June 06, 2003

Loathed Books

The Independent has just published a list of books loathed by various celebrities....ugh, that is, folks who are celebrities in England. Most of them I hadn't heard of. But I had heard of many of the books they mention, and I found it fascinating.

J.R.R. Tolkien comes in for the worst punishment, with three of the fifty celebrities ragging on the Lord of the Rings:

Anything about Gandalf, and those little things with hair between their toes. I hate that sort of portentous, phoney, medieval-magical way of writing. -- Sir John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole

In what way is Tolkien's writing "phoney", or "magical-medieval"? I'd have thought that it was normal transparent prose, rather than any attempt to sound like something from another era.

There have been many contender [sic], but for inspiring life-long loathing and contempt, nothing beats The Lord of the Rings. The childish storytelling, the valetudinarian mythologising, Tolkien's lack of any feel for language, description, landscape, emotion or confrontation, the desire to garotte Pippin and Merry in a dark alley how can so many readers have put up with such codswallop for so long? -- somebody named John Walsh

In what way is the storytelling childish? I suppose there isn't enough sex in it. And I can't see how Tolkien lacks feel for landscape or description. And as for emotion, well...I suppose there isn't enough sex in it.

I've never understood the point. It's strange, weird and frightening, and makes me feel like I'm on the sidelines of a joke I don't understand. -- Alain De Botton: Author and philosopher

I think this last quote really points out the problem--they just don't get it. Poor souls.

Then, J.K. Rowling comes under the gun:

I think they are absolute shit, just terrible, worse than Enid Blyton. I have discouraged my children from reading them. They are not particularly badly written I don't mind bad writing it's the smugness and the complicity with the reader that I dislike. It's like they're written by a focus group. JK Rowling is the sub-literary analogue of Tony Blair. -- Somebody named Jonathon Meade

Now, I'm the last person to insist that the Harry Potter books are the best thing since sliced bread. Isn't this a bit strident? And what is "complicity with the reader"? I admit, the tone is perhaps a bit familiar--but it's written for kids. I've seen much, much worse in my time as a father. Perhaps he's jealous?

And finally, for Deb English, a few words about her latest book, Posession, by A.S. Byatt:

It's a kind of schmaltzy Mills & Boon romance dressed up with cod Victorian poetry to make it seem more profound, but there's no emotional depth in it at all. It's incredibly shallow and trivial. -- Somebody named Joan Smith

The phrase "Mills & Boon romance" comes up a couple of times in the list; apparently, it's a horrible thing to be. Would anyone care to enlighten me?

(via Boing Boing)

Posted by Will Duquette at June 6, 2003 06:08 PM

Deb said:

"Possession" is by A.S. Byatt, Will. I think Mills and Boon romances are sort of the Brit version of Harlequins. Obviously, Joan Short has read a few too many of Those if she thinks Byatt's book is a dressed up version of them. And what in heaven's name is "Cod Victorian Poetry?"
Cheap fish? Or that piece guys wore over their jewels? Either way, she obviously didnt get the book. Hmphhh....

Will Duquette said:

A.S. Byatt. Yeah, that's what it says...(now that I've fixed it).

I think she meant "Cold Victorian Poetry".