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Author Topic: Great Debate 2008: Is Tolkien Too Wordy?  (Read 4718 times)
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« on: August 18, 2008, 07:22:34 PM »

Okay, so apparently, there are some interesting views on this issue. This is to continue the conversation, but take it away from the Tavern.

The conversation, thus far:

Ninja D!


If that person could actually finish Tolkien books, they've got more focus than I. So boring...[/blockquote]

Nomadic


I haven't even finished Tolkien (gotta get my hands on the unfinished tales).
LOTR, The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit though are books that I can't stop reading. I just keep going back to them over and over.
Dry and boring!?

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I challenge you to a duel sir! Then perhaps we will see who is dry and boring.[/quote]Tolkien has been the ultimate measuring stick for me.
I agree that soje people have done different things better, but LoTR is the fire that creates the shadows on the cave wall thst others call fantasy.[/quote]I've also finished Farmer Giles of Ham, but I'm doubting that counts. LotR wasn't so much dry for me, but slow.[/quote]@NINJA D
I just think the style has evolved in writing. Even in terms of how we communicate in PM/IM/email/Text, we do not spend the same time in reading that we used to.[/quote]I have no idea why you personally can't read Tolkien and can read Poe. I am making an observation as to a change in reading styles and communications neccesitating a change in writing styles, big picture. Every diagnosis must be made individually, so overarching theories still do not account for individual vagaries. Try Macdonald's Lilith if you wish to truly understand loquacious bombast.[/quote]I agree. I have read things that were even older than Tolkien and been much more entertained. The man was an English devout Christian English professor. I think that his style based upon that would explain it much better.[/quote]I think it is more the reader than the author in this case. I am the opposite. I love Tolkien and can read his stuff over and over. I can hardly manage to force my way through any of Poe's works.[/quote]Vreeg that was directed at ninja. I am not talking about writing style not changing (indeed it has) I am talking about the fact that reader preference is by far the most deciding factor on how a certain person perceives a written work.[/quote]Good God, will this J.R.R. guy stop ranting about the mountains and just get on with the story?[/quote]contemporaries[/i] were less detail-oriented then he was. To me, the only logical conclusion is that the style itself is the issue. Not the trend, and not the reader's perception.
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« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2008, 07:29:33 PM »

Yes.

To me, it has to do with the ease of reading. If it feels too wordy, it's too wordy. If you want to deal with absolute word counts, maybe there are other authors who are even more wordy-- and if you want to complain about some of them, odds are I'll agree with you-- but I just know that I could never get through LoTR, and much enjoyed the movie. ;)
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« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2008, 08:18:15 PM »

I think where I stand needs to be clarified here...

Tolkien
I think Tolkien tells good stories.  Case in point: I really enjoyed The Hobbit.  In fact, all this talk about Tolkien is making me consider for looking for my copy of the Hobbit to read soon.  I do not, however, like the way that he presents most of those stories in writing.  

I can't recall if I said they were "wordy" or not but that may not have been the correct term, if I did.  Obviously, if you even glanced in my Faded : Humans thread, you will know that I don't automatically dislike something because it is wordy.  I'm sure I have probably also read things that were more wordy than Tolkien.

I know that I used the term "dry" to describe Tolkien's writing style.  This really depends on how you would define "dry".  Some would say that it is a lack of interesting detail.  That is a perfectly valid way of looking at it.  If we were to use that definition, I do not consider Tolkien to be dry at all.  Using that definition, I think "flooded" would be a better term for Tolkien's writing style.  He can go on and on about the smallest things that I really don't care about for so long that I lose interest in what brought me to the story in the first place.  The way that I used "dry" I really meant "uninteresting to me, personally".  Had I known that people would take offense, I would have been much more clear on that.

I really do attribute my dislike of most of Tolkien's writing to the fact that he and I have very little in common.  JRR Tolkien was a devout Christian.  Devout Christians creep me out more often than not.  JRR Tolkien was an English professor.  I don't care if things are written 'properly' so long as they are entertaining.  It is difficult to write something to appeal to a kind of mind you do not understand.

...now I have probably only made things less clear with all of this.  My simple point is, while many like the works of JRR Tolkien and I can, to an extent, understand why, I simply do not enjoy them myself.  Not because I think they are stupid.  In fact, I respect anyone that would detail a world that deeply as I would like to do the same...I just don't want all of that detail in the stories.  Had he written a book just about the world in this fashion (as I'm told the Silmarillion kind of is but I didn't read enough of it to remember) that would probably have been more to my liking.  If I am taking my time to read for enjoyment, however, I want something that is more interesting to me.

Outside this debate...
The Fellowship of the Ring book : A large portion of the book (I don't recall how much but I know at least 100 pages) was dedicated to the time the hobbits spent with Tom Bombadil.  What they actually gained from that time was new clothes and, I think, weapons.
The Fellowship of the Ring movie : Aragorn tosses those items to the hobbits and we move along, sparing ourselves at least an hour of not understanding what is happening (as far as WHY it is happening, at least) and pointless song which, in a book, come across only as mediocre poetry.
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« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2008, 08:19:43 PM »

I have to disagree here. If something feels wordy to you that is an opinion formed by yourself and not fact. Solid perception and nothing else. To me Tolkien isn't wordy at all (of course I have read things like Don Quixote which put LOTR to shame in that department). Again that is only my opinion (perception from my end and nothing else).
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« Reply #4 on: August 18, 2008, 08:26:40 PM »

The wordiness of Beowulf made me want to bash my skull in with a rock...of course, the wannabe 300 animated movie did that, too.  Now the old Christopher Lambert movie on the other hand...
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« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2008, 09:10:08 PM »

To say that something is "too wordy" is to say that its wordiness interferes with some purpose or goal.  Any time we are using the superlative "too" we are inherently invoking some sort of teleological context.

I need to know the context before I can answer the question.  Is Tolkein too wordy for NinjaD and SDragon to enjoy?  Clearly.  Is Tolkein too wordy to be contained in a slim but unabridged edition while still maintaining naturally readable print?  Yes.  Is Tolkein too wordy for my personal enjoyment of the books?  No.

Is Tolkein too wordy to be published in 2008?  Probably.

Is Tolkein too wordy to be published in 1954?  Clearly not.

Is Tolkein too wordy to be taught in High Schools?  Again, clearly not.

Is Tolkein too wordy to be enjoyed by the typical modern (2008) high school student?  Perhaps.  More research is needed.

Is Tolkein too wordy to be considered a great writer?  Well, there we go with context again.  It depends on who you ask.  If we say "too" we necessitate a "for what", and if we say "to be considered" we necessitate a "by whom".
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« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2008, 09:35:18 PM »

I'd like to say that, even while considering his work "wordy" (verbose, detail-oriented, take your pick), I still consider him a great writer. As D said, he told great stories, he simply didn't present those stories in the best manner. At this point, it's fairly obvious that he's not too wordy to be considered a great writer, because I already said that he is considered a great writer. Whether or not he's too wordy for a specific individual, on the other hand, depends on that individual.


Is he too wordy to be published in 1954, or to be taught in high schools? Well, like you said, obviously not. I don't think anything is too wordy to be taught in high schools, but I do think he might've been pushing it a bit for a '54 publication.


I suspect the problem is that he seemed to be trying to present a setting as a story. Settings, as I'm sure any member of this site can attest to, are not stories. Presenting one as the other, it seems, will put the focus on the wrong details. It's fine to say that the protagonists are in the mountains, and even to say that the mountains are huge. Go ahead, tell us where everything is happening, tell us what the characters see, but when you start paying more attention to the mountains then to the plot, however, you have a bit of a problem.
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« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2008, 10:01:25 PM »

I wouldn't say he was too wordy, but he's hard to read.  So hard to read that I have never finished Fellowship.  The Hobbit I got most of the way through and I might pick it up agian and finish it.


Lovecraft had a rather dense style filled with archaic words and British English and I like him the better for it.

I can read Shakespeare and understand it and really enjoy it.
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« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2008, 10:14:53 PM »

sparkletwist


Yes.

To me, it has to do with the ease of reading. If it feels too wordy, it's too wordy. If you want to deal with absolute word counts, maybe there are other authors who are even more wordy-- and if you want to complain about some of them, odds are I'll agree with you-- but I just know that I could never get through LoTR, and much enjoyed the movie. ;)

This made me cry.

and I link again to the issue (and in literary circles, it is an issue).
http://www.steamthing.com/2008/06/how-is-the-inte.html   (By the way, I love this blog)
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/12/24/071224crat_atlarge_crain
http://www.bu.edu/literary/projects/briggs/briggs-report.pdf
http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.Html
http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/02/0081907  (Ursakla K Le Guin's view...pay special attention to 'The Century of the Book')
http://media.www.muhlenbergweekly.com/media/storage/paper300/news/2004/09/09/Oped/Cultural.Atrophy.The.Decline.Of.Reading-713061.shtml

Just to hit a few.

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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2008, 12:31:24 AM »

Thank you Vreeg.

Tastes are tastes. Some people will like a writing style, while other detest it. I have a hard time reading Herbert, for instance (though I love Dune to pieces, I don't like the sparse style).

I will say that for me, Tolkien was difficult when I first read it in my early teens. It was enchanting though, and I loved it. I recently re-read LotR and found it fairly easy and just as gripping this time around. LotR is one of my favorite works of art -- hell, it's practically why I'm a  world builder. This is my taste.

Tom Bombadil though, I must defend. I understand why they took him out of the movie (though the stuff with Aragorn was horrendously bad -- particularly Weathertop) but I think he was a crucial part of the story. Was he vital to the plot? No. But he is vital to the story, because the story involves not just the plot, but also the characters, ideas and setting. The end of LotR is not a perfect happy ending, because it signals a change. Magic dies on that final day upon the slopes of Mt. Doom, signaling the rise of men. To really understand the world of Middle Earth, one must understand its magic, and that's exactly what Bombadil does. Bombadil it the antithesis of Sauron, and it is important to meet him in order to understand what the world is like, and also what is at stake.
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2008, 12:31:30 AM »





I think that it is not necessarily an issue of an an internet-induced decline in literacy.

I am literate.  In fact, I think it's fair to call me well-read.  I can quote random bits of Shakespeare, the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, The Hitchiker's trilogy, and Dilbert all from frequent reading and a sort of absorption process that I'm not even aiming for.

Here's a thought:
Maybe Tolkien is marketed as the wrong genre.  When I read a fantasy novel, I expect a light entertainment most of the time.  Also something that engages the endocrine system as much as the nervous system.  I expect to react from my guts as amuch as anything else.  Something like Discworld fulfils this premise and promise.  Tolkien doesn't satisfy this urge for very long at a time.  There are funny bits, but none as funny as Discworld or The Hitchhiker's Trilogy.  There's excting bits but none as exciting as Conan.  There are scary bits but none as scary as Lovecraft.

Tolkien's strength seems to be mythologizing and world-building.  I think if I found the Lord of the rings or The Silmarillion in the New Age or Metaphysics section of the bookstore I might be a bit more willing to put up with the slow pace of the narrative.  You don't read Genesis or The Book of Enoch or The Prose Eddas for entertainment.  You read them to find out how a particular group thinks the world came to be and what they think it is now.  Especially if you are now or want to be a member of that group.
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2008, 01:22:07 AM »

I think perhaps then that the rest of fantasy should be recategorized. Tolkien was there first to claim that title, not them. tongue
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2008, 01:32:25 AM »

Tolkien is seriously taught in schools?  Wow.  I've never heard that before.
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2008, 02:12:20 AM »

Seriously.  At least it was when I was in high school and college which, by some standards, was a while back.  I have personally known 4 English teachers who included Lord of the Rings in their junior or senior year curricula.

That said, I think Lord of the Rings is not Tolkein's best or even second best work.  Silmarillion is the best... Hobbit a distant second, with Lord of the Rings a close third.
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2008, 02:13:22 AM »

I cannot read Tolkien; it's far too dense for my tastes. I can appreciate it, but cannot read it without falling asleep. On the other hand, I really hate "light" fantasy (Salvatore, Weiss, a slew of other D&D novels) because they aren't as well-written as general fiction and lean far too much on the genre to carry the story. Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis - THAT'S the quality I want to see in fantasy novels.

In an ironic twist, my players have pointed out that I am an overly-descriptive DM (and my wiki is testament to that). I try and harness the slick literary power of George RR Martin; Fantasy as written in the vein of nonfiction.
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