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Last night I listened to the new episode of Fear the Boot, and I felt compelled to have a little rant. The episode itself was conducted by guest hosts, and one of the guest hosts mentioned that she had trouble reading Tolkien. Some of the other hosts were sympathetic. “The descriptions are so long!” and the usual other litanies were repeated.

It always irks me when I hear this. Tolkienis bad? I guess if Tolkien is hard to read then Dickens must be impossible to read. Heck, all Victorians are right out. And before that? Well, anything earlier than that may as well be hieroglyphics. Even though I don’t consider myself a part of the “geek” subculture, or whatever you’d like to call it, it’s always irksome to encounter these attitudes in people identifying as belonging to a subculture which ostensibly has higher intellectual standards than pop culture. I guess the bar has sunk so low where something that requires even the modest intellectual effort of reading is too much to ask.

It’s not like this is purely a matter of time either. Looking to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series will show a series of fantasy books with a tremendous amount of attention to description of things like heraldry, armor, and lineages. These are pretty common elements in fantasy literature that’s any good. It strikes me that objecting to the very methods by which authors craft their fantasy worlds for their reader is about as sensible as objecting to science fiction for having too much science in it.

I once knew a woman who loved Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but thought Tolkien was dull. Wheel of Time is cool! It’s got a hip, tormented hero (who has like 5 women fawning over him)! Tolkien is dull, it’s got a hobbit. Wheel of Time has exciting battles where its main hero uses Goku’s Kamehameha technique to wipe out entire armies! Tolkien just has some helpless hobbits, guys with swords, and so-called wizards with some knowledge of chemistry.

At some point, I think, it might be worth it to just step back and say, “You know what? I like all these derivative knock-offs more than the original model. Maybe I don’t like what the original was trying to do at all.” And, hey, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with popcorn entertainment like DragonBall Z or Wheel of Time. It’d be better for everyone if we were clear about our tastes instead of paying lip service to things we don’t like.

One Response

  1. Heh… It always irks me when people misspell Tolkien’s name.
    However, I’ve known for a long time that many people have different opinions.

    Which isn’t to say that there’s nothing wrong with anything that’s liked by people. Dragonball Z *is* rather shallow entertainment, Wheel of Time *is* very verbose at times, and Tolkien does spend a lot of time describing sweeping vistas. If you don’t like those aspects, that’s fine.

    Whenever someone says that something is ‘boring’ or ‘not cool’, or anything vague like that, they’re saying more about themselves than about the subject at hand. :-)

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