Why Tolkien is Crap

Yes, you heard me…crap!

 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien – purveyor of elves, goblins, and those irritating trichopods he called hobbits – became a publishing phenomenon in the middle of the C20, when he might more usefully have devoted himself to the study of extinct languages.

 The Lord of the Rings is frequently held up as a shining example of a brilliantly conceived ‘world’ complete with its own history and mythology. Well how brilliantly conceived was it really?

 People often debate as to exactly when Tolkien’s world was set (comparative to our own history). The general rustic flavour, the Shire Reckoning, the technology, the currency and various other tropes and themes all point to a milieu akin to the High Middle Ages, but he completely dispels that sense by flooding the narrative with anachronisms. For example, the regular use of a post office by all hobbits, the social mobility (Sam going from gardener to gentleman within two years), but worst of all – the reference to an express train in Chapter 1!

       “The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.”

 We are asked to believe that a culture which had developed gunpowder for fireworks, but not for weaponry (there are no guns or cannon in the text), still knew enough about heavy industry to reference express trains! Granted, this might have been some kind of fantastical express train conceived by the pyrotechnical magic of Gandalf, however the magic in The Lord of the Rings generally suffers by being quite unrealistic.  

 But if the ‘world’ he cobbled together is a blatantly unconvincing patchwork of tropes and anachronisms, it is at least far superior to the internal logic of the plot.

 Frodo (the alpha trichopod) makes it all the way to the Cracks of Doom to chuck the ring into the fire but then is too spent to save himself. His great victory, sadly, must be of the Pyrrhic variety because the destruction of the ring, when he and Sam are at hand, surely means their own destruction.

 But JRR is not to be thwarted, instead of permitting his heroes to die horribly in molten lava, as they should have, he introduces a deux ex machina in the form of Gwaihir the Windlord who flies in to pluck them from certain death. Which rather begs the question: why didn’t they give the ring to Gwaihir in the first place? Or at least get him to fly Frodo to the Cracks of Doom?

 Some of you will say: because the Nazgul would have prevented such an obvious and unsubtle approach. But they couldn’t, I respond. Gwaihir himself boasts that he can outfly the Nazgul, so basically, the chapter after the Council of Elrond should have been called The Ring Flies South and the whole thing could have ended 500 pages earlier and without so many people being killed, or maimed, or forced to read all that drivelling hobbit banter.

 It really is a mystery to me how so many millions of readers have been blind to these fatal flaws of logic and craft and contributed to the Tolkien phenomenon by buying and reading and talking about his work.

 I myself have bought the LOTR at least five times and read it nearly 60 times…just to make sure it was as crap as I thought the first time.

 

Do you agree that Tolkien is crap and that The Lord of the Rings is the worst book ever written? Which other books ought to be slagged off by The Book Hammer?

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The Strange Gods of Publishing

 

I have, for a while, suspected I was a plaything of the cosmos – a toy invented by the Strange Gods of Publishing for their own sick amusement.

 They cursed me with the urge to write. They even (in my humble opinion) gave me a moderate talent for both craft and storytelling, but then the bastards twisted destiny to ensure my talent would never be recognised by the rest of the world. The greater my masterpiece, the more confounding the obstacles placed in my path by the evil whimsy of the Gods.

 *     *     *

 I have been writing seriously for almost two decades, but every time I started to make progress, something came along to snatch it away from me. The following are all true stories:

 A famous literary agent (part of an international operation) rang me in great excitement about one of my unpublished novels and wanted to meet me. We had a two hour meeting in his Sydney office where I sat in a glorious daze as he raved about my work and where he was going to send it. Did I have any objection to the work being offered first in New York and London rather than Sydney or Melbourne? He was already mapping out my million-selling literary career and I left his office on Cloud 9. He was going to call me shortly for another meeting.

 A week later, impatient for glory and sick of waiting, I called his office. He was also sick. In fact, he was very sick. So sick, he never came back to work and died a few months later.

 Obviously I was sad for him, but life goes on. I consulted the list of agents and tried another – a woman this time. I sent off the first 30 pages and was amazed to receive a call from her the very next day. Once again, great excitement about my novel – she couldn’t believe how well the atmosphere had been established, the vaguely surreal sense of something weird-but-important going on between the cracks of the utterly normal. She was desperate (she said) to read the rest. Could I get it to her today? Because she was about to go into hospital for a few days and wanted to really immerse herself in my work while undergoing enforced rest.

 Hospital? I thought nervously…not again, surely!

 Anyway, I had it couriered the next morning. Then I waited.

 After a month or so, I decided to call…just to make sure she was still alive.

 “Oh…Adrian,” she said. “I never received your manuscript…could you send it again?”

 Of course I could. I resent the ms and waited. Again. This time two months had crawled past when I received the following call out of the blue:

 “Are you Adrian Deans?”

 “Yes.”

 “Are you an author?”

 “I think so,” I said, wondering what the hell this was all about.

 “I found your manuscript…in a bag in the bush, near Leura.”

 It turned out the agent had taken the ms up to her Leura retreat to read over a long weekend but had left her satchel in the car. The car was broken into and the satchel taken. I’d have loved to have seen the look on the thief’s face when he realised the only wage of his sin was my manuscript!

 Yet again, I resent the ms to her, and finally she read it – some six months after that excited phone call. And the verdict? She hated it. Not only did she hate it, she didn’t want to discuss it or even take my calls. It’s almost as though the Strange Gods of Publishing had sent goons around to warn her off!

 So bugger agents. I sent it straight to a publisher – a mid-tier, boutique literary publisher in Melbourne, and once again, I was rung in great excitement. And this time by a publisher so there was no-one extra to impress.

 Or was there?

 “I love your manuscript,” assured the publisher, “but it has to get through the publishing committee. At least one more publisher has to give it the thumbs up.”

Do I even have to tell you how this exercise panned out? Once again the Strange Gods had cruelly raised my hopes, just to dash them for their own perverted amusement.  

After all of that, you’d have to ask yourself: why do I bother? Clearly the Gods have determined that I am never to be published, so why do I put myself through the pain?

Because of the joy.

There is an exquisite pleasure to be got from writing that you can’t get from anything else. The generation of ideas; putting those ideas into a story framework; developing characters – their likes, dislikes and challenges; crafting and honing their dialogue; the drip-feed of information as the plot unfolds; and best of all: sharing their world.

When I write I am deeply immersed in the world of my creation. I can see it, smell it, taste it and touch it so profoundly that I feel I am just a medium via which the story barges its way into the world. When the muse is strong it’s like I have no control – the story pours through my fingertips into the keyboard, and sometimes I will read back over what was produced and be stunned both by the power of the story and the fact that I remember nothing of its generation. The pleasure I derive from this process defies even my ability to describe – but that’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me writing despite the fact the Strange Gods of Publishing had warned me off on several occasions – bumping off or hospitalising anyone who took an interest in my work. Next time, it could be me!

Nevertheless, I soldiered on and now the Strange Gods have taken a new tack – they’ve allowed me to be published, but they haven’t let me be very successful just yet. Oh I get fan mail – mostly from hospitals, executors and death row prisoners, so I know I am brightening up a few lives…if only briefly.

But it got me wondering – according to the figures, about one book in a thousand gets published, and only one in a thousand published books makes any serious money for its author. In other words, if you want to make a decent living out of writing, you have a one in a million chance. Even would-be rock stars and footballers have a better strike rate than that!

But plenty of people try, and none of them go into it expecting to be unsuccessful. So why, in defiance of the odds and the warnings of friends and family, are so many misguided souls inspired to brave the lonely garret and tap their lives away in pursuit of the literary dream?

For me, the answer is that I have no alternative. I couldn’t ‘not write’ any more than I could ‘not breathe’. And in all seriousness, I believe my chances of being published improved out of sight when I decided a few years ago that I didn’t care whether I had an audience or not, I was still going to write. Maybe that’s why the Gods relented? They let me be published once I decided I didn’t really care if I wasn’t.

But why do you write? I am genuinely fascinated by what drives people to go on creating with words after countless rejections.

We are a brotherhood – loudly rejoicing (but secretly resenting) whenever one of our number is raised up out of obscurity. Because it happens sometimes! It really does! The Strange Gods of Publishing from time to time will roll the million-sided dice and pluck some lucky bastard out of the mire – an overnight sensation after 20 years of toil.

Will they ever pick you? Or me?

I am more determined than ever to defeat their evil scheme and find my proper place in the great pantheon.

In the meantime, read me at your peril.

 

How have the Strange Gods of Publishing thwarted your dreams? Tell us, and maybe your time will come.