Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

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Meneldur Olvarion
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Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

The ultra-conservative Mormon dude has an interesting new post on his blog:

https://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2 ... ng-by.html

A few excerpts will illustrate my interest:
Bruce Charlton wrote: [...] Ordway solidly proves her core argument; which is that Tolkien read a great deal of 'modern' fiction (defined as post 1850 - but including works right up to the end of his life); that he enjoyed much of it; and took some works seriously enough to affect his own writing: often fundamentally.

[...] The importance of Tolkien's modern reading should have been obvious to everyone, all along - but was not. To the extent that many authors have, with greater or lesser degrees of exaggeration, made vast and sweeping assertions regarding Tolkien's knowledge and liking of such fiction, and denying any significant influence from it.
 
And, for this, the main fault lies with Humphrey Carpenter and his authorized 1977 Tolkien biography, the selected letters (1981), and The Inklings group-biography of 1978. 
It was Carpenter who so deeply-planted the idea that Tolkien had read very little modern literature and liked even less. And this has (by a kind of 'Chinese whispers') grown over the years among writers on Tolkien to wild assertions that he had read very little since Chaucer - or even since the Norman Conquest!
 
Based on Carpenter's excessively simplified and distorted accounts; this further led onto other false assertions such as that Tolkien tried to impose (or did - somehow impose) his irrational personal preferences and limitations onto the Oxford English syllabus. 

[...] Ordway documents something I had long-since inferred from internal evidence; that Carpenter (by his own account, on public record) did not like Tolkien or his work - nor indeed did he like any of the Inklings; and that his original motivation with the biography was to write a subversive account of Tolkien.

I did pick up on Carpenter's antipathy years ago, but not having any direct proof, I didn't mention it to others. I think this shall prove to be an interesting book to read when I can get myself a copy.
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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Lúthien »

Go figure, there’s another interesting point made by Mr. Charlton (who has indeed a curious knee-jerk impulse to blame “the political left” for things that I would rather blame on capitalism and materialism - which intrigues me to no end, tbh).

I haven’t read Carpenter’s dedicated Tolkien biography, but I bought his “The Inklings” last year. I can’t say that I detected any particular dislike of either Lewis, Tolkien or Williams therein, but I wasn’t expecting it, so I may well have blipped over it.
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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

Lúthien wrote: Sat Aug 14, 2021 11:28 amI haven’t read Carpenter’s dedicated Tolkien biography, but I bought his “The Inklings” last year. I can’t say that I detected any particular dislike of either Lewis, Tolkien or Williams therein, but I wasn’t expecting it, so I may well have blipped over it.

It isn't hugely overt, but if you're looking for it (at least in the biography - I've never read Inklings) there is detectable bias. Or actually, more like modern political 'spin'.

Added: Re - Charlton's reaction: I think it's that he's fully integrated the worldview of religious-flavored capitalism, that growth can continue forever without limit in a world of finite resources, that "God has a plan for each individual" (vs fate of a species), etc. In short, sort of a more erudite, slightly less jingoistic, Trumpism.
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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Mildir »

I did read Carpenter, a long time ago.
To simplify: it has seemed to me that the author tended to depict Tolkien as "a bit dumb for a modern man", and that he never lost an occasion to sort of underline the fact, whether it emerged through the everyday life (the car accident with Tolkien's wife swearing not to stay in a car ever again if John drove) or through the kind of research Tolkien cunducted.
I even thought that Carpenter was trying to compliment the author, "this man is really bound to other times and in his age he's a misfit", now you made me think that it was maybe just I who saw it as a positive aspect...   $)
Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil. (J.R.R. Tolkien)
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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

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There are many reasons to turn out as a misfit, and being a genius is one of them. Every genius appears to a degree as a misfit in the eyes of Mr. & Mrs. Sixpack, if only because a genius has better things to do than to be a perfect model citizen, completely aligned with the spirit of the times - eg, a careful driver, blending in everywhere, no weird ideas, don’t ask too many questions.

I didn’t read it as I said, but couldn’t it be that he meant Tolkien was eccentric? That he was for sure, but I would practically consider that a compliment 😁

Of course, this means that if Carpenter presumptuously considers Tolkien a misfit, he categorises himself as a Joe Sixpack.
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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Lúthien »

PS eek! I broke the fancy editor it seems - I updated some addons last week 😨

Update
I didn’t after all - forgot about the browser switch to block all scripts :holy:
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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Meneldur Olvarion »

Lúthien wrote: Sun Nov 21, 2021 9:43 am[...] I didn’t read it as I said, but couldn’t it be that he meant Tolkien was eccentric? That he was for sure, but I would practically consider that a compliment 😁

He did, but in a snide way compatible with Carpenter's worldview, which was that of a 1960's Progressive. Meaning, that he considered Tolkien's patriotic feelings and the like as the tired remnants of a bygone era. Now, as an Anarchist, I freely admit that I don't really understand patriotism myself. In my defense, though, in America today, that basically equates to a Trump-worshiper, not whatever more subtle meaning(s) it may have had in my father's day, so I'm glad to be counted out of that.

I've never been into the whole graven image thing...

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Re: Review of Tolkien's Modern Reading, by Holly Ordway (2021)

Post by Lúthien »

I wonder if there can be any topic where that name doesn’t come up?
😉
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