Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: Knocking some stuffing out of Moorcock's "Epic Pooh"

According to Michael Moorcock, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has endured solely because it’s comfort food. So proclaimeth the author of the Elric stories in his seminal essay “Epic Pooh".

Well, I’m here to knock a little stuffing out of his puffed-up essay.

“Epic Pooh” criticizes The Lord of the Rings on the weakness of its prose style. It also attacks Tolkien’s underlying themes and ideas. It accuses him of failing to challenge the reader and offering artificial happy endings instead. According to Moorcock Tolkien is guilty of glorifying warfare, of failing to question authority, and for ignoring the problem of death. He makes other spirited attacks of the work (and the author) as well.[*]

The first argument is highly subjective, a matter of taste for which I have little argument. Moorcock is entitled to dislike Tolkien’s prose, and if he finds it too coddling, removed, or just plain sub-par, that’s fine. I happen to enjoy it very much, but different strokes for different folks and all that.

But once you get past its criticisms of style, “Epic Pooh” fails rather epically as a critique of Tolkien’s themes. Let me explain.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


Lagomorph Rex said...

I think the real root of this, is that Moorecock has at most 6 books on the shelves at your average book store in the US now.. which is about 1/10th the number that Tolkien has.. So I lay this animosity at the feet of the green beast, Jealousy.

Phillip Pullman is another obnoxious wanna be iconoclast who attacks the classics in order to try to elevate himself. So its really no wonder the two are buddies.

one need look no further than the box office takes for the adaptions.. not to mention who's work gets adapted.. The Lord of the Rings series grossed nearly 4billion dollars.. The Narnia movies have not been as huge but will be on film 3 in a year or so.. The Golden Compass.. despite a huge cast.. tanked.

Will Duquette said...

I really liked Moorcock's stuff once upon a time. It amazed me how all of his books intertwined and turned back on one another--it created the sense of a vast world.

And then, eventually, I realized that this sense of vastness was done through sleight of hand, and smoke and mirrors, that many of his fantasy novels were absurdly silly (Dorian Hawkmoon, I'm looking at *you*), and that his more ambitious work, such as the Cornelius Chronicles, were perverse and nihilistic and just plain absurdist.

Tolkien, on the other hand, continues to nourish me year be year.

David J. West said...

Great post Brian.
I tend to agree with you about the political even religious motivations-its exactly the same reason when I read Pullman's diatribe against Lewis I came away thinking it was an idelogical/jealousy issue rather than a writing/talent issue.

Yes, taste is a factor but when the material is so close in basic essence I gotta think jealousy.

And I think Lagomorph Rex is being generous in saying you can find 6 of Moorcocks books in any given store-I think its usually less-sign of the times and popularity involved.

James Maliszewski said...

I still think much of Moorcock's writing is enjoyable, if not particularly deep, pulp fantasy. His skills as a literary critic, though, are poor, as "Epic Pooh" makes clear. I'm not sure it's jealousy that motivates his diatribe so much as a combination of simply misreading Tolkien -- lots of people do this -- and a sense that it's the duty of artists to "challenge" the status quo and let's face it: in fantasy, Tolkien is the status quo. But most of criticisms ring hollow to anyone who actually takes the time to read and understand Tolkien in his proper context, which is why I wish Moorcock would stick to what he knows best and leave Tolkien criticism to others.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Dave, I was simply going by the fact that we have 5 Elric Collections and 1 " Best of Micheal Moorecock " volume available... Though you are correct, I've yet to actually see all 6 of those in any one place at the same time, and I'm sure by the time Volume 6 of elric comes out the earlier ones will not be as easy to find as they are now.. consider its got 2 years or something before its out..

Still I understand hes pretty popular in the UK.. for whatever reason him and Pullman have managed to ingratiate themselves to the literati and whenever a hit piece against " Everyone else " in the genre field they turn to those two. Like that one about REH a few weeks ago.. where he came off as so patronizing not just to REH, but also fans of REH.

G. Benedicto said...

Nice job. I read Moorcock's essay shortly after reading TLOTR for the first time and came away feeling like MM had attacked a popular caricature of the novel rather than the thing itself.

"Phillip Pullman is another obnoxious wanna be iconoclast who attacks the classics in order to try to elevate himself."

Unlike Moorcock vs Tolkien, I have yet to read any statement by Pullman re: C. S. Lewis that wasn't apropos. The Narnia books ARE spoon-fed Christian allegory and Lewis WAS a mediocre prose stylist.

Giga boy said...

As a life-long fan of MM I'd say that "Epic Pooh" was born out of Moorcock's politics and his personal need to question the status quo.
Personally my gripe with Tolkien is mostly about style/prose rather than content.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I still see the Pullman/Lewis thing as a " No No, Don't buy His Agenda Pushing Childrens novels.. buy MY Agenda Pushing Childrens Novels!".

I still don't know about all the allegory stuff about the Narnia books.. When I first read them I never noticed anything like that.. Now that I've been told they are there however, I cannot re-read the books without tripping over them.

Atom Kid said...

Great piece Brian!

I discovered Tolkien when I was in 4th grade, and I revisit his writings every year. Each time I go back into his works I find a new layer of depth that I hadn't noticed the previous time.

I discovered Moorcock when I was in highschool, and I have reread some of his books. I still enjoy his Swords & Sorcery tales, but they have no depth to them.

I have read a few of MM's criticisms of Tolkien and I'm convinced that it is based solely on religious and political reasons. Moorcock is like a lot of hippies from the sixties, he feels he has to destroy the "establishment" and remake the establishment in his own image. He actually reminds me of another polemicist named michael, in fact he should rename "Epic Pooh", "Bowling For Middle-Earth."

The same is with Pullman (I couldn't make it through The Golden Compass, it wasn't even interesting), his problem with Lewis was religious. I find it hypocritical that he criticizes Lewis for promoting christianity through an allegory, yet Pullman promotes allegorical atheism. I've seen and heard some interviews with the author and he comes off as smug and self righteous.

Tolkien's writing has lasted generations, I wonder if the same will be said about his critics.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Right on target with this, Brian.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I'll admit that it was hard to separate Moorcock's criticisms of The Lord of the Rings from the political (and to a lesser degree, religious) conflicts he has with the author, and which litter the piece.

Again, leaving the latter out, I think Moorcock's reading of the themes and ideas expressed in The Lord of the Rings is flawed. Tolkien demonstrably does not glorify war, does not preach "cowardly self-protection," does not avoid the subject of death, and certainly does not force a happy ending upon the reader.

Mike in MN said...

I may be a little late to the party here, but I gotta say thanks for posting such an eloquent rebuttal of Moorcock's essay. I've read his essay before and it just steamed me so much I couldn't find the words. You found them all. Great work again, man.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Lord of the rings... but I enjoyed reading Elric... Dorian Hawkmoon and Erekose... when I read lord of the rings I come into deeply on this question bu I think is a question of progressism versus conservatism...
more things I have seen that Lord of the rings is the fantasy book favourite of readers who aren't fans of fantasy literature and I read a lot of time ago that Lord o the rings was the Bible of the hippies...

Taranaich said...

Brian, have you seen this joker?

What is it about these guys that cause them to pathologically misread things with differing politics to their own?

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Al, this is a first for this site. I read for about five minutes and I had enough.

His critique is a tired, shortsighted act which I've seen a dozen times. Here it is in a nutshell: Establish an argument (Tolkien is an allegory for whatever political/religious/social issue you happen to be championing), and then shoehorn the text to fit your arguments. Textual analysis is too much work for these types, as are examples to the contrary.

It's pathetic and not worth my time. A little bit of Mordor, 'tis that Web site.