I don’t agree with Morgan’s piece and consider it a rather surface-level bit of analysis. It’s kind of like claiming that Watership Down is a simple tale of Nature vs. Man. But I will concede that he makes some good points that are certainly food for thought. Tolkien’s characters are rather simple and one-dimensional compared to what we are used to in the modern novel, though I don’t think this is proof of his failure of his as a writer, but rather the result of deliberate choice. Many critics have successfully argued that Tolkien based The Lord of the Rings on much older sources, including Beowulf and medieval romances.
Tolkien also did not choose to write from a liberal humanist perspective or create characters conflicted with self-doubt, though I do point out that the main character of the book, Frodo, is tormented throughout by inner struggle. This may be the evil influence of the One Ring, or it may be something much more interesting—his own frailty and desire for power. Or both. Morgan in his essay also seems to have forgotten Gollum, a complex character who began his life as a hobbit, succumbed to his own weaknesses and the One Ring, and was on the brink of redemption but tragically had his window of opportunity slammed shut by the (to quote Morgan) “unwearyingly good and wholesome” Sam.
I would also note that The Lord of the Rings offers much more than a simple struggle of good vs. evil. In it Tolkien explores coming to grips with death, the possibility of a higher power, the problem of power and possessiveness, and the pervasiveness of war and the long-term effects it wreaks.
But unfortunately this isn’t the end of Morgan’s piece. He then goes on to salt his essay with nasty stilettos aimed at the professor and his readers, spiteful barbs that for me completely undermined any legitimate points he may have been trying to make. Apparently anyone past puberty who finds value in The Lord of the Rings is developmentally delayed, according to Morgan:
I’m not much of a Tolkien fan—not since I was about twelve or fourteen anyway (which, it strikes me, is about the right age to read and enjoy his stuff).
I’m honestly at a loss to even answer this statement. It's so ludicrous, inaccurate, and poorly thought-out (and deliberately inflammatory) as to defy belief. Hell, a 10-second Google search would provide a litany of reasons why Morgan is wrong.
So, Mr. Morgan, here’s a homework assignment for you from all of us overgrown 14-year-olds. Read some Tom Shippey and John Garth. Pick up Meditations on Middle Earth by Karen Haber to find out what authors like George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, Raymond E. Feist, and Terry Pratchett have to say about Tolkien. You may be surprised that all of these worthy authors seem to have found something of lasting value in The Lord of the Rings, which I guess in Morgan’s world makes them all uneducated hacks (sidebar: I wonder if 50-60 years from now we’ll be reading anything Morgan wrote).
Finally, Morgan concludes his “essay” with this:
Well, I guess it’s called fantasy for a reason. I only wonder why on earth anyone (adult) would want to read something like that. And I’ve written a fantasy novel for all those adults who wouldn't. I hope you like it.
Ah, now we get to the true purpose of this post. Congratulations, Mr. Morgan. By posting on my blog I’ve fallen for your trap, and given you what you obviously were after all along—publicity for your new book.
I hope it sells through the roof. And all you had to do was demean Tolkien and all of his readers to get it.