More Than A Chartbuster

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Celebind Eryniel 27/Nov/2006 at 03:16 PM
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I just finished an essay on LotR for my English Compositon class, and I thought it would be interesting to open my specific topic -- whether or not LotR should be counted among the ranks of ’classic literature’ -- for discussion and debate.  (I turned in the final draft of the essay this morning, so no, this does not count as homework help).
For more background on the essay and information on my personal opinion, I’m going to copy and paste my title and introductory paragraph here:
More Than a Chartbuster: The Lord of the Rings as Classic Literature
 
The Lord of the Rings.  Each person who has experienced the phenomenon did so in a different way.  Some of them only know what it is because they went to see Peter Jackson’s immensely popular film trilogy.  Others remain devoted to the world presented in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, even though the craze caused by the films has mostly run its course.  Since so many people enjoy The Lord of the Rings in some way, it might be easy for someone who has never read the books to dismiss them as a mere literary trend.  However, LotR, as the fans call it, is more than something that people like to read in their spare time.  It deserves recognition as a piece of classic literature.

Well, let’s get going.  (Please don’t just answer ’yes’ or ’no’; this is meant to be a discussion, not a poll.)

Stiffler Vaneyar 27/Nov/2006 at 05:30 PM
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Well, I wish I could say something cool like ’Amen Brother’ but then that doesn’t work in this situation. I completely agree, but there is a problem today that I believe causes all (or most) forms of art and artists to be less recognised. because today everything is so diverse and everyone wants to be a painter, writer, or some sort of artist, and each of these types of art has lost it’s foundations. What I mean by lost its foundations is that there is no specified genre or way of making this art that is used today. Like, when Picasso became famous, Michaleangelo, etc.

Today there are a variety of thousands of different artists, musicians, authors, composers, etc, and no one is recognised anymore as a great. Hardly anyone today can make a living as an author or painter. The most famous composers work for movies and broadway (like the LOTR Movies). There are too many people trying to be great, and this drowns out those who reall are, leaving them with less than half the attention they deserve.

So, yes, Tolkien should be considered a classic artist, and to many he is. But, in these days, people just screw things up by thinking that everyone needs to write a book. If someone reads LOTR, and then reads a poorly written fantasy, or if they read the poorly written fantasy or any other genre of book first, they will have second thoughts on other books. If that makes any sense.

By the way, after I wrote a report I sent it to the library and got it published onto the Plaza Library pages. You might want to do the same! Go to the Library forum to find out how you can get your work put up.

Nieliqui Vaneyar 28/Nov/2006 at 09:12 AM
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I think his works are slowly gaining acceptance.  I’m beginning to see Tolkien’s books included in lists of books that should be read, by various educators.  Of course, I also agree a little with Stiffler above that the times we live in don’t encourage people to view recent works as classics.  Somehow there is a difference between someone who wrote a hundred or more years ago and someone who wrote about 50 or so.

I think part of it has to do with that many of these older classics were accepted as such when people started going to college in droves in the early part of the 1900’s and at the same time, literary magazines were springing up all around.  I think those things (and others no doubt) encouraged the literati to put together lists of classics.  Like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, etc.  Authors after that time have a much more difficult time getting their works accepted as classics, I think, because we are much more familiar with the author, his or her life, warts and all.  We’re just finding out about all those warts on the ’classical’ authors - after their places were relatively secure.

One other consideration is that Tolkien to some, I would suggest, represents the old, European, male author which for a number of years now appears to be out of vogue with the literati (whoever they are) as we work in diversity and inclusion.  Perhaps when the pendulum swings back, he will be looked at in a better light.

But these are opinions, and others will bring theirs.

KingODuckingham 28/Nov/2006 at 12:44 PM
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But these are opinions, and others will bring theirs. Here’s mine.

I don’t think the reason newer works are ’having trouble’ being accepted as classics is because we are more familiar with these author’s lives. It is simply because part of what makes it a "classic" is that is has been around the block a few times, and people are still loving it. I can foresee this happening with Tolkien quite easily, but we can’t start getting anachronistic and assign "classic" status to LOTR before its time.

I don’t think the familiarity with authors holds much water under scrutiny: Mark Twain’s works like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are classics (at least in America...I can’t speak for Europe) despite us knowing what (quite frankly) a jerk the man was.
GiorgosTurambar 29/Nov/2006 at 06:13 AM
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It is without a doubt A LOT more difficult to get the works of Tolkien accepted by the non-initiated today than it was 6 years ago.

Why?

Because the moment you mention LotR, everyone jumps to the assumption that you only watched the movies, or got into them throught the movies.

It’s been quite the nightmare.

I used to hate having to explain to people what the LotR is, but now that i know better, i would prefer that to having to hastily add "not just the movies - i read everything tolkien wrote before them" when i tell people i like the LotR and get a look i can recognise from miles away.

It’s a bit like Green Day, if any of you are aware of them.
They were a great low-profile, punk-rock band, until they made "American Idiot", and now every pop-loving 12-year old kid is "into" them!
It’s kind of embarassing to say you like them now - you have to add that you own everything they did, to separate yourself from the mass.
Or like every single teen getting a tattoo these days, essentially dispelling the "outsider" status of a tattoo...

Spunn of into a couple of tangents there...

What i’m saying is that offcourse the LotR is a great literary work, a milestone of the Fantasy genre, but getting it accepted as one (to the masses) today is going to be nigh-on impossible!

Sorry
Celebind Eryniel 29/Nov/2006 at 11:22 AM
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Thanks for chipping in, everybody!
Stiffler -- Thank you for telling me about the Plaza Library pages.  I’ll have to look into that.
Nieliqui Vaneyar 29/Nov/2006 at 01:25 PM
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KingODuckingham - despite us knowing what (quite frankly) a jerk the man was.

exactly my point!  We know that now, but back in the 1920’s and 30’s when these so called lists were put together, most Americans only knew of Twain from bits and pieces here and there.  Imagine if he had been all over TV, or - horror forbid - did stand up comedy and started offending people.  It wouldn’t matter what he wrote, his career would be over.

A good example is why did some women authors (in past years and even recently) write with male pen names?  Possibly because they wanted their works judged for what they were, not our perceptions of who should be writing what?

Part of what I’m saying is that Tolkien did not fit the stereotype of what we/they/literati appear to want in a fantasy and/or heroic fiction author.  Too schoolish, too English, too whatever.  I doubt he went around cultivating people like Germaine Greer and Edmund Wilson. 

And finally, his works did not fit neatly into well defined categories, so he was pigeon-holed by certain reviewers and critics to what they wanted.  For those wanting sound bites and Cliff Notes?  He certainly didn’t cater to them.  He became popular despite that all this, and as some above have suggested, mass popularity can be the kiss of death.

GiorgosTurambar 29/Nov/2006 at 02:47 PM
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Nieliqui Vaneyar - And finally, his works did not fit neatly into well defined categories, so he was pigeon-holed by certain reviewers and critics to what they wanted.......mass popularity can be the kiss of death.

Thank you Nieliqui.
Indeed, how do you go about talking to all these semi-knowing pretentious scholars, who clearly can’t tell greatness when they see it but simply accept what they know as great, for something that not only is Fantasy but also - God forbid! - has in it orcs and dragons?

Let alone now, that they will effectively dismiss, not only the message, but also the one to messenger as a fashion-victim who got cought up in the Peter Jackson saga...
Aragonia Dunami 29/Nov/2006 at 08:10 PM
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My question would be what defines a work of literature as  "classic ". I am not sure I know. Sure the works of say Jane Austin, or Hernam Melville are examples of writers’ works that are considered "classic" , but what makes them exactly that? Is it because the established scholarly places of education named them as such, or was it their popularity amoung the reading masses when they were written ?

I agree that it is difficult for any newer work to get that recognition, but maybe the term "classic" is outdated and obsolete in a sense. I always felt that Tolkein had his own special audience, but that as that audience grew over the years,  it was recognized that his work was brilliant and was an unriveled masterpiece. Maybe that means it is a classic, if we still want that term to be applied to modern literature. Your thoughts? 

GiorgosTurambar 30/Nov/2006 at 09:46 AM
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aragonia-
I think you have a point there...
I mean look at us! Thousands of members on this forum are ready to fight to the end supporting Tolkien’s place in the great Classics.
If that is not the sign of a classic, then what is?

A classic to me, is a book (or song, movie, painting....) that redefines your views of the artform and, ideally, life.
While the later may not be necessary, it almost always comes as a package.
Aragonia Dunami 30/Nov/2006 at 08:32 PM
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Giorgos, I have to agree that a classic redefines your views. As you also point out, look at the support for Tolkein on this forum and all of the many other Tolkein sites and forums dedicated to all things Tolkein. That has to stand for something. I cannot think about any other recent books that have had the same impact that Tolkein’s LOTR series did. Maybe Harry Potter, but those fans are generally very young and outgrow the books. Plus they do not have the intricacy and depth that Tolkein’s LOTR does. At least I don’t think so. Your definition of a classic is a good one. I still am interested in hearing a few more from other folks. I still have to think a bit more about my own definition. 
Battlehamster 01/Dec/2006 at 04:27 PM
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Giorgos-  I totally agree with you about the problem with the movies.  I really have that problem because I’m in my mid-teens, so most people my age read the books after the movies or not at all.  Before the movies Tolkien fans were just our own group of weirdo geeks, but now we’re lumped in with the Trekkies and all those fandoms.

Just that it’s fantasy seems to be a big problem, since some literati snobs seem to lump all fantasy together, damning Tolkien along with junk like Harry Potter.

Oh, and this might be unneccessary for me to say, but I definately think LotR is a classic.

Aragonia Dunami 01/Dec/2006 at 08:06 PM
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Battlehamster
KingODuckingham 02/Dec/2006 at 08:13 AM
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Indeed, how do you go about talking to all these semi-knowing pretentious scholars Scholars are only pretentious to people when there is a disagreement between the two. Nobody dares to backtalk an astronomer when he is discoursing on the nature of of how gravity bends light around planets. But when he tells you that Pluto is no longer considered a planet and you want it to be one, immediately the word ’pretentious’ comes forth. So likewise literary scholars are admired when they present their work on how Beowulf was a product of the combining of several mythoses. But when they define a classic, immediately the masses rear their heads and cry "Pretentious!".

Personally I think the only thing preventing LOTR from being considered a classic is its youth--give it fifty or so years--maybe less. The Great Gatsby isn’t too much older, and it has been given classic status. Be patient.

Thousands of members on this forum are ready to fight to the end supporting Tolkien’s place in the great Classics. You could say that for any number of popular books these days, including junk like Harry Potter. Mind you, I don’t think Harry Potter is junk. That’s someone else’s opinion. But if others think the Potter books are classics, are they just as pretentious as the scholars, who clearly can’t tell greatness when they see it but simply accept what they know as great?

I would encourage members of this plaza to be a bit more forgiving and open-minded both towards other books and to Tolkien’s status among the greats.
Celebind Eryniel 02/Dec/2006 at 09:55 AM
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For those of you who may be wondering how I defined a classic, I went into detail on this in the 2nd paragraph of my essay (The paragraph after the one I posted at the top of this thread.)  If I had figured out how to submit this essay to the Plaza Library like Stiffler suggested, I’d post a link so you could read the whole thing.  However, since I haven’t figured that out yet, I’ll just have to copy and paste some key citations.
According to the Encyclopedia of Literary Critics and Criticism, edited by Chris Murray, it is “characterized by permanent appeal, universal applicability, catholic value, metropolitan sophistication, and perfect form” (pages 234-235). 
Peter J. Kreeft had The Lord of the Rings specifically in mind when he defined a classic as “a book loved by humanity, by human nature, wherever it is found” (pages 13-14).  (This one’s from The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings.  Excellent book; very insightful and engaging.)
And finally, here’s how I summed up the paragraph: Essentially, a classic is a piece of literature that a wide range of people can find appealing and affirming.  It also influences others’ writing and provides a standard by which others’ writing can be judged. 

Arvellas 02/Dec/2006 at 06:13 PM
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I definitely think that LOTR is a classic.  It has survived for over fifty years and still has fanatics like us worldwide who are willing to spend countless hours deepening our understanding and appreciation of it.  If it is not already considered a classic, I believe it will be.  In some school systems, I happen to know that it is one of the books reccomended for summer reading in Honors English classes.  I myself took a class that covered the Arthurian legends, Beowulf, Greek mythology, and...tada! Tolkien!  I would say that that is a good sign that Tolkien is here to stay, and I know that I personally will introduce my kids Tolkien, and so pass down the fanship to another generation.  Not a fad at all, I would say.
Aragonia Dunami 02/Dec/2006 at 06:39 PM
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Celebeth: Thank- you for your definition of a classic. I have adopted it for my own use if you do not object. It is a perfect description of what I feel about great books. By your definition, Tolkein’s LOTR’s certainly fits the bill.

Gracias. 

KingODuckingham 02/Dec/2006 at 09:07 PM
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The words permanent appeal in that definition are the important ones (at least for people in this thread) to remember. Quite honestly LOTR hasn’t met this quota yet. Fifty years, in the context of literary history is not a very long time. Barely two generations. Yes, it has survived thus far, which is an indication for its future success, but like I said before: don’t give it the title before it earns it. It would be like giving the World Cup to the Number 1 seeded team before anybody had started playing games. Who knows, it always could get knocked out.
GiorgosTurambar 03/Dec/2006 at 06:48 AM
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KingODuckingham-
Either my post was misleading (not impossibla since English is not my first language) or you have some serious rhetoric skills! I almost disagreed with myself there...lol!

Going back and reading my post again though, i realised i may have done a mistake. The stress in my sentence was meant to be on "semi - knowing" and "pretentious" and not on scholars, which has a much heavier punch than i intended it to have...
What i was talking about was the sum of people who, while in some way involved with the literary world, are by no means really "informed" or researchfull about it (thus "semi-knowing") but instead take as granted the Classics already defined and as such dispell with non-deserving authority everything else - thus "pretentious"
And in some unfortunate cases (which sadly get more and more - i have had personal experience of this over and over) go on to teach that behaviour and narrow-mindedness to school kids.

I did be no means intend to disrespect proper leading figures in the literary world.

I think you are right about the time being too short, but like i said, things got a whole lot more difficult in the past 6 years.

I don’t think Harry Potter is junk either, far from it.
Given time, like you say i think they will become classics too, in their genre at least.
However, that statement was not mine, and placing it next to my (hopefully clarified ...lol) quote did make it sound like it was.

All in all i think we actually agree on the subject after all...
KingODuckingham 03/Dec/2006 at 07:34 AM
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Giorgos: Thanks for the clarification, that is helpful.
All in all i think we actually agree on the subject after all
Your english is very good!
Helekwen 03/Dec/2006 at 07:57 AM
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I have to agree that if anything is currently preventing LotR from reaching classic status, it is its age.
To add a quick tangent: But if others think the Potter books are classics; I know it is not your opinion that Harry Potter is a classic, KingODuckingham, but I would have to disagree with the concept- the seventh book has not yet come out, ergo Harry Potter, being incomplete, is not a classic, it is still merely a craze which may well die out in the future. And if LotR’s age prevents it from being recognized as a classic, then there is no way on earth that Harry Potter can be desribed as a classic.

In contrast, LotR is a complete works and has been for many years. It has been loved throughout generations, and people still discovered and greatly enjoyed it in the period between its release and Peter Jackson’s films, which I feel shows the unquenchable spirit of the book. I believe that LotR will in the not-so-distant future stand the test of time and become recognized as a classic.

And my final point- LotR is already counted a classic in the hearts of millions of people, and that’s got to count for something. Whether the book is officially recognized as a classic or not won’t stop our love and devotion of Tolkien’s works, and in my opinion that is what really counts.

But of course, that is just my opinion.

KingODuckingham 03/Dec/2006 at 10:39 AM
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And if LotR’s age prevents it from being recognized as a classic, then there is no way on earth that Harry Potter can be desribed as a classic. Exactly. Though I doubt that HP not being a complete work has necessarily anything to do with status as classic: six out of seven books. Any one of those six could technically be a classic. After all, Dante’s Inferno is a classic, but the other two parts of The Divine Comedy, the Purgatorio and The Paradiso, are not really famous or well known or even enjoyed as much (interesting that people like the description of hell so much better than heaven). However, I do think the youth disqualifies it, especially according to the above definition.
Brandywine74 08/Dec/2006 at 06:48 PM
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I think the main reasons LOTR isn’t regarded as a classic is because fantasy and science fiction are regarded as inferior by most academics, and it’s age. I believe that the twentieth century will be regraded as a golden age of fantasy in the future and then LOTR will be up there as one of the greats.

Patience, patience..... 

Battlehamster 09/Dec/2006 at 12:56 PM
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KingODuckingham- like Tolkien says in TH descriptions of horrible things are lots more fun than those of nice things.

Aw, but the problem with the 20th century being the Golden Age is it’s all going downhill.

Endril 09/Dec/2006 at 01:49 PM
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I do agree with that. LOTR has a great value as a writing of the english literature and it’s not just a bestseller to read and have a bit of fun. It is a book with lots of refrences to other cultural aspects. In a way it makes you want to know more, at least for me. LOTR has a great value indeed.
Mirkwoodworker 09/Dec/2006 at 06:09 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Brandywine74 on Friday, December 08, 2006

I think the main reasons LOTR isn’t regarded as a classic is because fantasy and science fiction are regarded as inferior by most academics


I’d agree. But how do you define "fantasy?" Tom Shippey wrote that LotR is in the same category as 1984, , Slaughterhouse-Five, The Once and Future King, all of which he considered "fantasy." Their authors were reacting to the "crisis of Western civilization" in the 20th century. Instead of going the route of Joyce and Woolf and Eliot, they stuck with basic literary methods--linear storyline, standard character development, etc. These writers wanted to engage the "non-professionally educated" reader because they had something important to share with them. Their insights, fears, hopes, whatever.

Like Brandywine74 wrote, "academics" are apparently the ones who decide what gets inserted into the "Western Canon."

And as Nieliqui Vaneyar wrote,
Tolkien to some, I would suggest, represents the old, European, male author which for a number of years now appears to be out of vogue with the literati (whoever they are) as we work in diversity and inclusion.

Horror author Thomas Ligotti once stated in an interview that "literature is entertainment or it is nothing." By that he means that fiction writers are supposed to tell good stories. But being a good story is no longer among the basic criteria of what is or isn’t "classic" literature. Experimentation and excessive erudition are more important, even if the novel or story or poem is just plain boring.

Tolkien isn’t boring. Maybe that’s why he’s only found in the "Science Fiction and Fantasy" section of Barnes and Noble instead of in the "Literature" section. But 100 years from now, which novel will still be read by millions of people: Finnegans Wake (intentionally incomprehensible and incredibly boring) or The Lord of the Rings?
Mirkwoodworker 10/Dec/2006 at 07:25 AM
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An afterthought regarding my previous post: perhaps we shouldn’t hope for LotR and Tolkien’s other books becoming "literary classics," taught in schools alongside Shakespeare and James Joyce. Kids don’t like being told what to read, and Tolkien might become just another resented author.
Battlehamster 10/Dec/2006 at 06:25 PM
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Hey, I like James Joyce!  Though I will admit that Finnegan’s Wake is pretty incomprehensible.  But it’s still cool.

But I know what you mean about how having Tolkien taught could ruin it.  I mean, I usually like what we have to read in school, but not many other students I know do.  I mean, Shakespeare’s plays, there’s sex, violence, you’d think students would love them.

Personally, I think it’s that it’s hard to like a book after you’ve written a 1000 word, double-spaced, 12 font paper to be turned in on the last day of class about it.  Schools are very good at making the most wonderful books a unappetizing.

Unfortunately, I’m having trouble thinking of a really old book that people still read that isn’t taught in school.

Mirkwoodworker 10/Dec/2006 at 08:59 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Battlehamster on Sunday, December 10, 2006

Unfortunately, I’m having trouble thinking of a really old book that people still read that isn’t taught in school.



In public schools and in most universities in the US, that really old book would be the Bible.
Morgil 11/Dec/2006 at 01:10 AM
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Hmm...I am very saddened that an argument or suggestion has to be made for Lord of the Rings to be accepted as classic literature. I also find it curious. I went to high school in a small town in northeast GA, and Tolkien’s epic  was on every list of  "suggested classics", from my sub-freshman through my senior years. At least my little corner of "hicksville" has a little enlightenment. 
Battlehamster 11/Dec/2006 at 05:45 PM
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Morgil- That’s so cool!  I got into an argument with my seventh grade English teacher a few years ago about whether or not Lord of the Rings was a classic.  She refused to accept it as one.  She was pretty cool other than that, though.

Mirkwoodworker- I gues that that’s true, about the bible, but you don’t really think "Oh, I’m going to make a mug of hot chocolate and curl up and read the bible," do you?  Though I’ll admit that I wouldn’t know, maybe people do.

Morgil 11/Dec/2006 at 08:49 PM
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I got curious today and contacted both the high schools I attended. LotR is still on the "classics" and the "recommended reading" lists. And I was pleased to learn that The Silmarillion has been added to both at each school. Back in ’86 I was on a student/teacher committee and argued for the addition of The Silmarillion.  

Battlehamster...Love the name! My 11th grade teacher was the opposite. I despised everything about her except her recognition of Tolkien’s work.   

Mirkwoodworker 12/Dec/2006 at 11:14 PM
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I graduated from high school in 1982, and Tolkien was definitely not considered a classic or on any recommended reading lists. I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that things have changed in some elementary and secondary schools.

And I’ve also read that some colleges now offer courses on Tolkien, or else include him in courses on "fantasy." (I have to put the term in quotes, since I’ve never been happy with any definitions I’ve read.)
NineFingered 17/Dec/2006 at 08:08 PM
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I think Tokien’s works are well on their way to becoming classics. His books are included in reading lists at some schools, as some of you have mentioned, so that’s a great step. I think that time will do the trick, when the craze of the movies is almost hushed. Just like great movies like Gone with the Wind, Little Women, Robin Hood, etc. You know, people forget the movies in a while, but then they read the books and the story becomes alive to them again, and so they turn to the movies for some kind of visual story-telling. But there are people who will never like it, and that’s a fact. Does everyone like Tolstoy or Dostoyievsky, just because they’re classics?

I think that one problem in getting people to recognize LOTR as a classic is that people are not being trained to read good literaure. Yeah, they make you read those stupid modern novels at High School, with some Newberry award, but it’s no great masterpiece like Shakespeare, Lord Tennyson, Victor Hugo, Homer, etc. My hypothesis is that young people don’t get much training in good literature, so LOTR is pretty scary to even attempt to read. Therefore, they put it aside and watch the sort of digested version of the movies.

KingODuckingham 17/Dec/2006 at 09:21 PM
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Does everyone like Tolstoy or Dostoyievsky, just because they’re classics? There is NO book that everyone likes. None. It won’t happen. Not even LOTR. There are people on this forum that haven’t finished the books because they got bored. That doesn’t stop it from being a classic. Just its age, as I said above. And I agree with your second paragraph very much, Ninefingered, I think that’s a huge problem. Length has become anathema as attention span decreases, and LOTR is big problem that way too.
Battlehamster 18/Dec/2006 at 08:05 AM
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It’s not just length, though. The Harry Potter books are long andthey’re still popular. So I think they’re afraid of reading anything that would take any effort to read.
I was lucky- I actually got to read a few good things like Beowulf in school. Also a really horrible translation of The Odyssey. Sample line: Hey chaps, let’s sacrifice a cow!
Celebind Eryniel 18/Dec/2006 at 08:19 AM
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 That is a horrible translation of The Odyssey.
KingODuckingham 18/Dec/2006 at 05:58 PM
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The Harry Potter books are long and they’re still popular. Not really. At least not any one of them (except maybe the fifth) And even then, the content is that of a teen’s life at school, not the epic fantasy that is LOTR. It’s less meaty and hard to get through.
Battlehamster 19/Dec/2006 at 08:53 AM
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Yes, that’s what I mean. It isn’ just the length that matters. And also just the style that JK Rowling writes in is much easier to read. I personally think that the HP books are really bad, and I’m waiting for harry to die a horrible death.
KingODuckingham 19/Dec/2006 at 09:56 AM
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Battlehamster: Got a chip on your shoulder against most popular fantasy, don’t you? No Eragon, no HP....    I assume you don’t mean because it’s easy to read that it is really bad?

Anyway, I think it would be hilarious if Harry did die a horrible death at the end. "Voldemort never ended his reign of terror." would make a wonderful last sentence.

Regardless, I find it hard to imagine that the Harry Potter books will become classics. Give it time, they’ll die off. A generation or so.

Of course, there’s the interesting thing that before the 20th century, not much literature (comparatively) was being put out. What percentage of 18th century literature are now classics? And what percentage then of today’s literature will be classics? Probably less, seeing the volume of cheap books being produced these days. But when are we going to decide the new terms of classic? Literature is not static. Is classic "the best of what we’ve got", or is it actually something that’s objectively better, not just to people’s current tastes?
geordie 19/Dec/2006 at 01:39 PM
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Also a really horrible translation of The Odyssey. Sample line: Hey chaps, let’s sacrifice a cow!

Of course, there’s the terrible line where Polythemus calls out to the departing Greeks - ’Call in any time you’re passing. I’ll keep an eye out for you!’

halfir 19/Dec/2006 at 02:19 PM
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I am both fascinated, and appalled to see that so much discussion of what constitutes a classic has gone on without mention of the seminal essay on that topic by the great Italo Calvino Why Read the Classics?

That alone is commenatry on the paucity of our educational system today!X(

Battlehamster 19/Dec/2006 at 03:47 PM
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So, O Great halfir, enlighten us.  What is Why Read the Classics?  It sounds interesting, but I have to confess that I’ve never heard of it before.

I actually do like a lot of popular fantasy, but probably not any of the really popular stuff.  Except for Tolkien, of course.  I guess it just goes to show that I have far better taste than everyone else in the world.

It’s always so horrible when people translate something so that it’s completely modernized.  I saw a production of Figaro where they had subtitles and they used "in a jiffy."  That was just funny, though.

halfir 19/Dec/2006 at 04:19 PM
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Why Read the Classics? is perhaps the most seminal essay in a book of 36 seminal essays by Italo Calvino- the Cuban/Italian  literary critic and writer, who died in 1985.

The title of the compendium is ’Why Read the Classics?’ which forms the introductory essay to a book of essays in which Calvino looks at some great classical writers.

The ’foundation’ essay  has been decribed as:

’One of the most  inspiring  justifications of great literature’

Listed below are the 14 topic headings under which Calvino explains his concept of what constitutes a classic.They do not, however, do justice to the essay, which should be read in its entirety.

Why Read the Classics?- Italo Calvino Vintage 2000 ISBN 0 09 928489 8

  1. The classics are the books of which we usually hear people say, "I am rereading . . . " and never "I am reading . . . "
  2. We use the words "classics" for books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to read them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them
  3. The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.
  4. Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading.
  5. Every reading of a classic is in fact a rereading.
  6. A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.
  7. The classics are the books that come down to us bearing the traces of readings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).
  8. A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives much pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity.
  9. The classics are books which, upon reading, we find even fresher, more unexpected, and more marvelous than we had thought from hearing about them.
  10. We use the word "classic" of a book that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. With this definition we are approaching the idea of the "total book," as Mallarmé conceived of it.
  11. Your classic author is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.
  12. A classic is a book that comes before other classics; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree.
  13. A classic is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise, but at the same time this background noise is something we cannot do without.
  14. A classic is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.

 

Aragonia Dunami 19/Dec/2006 at 07:37 PM
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Thank-you so much for that halfir. Really makes one evaluate what a classic really is. Loved the information.
Battlehamster 19/Dec/2006 at 08:33 PM
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Yes, thank you--that is a crucial thing to have.  Well, that settles it.  LotR is definitely a classic by that definition.  I’m not sure how many rerereadings of LotR I have had and I always find something new.  And it’s certainly had great influence on writing, both stuff that’s considered good and stuff that’s considered a bad Tolkien rip-off.  As I’m having losts of fun discussing on the Eragon thread.
Arvellas 19/Dec/2006 at 08:45 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Mirkwoodworker on Saturday, December 09, 2006
Horror author Thomas Ligotti once stated in an interview that "literature is entertainment or it is nothing."

Yes, entertainment is certainly a big part of literature in my mind.  Tolkien entertains me--and in more than one way.  I am entertained in the sense that I get caught up in the storyline.  But on another level, it entertains my brain, making me think about the nuances of characters, the effects of minute details, and interlacing and development of the history of Arda, and so much more.

As for kids not wanting to read stuff they’re told to read, it can sometimes work out that way, but as a student I know that I (as well as many of my friends in my English class) actually do enjoy the books we’re required to read.  It’s not so much having to read the book as what the teacher decides to do with it.  I don’t like the mutilation that some tend to inflict, but with a good teacher, studying literature in school is not so bad.

KingODuckingham 19/Dec/2006 at 08:49 PM
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It hasn’t really done much as far as this:

The classics are the books that come down to us bearing the traces of readings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).

Because, as I’ve said before, it hasn’t been around long enough.
Arvellas 19/Dec/2006 at 08:55 PM
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Simul

Thanks so much for posting that, Halfir!  Reading through that list, every one of those points made me think, "Yes!  That is just how I feel about LOTR!"  It’s part of my life, part of my thinking, and part of who I am today, and every time I reread it, I find more things to love about it.  It never gets old, and it never goes away.  Though not always at the forefront of my mind, it is never forgotten.  Certainly I believe that by this definition, LOTR is a classic.

halfir 19/Dec/2006 at 09:24 PM
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I’m glad you all found the post helpful. I loved Calvino’s List as it were, though if you have the time  try and read the whole essay where the points are  more fully developed. And I agree that, on Calvino’s definition, LOTR is most definitely a ’classic’.
KingODuckingham 19/Dec/2006 at 09:56 PM
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Can you find that essay online?
halfir 20/Dec/2006 at 03:29 AM
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I don’t think so, only the points that I have already posted. However, I have not done an intensive search and it may be that the essay is online, though given the fairy recent death of the author (by copyright standards) I doubt it.

You stated in an earlier post:

"It hasn’t really done much as far as this:

The classics are the books that come down to us bearing the traces of readings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs)."

I’m not sure I agree. Tolkien has had a very  marked impact on the world of fantasy, and many who have use that genre bear traces of that impact. And  the resonances of Norse myth and A-S and medieval literature  that exist in his writings do fit the phrase ’ come down to us bearing the traces of readings previous to ours’.

 

Celebind Eryniel 20/Dec/2006 at 11:25 AM
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In my paper, I did touch upon the impact Tolkien’s works had upon the fantasy genre.  At one point I cited Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century in that "One of the things that Tolkien did was to open up a new continent of imaginative space for many millions of readers, and hundreds of writers -- though he himself would have said... that it was an old continent which he was merely rediscovering."
Interestingly enough, recent works of fantasy like Eragon and Harry Potter (which Battlehamster so ardently despises) wouldn’t be the same without Tolkien’s influence upon the entire genre.
Arvellas 21/Dec/2006 at 03:00 PM
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In my house, Tolkien is already a legend--my dad is convinced that LOTR is one of the greats of literature, not to mention countless times I have seen and heard people talking about, alluding to it, etc., so I guess I grew up thinking of it as a classic.  Now that I’ve read it and been a fan for quite a while, I know firsthand that it is a classic, and I consider it as such.
Celebind Eryniel 29/Dec/2006 at 09:20 AM
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Mind if I bump?