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  1. #1
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    JRR Tolkien's Nobel prize chances dashed by 'poor prose'

    Maybe I'm throwing the cat amongst the pigeons here, but:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/05/jrr-tolkien-nobel-prize

    The Lord of the Rings might have spawned a thousand pallid imitations, been crowned the UK's best-loved book and sold millions of copies around the world, but according to newly declassified documents, it was damned by the Nobel prize jury on the grounds of JRR Tolkien's second-rate prose.

    The mysterious workings of the Nobel committee remain a secret until 50 years after the award is made, when the archive for that year is opened in the Nobel library in Stockholm. Swedish reporter Andreas Ekström delved into 1961's previously classified documents on their release this week, to find the jury passed over names including Lawrence Durrell, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, EM Forster and Tolkien to come up with their eventual winner, Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić.

  2. #2
    Illustrious Gambler saintjon's Avatar
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    Well at least it went to someone who totally changed my life. I mean, I can't go anywhere without having to engage in hearty discourse about Ivo Andric...

  3. #3
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    The Nobel prize is a little complicated. The Peace Prize, for instance, is not given out purely for peace efforts but for willingness to build peace on a large scale and as encouragement to make further efforts towards peace. The lit awards aren't just for the body of work of the person but also for what they then may be capable of further producing/contributing, which is why a candidate being old, as Tolkein was, and at the end of their career was an issue back then in judging, an issue that was later on deemed unfair and discarded as consideration. They are also very global, looking at authors who seem deserved of more attention and who seem to them to be a major force and illuminating voice in the literature of their region. Ivo Andric was a critical author in the Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian region. Numerous major authors have never won a Nobel, even when considered, because their criteria is not the same as a regular literature prize. Tolkein seems to have been in excellent company among the rejects of that year.

  4. #4
    Illustrious Gambler saintjon's Avatar
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    I suppose it was successful on some level because I promise I never would have heard of that guy otherwise. In the wake of this newfound knowledge I'm looking forward to continuing a lifelong tradition of not reading his work.

  5. #5
    sapper-in-chief Whiskeyjack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by saintjon View Post
    ...In the wake of this newfound knowledge I'm looking forward to continuing a lifelong tradition of not reading his work.
    That was pretty funny.
    But I've got to confess that this thread prompted me to look up Ivo Andric and the following work of his looks interesting enough to me to consider buying it:
    http://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Drina-P...tt_at_ep_dpt_1

  6. #6
    Second-rate prose? LMAO...ummm ooooo kkkkk ....

    I would love to rip into a profanity laced tirade about literary criticism and general academia but it would most ASSUREDLY mean a ban.

    Tolkien was snubbed because he wrote Fantasy, plain and simple. The Prize "Jury" (continues laughing) can spin it any way they like.

  7. #7
    Dazed Rambler Winter's Avatar
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    It is so cute when fans get worked up over supposed slights.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Winter View Post
    It is so cute when fans get worked up over supposed slights.
    Even more adorable when someone pops in with a random post that has nothing to do with the subject at hand

    Tolkien isn't in my top 10. However, a second-rate prose condemnation from the Nobel Prize "Jury" is absurd on a number of different levels.

  9. #9
    Dazed Rambler Winter's Avatar
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    It has as much to do with the subject at hand as you claiming his work was snubbed because it is fantasy. I am more than willing to trust the jury's opinion on his prose, especially considering my own experiences in attempting to read the Lord of the Rings revealed the same conclusion. His prose is not great and, for me, was as much a hindrance as the songs and pages upon pages of nothing of import happening. Then again, I have never been able to make it past the hundred page mark because of those things... it could well get better after that.

    Always difficult when it comes to these sorts of discussions. Why is it that genre readers--not all, mind you, as I am a genre reader--hold such animosity for those with literary tastes? Still holding a grudge because some refuse to take the genre seriously?

  10. #10
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    A cautionary note:
    I nearly didn't start this thread because I was concerned of the response it would provoke.
    If you are going to respond to this thread, please ensure you remain polite and courteous to your fellow members.

  11. #11
    Illustrious Gambler saintjon's Avatar
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    I've never heard any definition of literary tastes or literary merit that didn't pretty much boil down to "because we say so." I used to get offended when lit-crit people dismissed my books out of hand, now I'm more than happy to dismiss their stuff out of hand right back. Like I just did.

    So there.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Winter View Post
    It has as much to do with the subject at hand as you claiming his work was snubbed because it is fantasy. I am more than willing to trust the jury's opinion on his prose, especially considering my own experiences in attempting to read the Lord of the Rings revealed the same conclusion. His prose is not great and, for me, was as much a hindrance as the songs and pages upon pages of nothing of import happening. Then again, I have never been able to make it past the hundred page mark because of those things... it could well get better after that.

    Always difficult when it comes to these sorts of discussions. Why is it that genre readers--not all, mind you, as I am a genre reader--hold such animosity for those with literary tastes? Still holding a grudge because some refuse to take the genre seriously?
    Since Eventine already gave the cautionary play nice post I will simply say the very concept of literary criticism amuses me. If you want to know what I really think about literary criticism, particularly as it applies to fantasy, check out Scott Bakker's blog. My position is pretty much in line with his.

    Obviously it all boils down to how you view what constitutes good prose. My point in this instance being that Tolkien's prose, in my view, is beautiful. More than that, his work is a momentous achievement on a number of different levels and it's import and impact cannot be understated. Beyond that, my issue is in this instance is that it is genre discrimination, not prose, that knocked Tolkien out of true consideration.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3rdI View Post
    Obviously it all boils down to how you view what constitutes good prose. My point in this instance being that Tolkien's prose, in my view, is beautiful. More than that, his work is a momentous achievement on a number of different levels and it's import and impact cannot be understated. Beyond that, my issue is in this instance is that it is genre discrimination, not prose, that knocked Tolkien out of true consideration.
    This raises a few questions for me (and not necessarily directed at you 3rdI):
    In 1961 could we view his work as a momentous achievement? (i.e. it hadn't had near as much time to garner it's popularity or develop its current level of influence by then)
    Was genre discrimination weaker in 1961? Stronger? I don't believe our current market categories or the genre as we know it were as well defined then - surely this impacts any level of discrimination.

    Unrelated to 3rdI's post, I also found it interesting that C.S. Lewis was the one who pushed for it. It would be interesting to see how many spec fic authors get nominated these days. How many got nominated before Doris Lessing won?
    Last edited by Eventine; January 9th, 2012 at 08:43 PM. Reason: Wrong name duh!

  14. #14
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well no, not really. Since they gave the Nobel to authors like Doris Lessing, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Harry Martinson, and others who have used fantasy, science fiction or not SFF, but psychodelia, there's no point in saying that such stuff is verboten.

    What interests the Nobel are poetry, short fiction and novels that they feel illuminate specific human culture -- historical and regional, and/or social class. That is probably why C.S. Lewis nominated Tolkein, because of the mythological connection of an alternate folklore of England, but while fantasy and folklore from Earth cultures may be involved in the winner's work, Middle Earth, with its blendings of many cultural myths -- Norse, Germanic, Celtic, Russian, etc., may simply not have done what they are looking for, in addition to the assessments of the judges of Tolkein's prose (of which we've only been given one assessment really.)

    Remember, this was 1961, not 1985. Tolkein was an Oxford professor. His work came out first in hardcover. There was no real fantasy category market yet anywhere and the sort of publisher distinctions that became staples in the 1980's were not regularly in occurrence. And such distinctions of the American bookselling market are not really of interest to the Swedish Nobel prize committee. (As far as I know, Sweden hasn't got any category markets and doesn't make a big distinction between types of stories.) The reality is that if Tolkein's main works were set in medieval England, fantasy or no, they'd have probably had a better shot because they'd have been illuminating British culture and peoples. Toni Morrison, whose best known work is Beloved, a ghost story, was awarded the prize for illuminating American black culture and black historical culture. Andric won for illuminating the history of his region, in particular the Turkish occupation. They're not spinning it -- it's the main goal of the prize. If you give what they consider a vivid, illuminating view of a people and their history, particularly of the downtrodden classes among them, with the body of your work, that's their interest. Other prizes have other goals.

    To present this as a diss of Tolkein solely for being the "father of fantasy" -- a title he did not acquire until the 1970's long after the prize -- when other luminaries such as Robert Frost, Graham Greene and EM Forster were also rejected that year, is simplistic and irresponsible journalism, in my view. Lord of the Rings and (Tolkein's other work related to it) is a wonderful, sweeping work focusing on many interesting themes, but it doesn't do anything of the things that the Nobel committee particularly looks for.

    As for the quality of Tolkein's prose, as expressed by the one judge, that's a matter for debate. I don't happen to agree with it in Tolkein's case, but there are quite a large number of people who do, including fantasy fans. It is a charge often debated. There are academics who don't consider Faulkner literary and yet he won the Nobel for his abilities with the American novel about American culture. But clearly we're not going to get anything nuanced and culturally exploratory from the Guardian, which seems to like to pop brief things in and get people outraged one way or another.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Eventine View Post
    This raises a few questions for me (and not necessarily directed at you 3rdI):
    In 1961 could we view his work as a momentous achievement? (i.e. it hadn't had near as much time to garner it's popularity or develop its current level of influence by then)
    Was genre discrimination weaker in 1961? Stronger? I don't believe our current market categories or the genre as we know it were as well defined then - surely this impacts any level of discrimination.

    Unrelated to 3rdI's post, I also found it interesting that C.S. Lewis was the one who pushed for it. It would be interesting to see how many spec fic authors get nominated these days. How many got nominated before Doris Lessing won?
    Interesting thoughts Eventine.

    As for current authors that could be nominated, Bakker and Mieville can write circles around anyone in any genre. I guarantee neither will ever get a nomination. Genre discrimination has gotten worse. The biggest issue is that the world of literary criticism is static. It is not capable of seeing beyond the definitions it created for itself. It is like a programming loop.

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