Amy Tries Again

Things I Do Not Like: JRR Tolkien
March 15, 2011, 10:08 AM
Filed under: Things I Do Not Like

In days of yore and fluorescent bike pants, there lived a child. The child loved above all things to hear stories, and knew that if she was not read to several times a day, she would be taken over by a terrible spirit, and become compelled to throw an impressive tantrum in the middle of Coles. The child’s yearning for authentic characterisation demanded that the stories be read in appropriate voices, and that any backstory required as to the motivation, philosophy or way of life of the tale’s characters be provided forthwith.

The child was not satisfied. She determined to learn the meaning of the symbols in the tomes she so loved, and was guided and encouraged in her quest by her kin. A world opened up to the child, and at a young age she attained the title of Compulsive Reader. She encountered many from the Teacher and Librarian races who encouraged and abetted this compulsion, and read from many a tome contained in the junior school library.

The child explored the realms of the written word, and found many pleasant kingdoms. The years began to pass, and she made her way from the idyllic plains of her favourite picture book (a volume called The Chocolate Feast. The notion of a feast of chocolate appealed greatly to the child) to the exciting valleys of each and every Roald Dahl children’s story, continuing up through the gentle slopes of Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess. She sidled shamefully into the neon city of The Babysitters’ Club, and occasionally terrified herself in the bleak valley of Goosebumps (the child was a fearful child). Eventually she declared that she could advance no further without venturing into the forest of Grownup Books With Swearing In Them And Also Sex, and was entertained greatly by her illicit travels therein.

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The child became an adult and grew tired of referring to herself in the third person.

Anyway. The point I was trying to make with my very purple prose is simple: I was a bookworm. My parents, teachers and librarians were all very encouraging and were always suggesting books. One thing vexed me beyond all belief, though. Everyone always went on about the magic of escaping to another world via a book. They’d sprout some nonsense about the realms of imagination. I could cope with this. The problem was that directly after such comments, they would always try to interest me in a book about STUPID FUCKING DRAGONS.

Don’t get me wrong. I went through a fairytale phase. I liked the fantastical elements in picture books, and was hardly immune to things like mermaids and magical ponies. Pixies, gnomes – all cool. Thing was, I liked to imagine how they lived, what they ate, how their schools worked. I wanted things to make sense. The older I got, the more I appreciated stories set in (more or less) the real world. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t enough weird and wonderful source material. The past, distant countries – hell, you could throw in some fairies or something if you really wanted, but if that was your game, I wanted to see what would happen if that sort of weird stuff started taking place on planet Earth.

As you can imagine, I have never been able to stand the faux-mediaeval quest. Names with unnecessary apostrophes irk me greatly. To be honest, I think a great deal of this hatred comes from the fact that in my childhood, everyone seemed to be convinced that that was exactly the kind of thing an imaginative child would adore. Well, I didn’t, and I did not take kindly to people daring to helpfully attempt to interest me in something they thought I would enjoy. I was a cranky young thing.

(I must mention a fairly large exception. Whilst I think this falls more under the quasi-fairytale/ripping-yarn/how-did-I-not-see-the-neon-signs-flashing-YAY-CHRISTIANITY category, I did adore the Narnia books. I’d like to argue that this is the exception that proves the rule, and/or that the jolly hockey sticks Britishness they possess helped them rise in my esteem a great deal.)

Needless to say, once I had decided that I would not, in any circumstances, read anything involving quests, crystals and/or dragons, I stuck to my guns for the next twenty years. This leads me to the point of this rant. I do not like Tolkien. At least, I assume I do not like Tolkien. I’ve never actually read any. Okay, I had to read a page-long extract for the performance part of an AMEB drama exam once, but rest assured that I made a particular point of not reading anything but that particular extract. I’m not even sure which Tolkien book it was from. (It featured a snake monster. I’m pretty sure it was The Hobbit, but I could be wrong.)

You can guess what’s coming next. Yep. It’s dragon time. But where to start?


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Ohhhh, you hate fantasy. In retrospect, this makes a great deal of sense. 😀

The Hobbit is a good stand-alone work. The main character’s original life is wrapped up in a community that feels as though it ‘works’ and then thrust into the fantasy quest. It’s worth noting that ‘fantasy’ in tolkien means ‘making sure that your backpack contains supplies’. It’s low fantasy, with very little explicit magic and all the stuff that seems to offend your refined palate. However, if you’re only going to read one discrete section of Tolkien’s works and then stop, don’t read it and proceed directly to LOTR proper.

The Lord of the Rings is definitely a worthwhile read, even if it’s not the best place to start. Tolkien spent a lot of effort on his world building, explaining how the politics and economy and people contributed to the narrative contained in the three books. Also, it’s very low on the actual happening of fantasy stuff, despite the presence of a dwarf and an elf in the main roster of characters. With apologies to TV Tropes, remember that Seinfeld is unfunny in the same way that Tolkien’s treatment of elves and orcs is unoriginal.

The Silmarillion is mostly the creation myth of middle-earth and as such I couldn’t get through the opening section: Tolkien loves him some discussion of Manwe, son of Urdu, daughter of Moon-bunny, Prince of Bael’ket’hor and his adventures with Queyanabena the happy rabbit princess, light of seven stars, primarch of the Imperial Fists.

Also, the Chronicles of Prydain is pretty good. Once again, it’s low fantasy with characterisation and a country that feels more like it works and less like it’s just the backdrop for cool special effects.

Comment by Brendan

I realise that you asked for votes not reasons, but I would definitely start with the Hobbit over LotR. The Lord of the Rings is apparently magical, but they’re so fucking dense that I have never managed to get past book two of book one. The Hobbit, however, is delightful, and I’ve completed it upwards of twenty times in my life.

Comment by Peter C. Hayward

Or you could just cheat. Watch the movies.

Comment by drej08

Fellowship of the Ring (the first book) is pretty damn dense. The first chapter, “Concerning Hobbits”, especially so as it’s there to bring you up to speed with what a Hobbit is, sets the scene for who Bilbo and Frodo are, etc.

If you can get past the first few chapters, the rest is a breeze (except for Tom Bombadil, his wife Goldberry and their insufferable poetry and songs).

As a small bookworm, my favourite fantasy authors were Isobelle Carmody and Victor Kelleher. I enjoyed Gillian Rubenstein’s “Space Demons” books the most as they were more “real world” (well, as real as a computer game can be) than the world of the Obernewtyn Chronicles.

Terry Pratchett does good fantasy books with a lot of reference to our world, particularly anything set in Ankh-Morpork (London). He doesn’t use chapters, though, and tends to spend 20 pages stringing out a joke.

I suggest you read “The Hobbit”. If you find you like it and want to know more about the characters and the world they live in, read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you still want more, try reading The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

A small piece of trivia: LotR was meant to be a six part series but Tolkien’s publisher didn’t think people would want to read such a long series so he compiled them as three books. Robert Jordan (author of the 14 part “Wheel of Time” series) obviously has a different publisher.

Comment by Sam Clifford

The thing about books about dragons, or at least the good ones, is that they’re not really about dragons. At least, no more than Pulp Fiction is about a suitcase.

Comment by Jim

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