein was punishingly dull and meandering, and I’m overjoyed someone is finally making the books fun by tearing them apart.

  6. Aaaaaaand I somehow manage to misspell Tolkien right on my first try. I blame my shitty netbook…

  7. Having read both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as a child, I am still amazed that Tolkien is seen as the father of fantasy. He is the father of RPGs: LOTR was meant to show how Good will triumph over Evil, but sadly for Tolkien, the readers were more interested in Evil, and so decided to hang around in the dungeons and fraternize with orcs. But what Tolkien did was use elements of Celtic/Germanic mythology to spin a yarn. This has been done since the Middle Ages, and the result is called a “fairy tale”. The Hobbit is a fairy tale: it is a children’s book, and used to be read to us in class along with books by C.S. Lewis. Tolkien wrote a number of short stories and poems in the same light, witty style, one of them about a friendship between a boy and a troll. That made way for black-white good-versus-evil pomposity in LOTR and, later, the even worse Silmarillion (if you haven’t read that, spare yourself the agony). The good thing about LOTR is the fairy tale aspect: exciting stuff happening in majickal places. The bad thing is the pretension that the book is anything more than an entertaining yarn. That is the difference between fairy tales and fantasy: pretentiousness. So I could say that Tolkien pioneered pretentious fairy tales. That’s not something to thank him for.

    Stuff that I hope the spork will be addressing:

    Good versus Eeeeevil! Wolves are evil! Darkness is evil! Orcs and trolls are evil! Be afraid of all this evil! Do not think in shades in grey, or Sata- ehm, Sauron will have your soul! To be fair, there are some neutral characters, including, initially, the hobbits, but they slowly get sucked into the crazy.

    Angelic superman elves. Tolkien did to elves what Stephenie Meyer did to vampires.

    Unbelievable racism. Africans and Asians are degenerate people and therefore serve Sauron. This book, though seeming to date from the Crusades, was written around WWII – I get the impression that this is even why he switched to heavy-handed morality – and that Tolkien formally distanced himself from Nazism doesn’t mean much when he had an attitude that would make Adolf pee himself with joy, see below:

    Stunningly white-supremacist stance. Theoden’s band of savage killers on horseback are totally superior to Sauron’s hordes, because they are White, and speak Loftily, and have no Underarm Odour (unlike orcs, as the author lets us know) which makes them only slightly less shiningly superior than elves. The lowly hobbits, who maintain a certain sanity in the face of human/elf self-aggrandizing, are rewarded at the end of the story by having lots of children with blue eyes and fair hair. Pass the bucket.

    (Also, in the Silmarillion, a mishmash of Germanic (superior race!), Christian (superior religion!) and Ancient Greek (superior civilization!) mythological elements. This man just couldn’t pin enough medals on himself.)

    Down with democracy, up with monarchism. It’s true that the stewardship wasn’t exactly democracy, but since they had managed so well without him, why didn’t his subjects tell Aragorn to bugger off? (Actual Tolkien fans have remarked this.)

    Oh, here’s why: once he’s got enough power to impress her, he can get the princess in the ivory tower who, having given him the cold shoulder because Her Daddy Told Her To, is obediently waiting for the highest bidder to drag her off to his kingdom for some marital rape and sammich-making. Now, truth be told, Elrond told Arwen to break it up because he realized Aragorn would die before she did, and this happens, and she’s very upset (mortals can die? No way!) and decides to be emo for the rest of her – eternal – life. Most glorified female character in the book: dumbest, most useless chick in the cast. (Again: noted even by Tolkien fans.)

    And of course his stuffy writing style.

    So: black-white morality; racism; sexism; white supremacism; twisting mythology out of shape for the writer’s gratification; wooden writing; Tolkien practically is Stephenie Meyer! The only difference is that his best-seller had a storyline and plot. But that’s the difference between a book that takes ten years, and one finished in three months.

  8. *psst* The article was posted on april 1st. Theres a subtext hidden somewhere in that. And Calex, a joke is usually more funny when it has not already been done litterally 3 inches above your comment.

  9. I know what the date was. Nevertheless, I hoped and still hope LOTR gets ripped apart, because it is vastly overrated, not to mention offensive, and sporkers pain me a little when they compare admittedly shitty writers to the oh-so-superior Tolkien. The most fun I had out of this book was when (long time ago, alas, no URL) I stumbled across a newsgroup of Tolkien fans who, despite their love for the book, pointed out its shortcomings and generally made fun of it. One even argued convincingly that Tom Bombadil was really Sauron. The saddest thing is that Tolkien is not even a bad writer per se; the totally unknown anthology of early Tolkien writings that I read at a single-digit age outshines his so-called masterpiece.

  10. Poor writers just can’t win. Write about your own mythology, be accused of chauvinism. Write about other people’s mythology, be accused of cultural appropriation!

    I also don’t consider the “using the word ‘black’ to describe harmful magic is racist” concept. Admittedly, with Orcs you’re dealing with dark-skinned, not just “dark” creatures!

    I agree about black-and-white morality, though.

  11. Awww…and I was just about to say”post this to every Tolkien fan site there is and get some fanboys’ tempers flaring!”

  12. also Micheal Moorcock heavily criticized Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in his essay Epic Pooh. If your still intrested in doing this Spork give this a look: http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=953

  13. To be fair, as pretentious as Tolkien admittedly was, his writing style really is reminiscent of old sagas, which is what he was going for in the first place. You said it yourself – he was strongly influenced by medieval literature, where good and evil are unambiguous, people are ridiculously overpowered and obsessed with royal bloodlines, and symbolism is incredibly heavy-handed. And some people do legitimately enjoy this style of writing.

    It was definitely a pet project of his, and not really created for an audience so much as an outlet for his desire to world-build and to put to use his extensive knowledge of old lore and languages (he did say, however, that his desire was for others to make use his efforts as platform for their own fiction – basically, he encouraged fanfiction. Modest the man was not.)

    Granted, this makes it much less palatable than most commercial literature, but I suspect he really wasn’t concerned about evoking a visceral reaction in his readers so much as showing off the world he had created based off of old epics and mythology. So on one hand, it’s rather dense and doesn’t exactly make for a rollicking read, but on the other hand, looking at the work for what it actually is, it’s rather entertaining for a massive compilation of world-building notes.

    As for sexism and racism, I cannot dispute that. It’s fully possible that the dude was sexist and racist. However, back in the 1950s, people really did not give a damn about political correctness concerning these sentiments, and there was no real reason for him not to include these elements in his writing. The sagas that he based his world off of were pretty sexist in their own right, after all. I’m not condoning it, as I think sexism and racism are vile, but it makes sense that it would be present.

    Basically, yes, there are plenty of flaws, but not so many if you look at the work in context.

    Also, marital rape? Good heavens, what a nasty thing to assume. Even if Tolkien was sexist, he never (to my knowledge, at least) advocated sexual abuse. Heaven forbid that Arwen might enjoy the company of her husband, even if he didn’t end up being Aragorn, and actually engage in consensual, healthy sex.

  14. Is this a joke? Why don’t you shut up. Tolkien is the greatest author of the last century.

  15. Can you make this real? Please? This book is so dull, I could get more than a chapter or two in.

  16. While I respect Tolkien for everything he’s done for literature, and the genre especially, I couldn’t read his books. I enjoyed the movies very much (the Hobbit better than LOTR, in fact), but the books were just… dull. I couldn’t get past the second chapter of LOTR because the language made it heavy and drawn-out.

    But that’s just me. Not saying Tolkien is a bad writer. Just not my type of prose.

  17. Uhm, however much Tolkien took from classical sagas and mythos, Lord of the Rings is vastly different from them, the format for one thing. The books has many flaws, but it was VERY original when it came out and could possibly be the most imitated literary work ever. Legolas and Gimli for example are not very deep characters, but a present-day reader might find them more cliche than they really are because they have seen so many lofty elves and surly dwarves already, but Tolkien CREATED those stereotypes.
    The first chapters are really boring but they do have a function of sorts. They make you feel like you are in the Shire where the world is very small and safe and nothing ever happens, which makes it more awesome when the epical story finally gets going.

  18. This did make me laugh, and even as a man who will always hold Tolkien in high esteem, and agree that he is indeed the reason modern fantasy as a genre exists, the man who proved it was more than just “childish faerie stories”, the man who took the worldbuilding of Morris, the more horrific elements of Dunsany and a gift for prose that was entirely his own and brought them together to make something truly special…I have to admit, he’d probably have a hard time getting an agent today.

    I will say, though, those who dismiss him as “cliched” or suggest it’s something we’ve all seen before…well, not when it was first written. You must, MUST, view Tolkien through a lens of history. To suggest that just because he’s “hard to read” or you don’t care for his prose style that he’s somehow not relevant anymore is akin to saying that Shakespeare isn’t relevant anymore because you prefer Nicholas Sparks.

  19. Yawn.