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.
Moorcock takes Tolkien to task for many perceived crimes in “Epic Pooh,” but perhaps most of all for using The Lord of the Rings to tell “comforting lies” and coddle the reader. Says Moorcock:
*A third strand of Moorcock’s dislike for Tolkien also emerges in “Epic Pooh,” that being his antipathy for Tolkien’s Toryism and conservatism. Moorcock takes Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to task for their politics and, to a lesser degree, their religion. It’s noteworthy that Moorcock in a post-publication author’s note lavishes praise on Phillip Pullman, a lesser literary light than Tolkien by any measurable standard, but a writer whose politics fall into lockstep with his own. But while I suspect that political disagreement is the true genesis of “Epic Pooh,” I’d prefer to leave this debate out of The Cimmerian.
* I was prepared to cut Moorcock some slack on the basis that he may not have read The Silmarillion before writing “Epic Pooh.” Puzzlingly, Moorcock has read it, and actually cites it in the essay. Therefore, I feel perfectly justified in using it and The Children of Hurin in Tolkien’s defense.