Kristin’s review of The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3) > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa C The book reminds me of a lot of books that I read when I was a kid--lots of detail. I agree there does seem to be an excess of it, particularly in the first part, but I kind of like it. It's like the author is saying "this is exactly how it was." He allows you to paint an elaborate picture of this world he has created...which is cool, because when I remember the story, I can remember what it looks like, too.


message 2: by Paul (last edited Nov 27, 2007 05:42PM) (new)

Paul Pautler Yes, there is a great deal of detail. However, as Lisa has pointed out, it does allow a person to create a mental image of Tolkien's world.

After all, he created not only characters, but languages, history, a world, political tensions...

In short, a living, breathing world.

Without the amount of detail that Tolkien includes in his novel, it would simply be a 200-page collection of battles, with a few references to the quest itself; which is, quite simply, a lot of walking towards Mordor. With various obstacles thrown in for good measure, and to further the plot.


message 3: by N (new)

N I completely agree with you. Completely. I thought the writing was boring and he was terrible at exposition. He could have dropped in all those details much less obtrusively than he did, and wasted much less of the reader's time to get the same effect.

I, too, preferred the movies because it condensed things down to what was interesting and important, and all the little details of Tolkien's world could be taken in passively. Having to read those details, one by one, was excruciating, though.


message 4: by Johann (new)

Johann Yes, the book is heavily detailed. I found it very difficult to follow. But, this is a piece of art which can only be appreciated by reading the novel. I DO NOT recommend watching the movie without reading the novel as it would be disrespectful to the author.


message 5: by Pepijn (new)

Pepijn "This book can appeal only to a linguist."? I'm sure you are aware that many millions of people really like the book. Surely you're not suggesting that they're all linguists? ;-)


message 6: by Alison (new)

Alison Jarl, your comments are unwarranted, I think. A person can be well-read and not enjoy Lord of the Rings (for various reasons, in fact). No need to attack strangers because they did not enjoy your favorite book. I am finding it difficult to push through myself for the reasons outlined above (and NOT because my reading level is subpar, mind you), but I'm trying to push through because I recognize and appreciate its literary merit.


message 7: by Dani (new)

Dani I agree with this review. I watched the movies first, hey I have a long line up of books and people wanted to see the movies with me so I went. I really enjoyed them, the plot is wonderful, the setting is vast, and its just overall a pleasing experience.

But the books! They drag. See the problem isn't reading level as some people like to mention, although why I have no idea since its not like Tolkien is hard to understand, more like hard to get into. I like my books interesting enough to keep me involved.

Also books are opinion based. I can give a book that everyone has rated 1 star 5 stars if my heart so desires. A 5 star book 1 star or no stars at all. It's not about "what did other people say?" it's about "What did I think?" and Kristin said what she thinks and I agree with her, as do some others.

The reason I read LOTR was because of the high acclaim, otherwise I don't think I would've picked it up at all. I like my fantasy fast-paced and engaging. And I know that while some people enjoy the description because it paints a picture for me it just bogs me down. "He swung his sword" is enough for me. I can see that. But when you get into things like the angle he swung it, the speed, how his feet were place, how his hands held it, what his expression was, what the clouds looked like, and the grass and that tree over there. It slows the pace and gives me too much that my own imagination is left in the dust.


message 8: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Little How I love the discussion! Just to clarify: I am an avid "read the book before seeing the movie" person. 99.9999% of the time, the movie isn't even in the same zip code as the book. This just happens to be the one exception that proves the rule. I am well read and well educated. I have a BA, a BFA, an MA and a graduate certification, I am well-read (although not all appear on my good reads page) and don't have any issues with LotR being "to[sic] demanding for my reading level". I simply didn't like it. I like to add my own imagination to the story and it seemed a little like Tolkien didn't trust the reader to be able to adequately imagine his world. It bogs the novels down. I never said it didn't have literary merit. I think it is an incredibly important work. It's just not for me or for anyone else bored by stories about walking. I'm not a big fan of "The Great Gatsby" either, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's important. Not to undermine this series' importance, but I think a lot of people say they like this to make themselves look smart. I'm not going to give a book 5 stars just so that I look like a literary genius.


message 9: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Jarl, the main problem I have with LOTR, and the reason I have given 2 stars (OMG, are you going to attack me now, too?) is because of the way it is laid out. I don't mind the excessive detail, though I think that Tolkien could have used an editor. Two Towers and Return of the King are so disjointed, the reader has a hard time enjoying them. I plodded through the first part of each of them just to get to the parts dealing with Frodo and Sam. If Tolkien had alternated chapters, I wouldn't have had a problem. Instead, he makes us wait half the damn book. Then there's the whole issue with Sauruman in the Shire. BORING! The ring was destroyed, end the damn book already. But no, it goes on and on and on and on. Plus the near pointless Appendices where we find out what happened to everyone and their brother. Also, how the hell did Gandalf end up with an Elven ring?

And this is a final thing that has nothing at all to do with Tolkien, but his copiers: the proper plural is Dwarfs and Elfs, not Dwarves and Elves. Thanks to years of The Hobbit and LOTR, people have forgotten that.


message 10: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan I have to say that I don't get why people have to instantly gun down people who don't like books that others do. I mean I love Lord of the Rings because I can see stuff in it that obviously others don't. We all have our opinions and views and some people need to respect that. Even though I like the books they do drag like a lot of classic writing I have found...(and just to clarify something Tolkien did have an editor it's just that his eccentric methods of phrasing words led to many editing problems remember Tolkien was a scholar first and foremost and I think that drives some people away from his books)


message 11: by Kupus (new)

Kupus The thing is there is some objective value in the work. No mater our like/dislike of it. So people complaint is I guess that Tolkien's work rates here the same is Gena Sowalters crap of series.
I can understand there are people that don't appreciate Tolkien - but review is one thing I thing rating the other. I can honestly dislike Tolstoy and still think he is genius and rate him 5 stars. At the same time I can like the book for example some of Zelazny's and still recognize it's 3-3,5 stars worth a book. Many people can't go beyond there own likes/dislikes. But still this site is a great tool, just the one that should be taken with the grain of salt.


message 12: by Jarl Erik (new)

Jarl Erik John wrote: "Jarl, the main problem I have with LOTR, and the reason I have given 2 stars (OMG, are you going to attack me now, too?) is because of the way it is laid out. I don't mind the excessive detail, th..."

I am currently in class so I won't go too deeply into this discussion. The elven ring Narya was given to Gandalf by Cirdan. Also, some words ending in -f etc (like "dwarf") can have both endings.


message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan John wrote: "Jarl, the main problem I have with LOTR, and the reason I have given 2 stars (OMG, are you going to attack me now, too?) is because of the way it is laid out. I don't mind the excessive detail, th..."

Its cool that you have problems with the book. Not everyone will like a text but I must say that you should source your info. As I pointed out Tolkien had problems with his editors constantly wanting to change his eccentric style of writing. For example pointedly using elves and dwarves to indicate they are different from the elfs and dwarfs of myth, fairytale and legend. And if you don't like the appendices why read them? It just seems odd to rant about the appendices when you don't even need to read them...


message 14: by Sue (new)

Sue Bursztynski You have every right not to like this, but it might not be a good thing to sneer at people who do. Hate to tell you this, but you're in a minority here. ;-)


message 15: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Jonathan wrote: "And if you don't like the appendices why read them? It just seems odd to rant about the appendices when you don't even need to read them... "

The only reason I mentioned the Appendices is because of the fact that it is here that you find out about what happens to Gimili and Legolas (GREAT!), Pippin, Sam, and Merry (GREAT!), but also everyone else whose name was even mentioned in the books.


message 16: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan John wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "And if you don't like the appendices why read them? It just seems odd to rant about the appendices when you don't even need to read them... "

The only reason I mentioned the Appen..."


Ah yeah makes sense.


message 17: by Ryan (new)

Ryan Marquez only an idiot like u would rate LOTR one star.


message 18: by Sue (new)

Sue Bursztynski Kristin wrote: "How I love the discussion! Just to clarify: I am an avid "read the book before seeing the movie" person. 99.9999% of the time, the movie isn't even in the same zip code as the book. This just happe..."
Sorry, Kristin. I gave it five stars because I loved it, not to look smart, and I'm sure plenty more people did it for the same reason. For the record, it took me a while to get into it, but one day I was tired after a long, long year at work, and I took it with me to the beach for my holiday. This time, I couldn't put it down. It blew me away, moved me deeply with its beauty. It was the book of Tolkien's heart and that shows. I'm not a linguist. I don't go for "books about walking". As for the songs and poems you hate so much, they are an important part of the book, and have been set to music many times - I recommend the Tolkien Ensemble, who have done a number of CDs of funny, sad, chilling, exciting Tolkien songs. On one of them, Christopher Lee sings the role of Treebeard, a much more benign role than in the movie. Go find one of those CDs before you make another comment. Go on - we'll wait. ;-)

I can't stand huge fantasy trilogies because, after that book, nothing else is up to my requirements.


message 19: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Little Sue, I;m glad you liked it. As they say, "diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks." I know not everyone who gave LotR 5 stars did it to make themselves look smart. Obviously a lot of people love it, or it wouldn't be such an important work of fiction. its just not for me, and I don't want to pretend that it is. I like some books that I know are the literary equivalent of McDonalds and I don't like some that would be considered "filet mignons". It's all about taste, and I didn't like this series. Sorry to offend all you afficionados. :) I AM intrigued by the Tolkien Ensemble, and will try to track down some of thier music. I am open to liking Tolkien. I gave it a fair shot, but it wasn't to my liking. The story was great. I just didn't like the writing style. I love seeing how passionate so many people are about their favorite books/author, though. Happy reading! :)


message 20: by Srinath (new)

Srinath Padmanabhan I just could not read more than 150 pages.. That itself took me almost a month..They are still walking in the forest and nothing big has happened.I stopped reading the book.


message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan If they wanted to look intelligent there are other works they could go for...


message 22: by James (new)

James Use a dictionary to clear up your misunderstood words. Then try again. You're really missing out.


message 23: by Michelle (last edited Aug 13, 2012 10:23AM) (new)

Michelle He was brilliant with imagery. He created a world the reader can step into and get lost. Brilliant writer, too bad he is gone.

Update: Writing that stirs the imagination and propels canvases of beauty as Tolkien’s does is far from bland. The worlds he created will stand tall forever and gain the accolades they have because the writing is brilliant. It is too bad he never lived to see the appreciation of his luminous work.

In fact his academic prowess was brilliant to match. If one cannot appreciate this type of writing, they should walk away and read less profound works. Not everyone understands nor appreciates Shakespeare yet that does not mean a thing. Sometimes a more simplified writing is in order for certain minds to grasp. Tolkien was a brilliant man, and his writing matched that brilliance. End if story. Love his books, appreciate the effort, style and detail he gave his worlds. Enough said.

Oh, and the Movies do not do the books justice. Watching the movies is not going to help, for they are not accurate. They are adaptations. They make them that way because they believe that the fans of the movies have read the books, and would know where things were totally different. The books should always be first to read. The movies are nothing compared to them.


message 24: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Cooper I'm with you. Long Books do not scare me. But this book is long for the long reasons, it sits and sinks in endless details that just do not interest me.

The writing is horribly bland, it feels like a history text book for a world that used to exist. Now that in itself does deserve applause and it is why people love these books as they do. I just can't seem to love them myself


ΣometimesIwonder I like the books but I can't say that I LOVED them. Frankly, I actually prefer the movies but that's not because the books are too long. I've read many long books before.


message 26: by Mike (last edited Oct 28, 2012 12:51AM) (new)

Mike Tolkien got into a major fight with a copy editor on the plurals of Dwarf and Elf. The editor simply changed them all without Tolkien's permission. He responded with an elaborate philological argument for Dwarves and Elves. He actually wanted to use the archaic plural Dwarrows. Who are you going to trust, a simple copy editor, or a philologist who is also the author? Tolkien later used the stem to name the ancient home of the Dwarves: "Only once before have 1 seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dum, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue."Check Tolkien's Biography and Letters. Also, Hammond's Bibliography tells the story of the publication history of virtually all Tolkien's works. John wrote: "Jarl, the main problem I have with LOTR, and the reason I have given 2 stars (OMG, are you going to attack me now, too?) is because of the way it is laid out. I don't mind the excessive detail, th..."


message 27: by Mike (new)

Mike There are definitely people who cannot "get into" the Lord of the Rings. I have no judgement about this but I am very curious about why and how this happens when many other people become completely engrossed in the books. Tolkien once said in a BBC interview that "Hobbits were just rustic English people made small in size because of the short reach of their imaginations and not because of their courage or latent power." I always wanted to ask him what he meant by latent power. I also wanted to ask him if he felt that Hobbits would like to read something like the Lord of the Rings. Of course, to them it would be a history and not fiction. Although everyone has an imagination, I have an hypothesis that people with a "short reach of imagination", are unable to comprehend and "get into" a secondary world as elaborate as Middle Earth. These are people who identify themselves as practical and down-to-earth. An imaginary world as elaborate as Tolkien's is just too much fantasy. Bilbo and Frodo could read such a book, but I have doubts that other Hobbits or rustic Yorkshire English people would find it interesting.

I'm going through all the negative ratings to find clues to the reason people don't like the books. Thus far, they describe too much detail and boredom as the most common reason. This may occur because readers lack the context to appreciate the details. If someone generally likes fantasy then the context will build with subsequent readings. It will all start to make more sense. This can be enhanced by reading the stories aloud and reading background material like Tolkien's biography and letters. Keep in mind that the Hobbit and LOTR were all read aloud while Tolkien was writing them. They have an unusual quality of storytelling when you read them aloud to someone else.


message 28: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Mike, a book should be self contained. If people don't like it because it's too detailed, wouldn't telling them to search out MORE detail be a fruitless effort? Also, I liked the stories, but the there was so much that was superfluous. The reader does not need to EVERYTHING.


message 29: by Mike (new)

Mike The details bring joy to many of the readers because they make the secondary world believable. Part of the experience is entering the fairy world and living there. If you can't do this, and there is no fault if you can't, LOTR becomes tedious. When you discover from the Appendices that Arwen chooses to die among the Elanor and Niphredil on Cerin Amroth in Lorien, it makes the visit there by the Fellowship much more significant. That was also the place that Aragorn and Arwen plighted their troth. That is why Aragorn seems lost in his memories when he visits there. These details make the description of Elanor and Niphredil (some of Tolkien's invented flowers) very important. When you learn that Galadriel is is finally able to return to Valinor after 10,000 years in exile because she demonstrated humility in refusing the ring, it makes her presence at the Havens much more meaningful. If she and Gandalf are leaving then it is a sign that Middle Earth is righting; a Mallorn is growing to replace the party tree and indeed many Hobbit children born the next year had golden hair. There is hope in Middle Earth as there is hope in our own primary world. All the details give the world great depth.


message 30: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Details do not always mean depth. It sometimes means the writer was too caught up in their own self-importance. Stephen King is a perfect example of this. Instead of letting a professional edit his book The Stand, he threw a hissy fit and did it himself. Even the 1978 edition could undergo some trimming. Often times in LOTR, songs are sung that do not advance the story (particularly in Fellowship). They take up space, that's all. They are unnecessary. As for Arwen's fate, she is mentioned a handful of times without being a major player. We do not need to know her fate, nor do we need to know the fate of many others. In fact, once the ring is destroyed and Aragorn is crowned king, everything else becomes unnecessary. The final few chapters were to complete waste of paper. We don't need to know what became of Saruman and Wormtongue. We don't need to know that Frodo went to the Grey Havens. End the book and make people want more instead of wanting to just have it over and done with.

By the way, Mike, I see you joined just this month and all of your comments have been on LOTR reviews. How sad is that?


message 31: by Mike (last edited Oct 28, 2012 09:59AM) (new)

Mike I think I now understand another reason people don't like LOTR: it is not in the mode they expect. If Tolkien had written LOTR in the modern demotic mode you describe it would appear like any other modern fantasy story, like Steven King. Tolkien certainly had the writing skill to write in demotic mode. He decided to write in an archaic mode because he liked the romantic tone and felt that it fit with the secondary world he was creating. If you read his letters and biography you will not come to the conclusion that he was motivated by "self-importance". Tolkien wrote for his own enjoyment and not to publish. The Hobbit and LOTR likely would never have been published if Tolkien wasn't encouraged by a few readers who knew these were masterpieces, such as CS Lewis and Rayner Unwin. Interested readers should get his biography, The Road to Middle Earth by Tom Shippey and On Fairy Stories by Tolkien.

If the details are such a boring distraction, how has such a large book sold over 150 million copies? It is also one of the few books people read again and again. Someone must like the details.

By the way, I noticed that you gave Seamus Heany's translation of Beowulf five stars. Did you read what he said about Tolkien in the Introduction? If you liked Beowulf, it is only a matter of time before you are reading and re-reading the Lord of the Rings, just like the rest of us.


message 32: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan I don't read introductions because they rarely add to the enjoyment of the story. However, I do know Tolkien was inspired by Beowulf. In fact his youngest son keeps teasing he will release the Professor's own translation one day. But liking one does not mean I will like the other. Just because I love the works of Plato does not mean I am predisposed to liking Aristotle. Just because I dislike the BOOK of Lord of the Rings does not mean I cannot enjoy the BBC radio play. The two do not always go hand-in-hand.

Now, language is always tricky. But if the story is good, the language can be overcome. Look at Moby Dick. Easily one of the most boring books in the world, but those who have read it, the book stays with them because of the amazingness of the story. The same goes with War and Peace, Les Miserables, and many other classics. The language doesn't work today, but the story stays with the reader.

Lord of the Rings is a divisive book because of the writing. The story is there, but the fact that there are large chunks that can be excised does nothing to curry favor with me. In Fellowship, the poetry just takes up space and gets the characters nowhere and usually does not add to the story.

Since you mentioned King after I did, I can only infer you mean The Dark Tower series. The first three books are fantastic. The fourth book is 50 pages of moving forward, 600 pages of unnecessary back story, and another 50 pages of moving forward. Books 5-7 just become progressively worse, with the not so subtle references to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, and many other works of pop culture (the only thing missing was a Dune reference), and an ending ripped right from Duck Amuck. I would rather another Edwin Drood than that garbage.


message 33: by Mike (new)

Mike If you read the intro of Beowulf you will discover that Seamus Heany was inspired by Tolkien's famous essay on Beowulf that Heany describes as "epoch-making" in the study of Beowulf.

I am basically trying to figure out why people don't like the Hobbit and LOTR for a presentation. My current hypothesis is that there are essentially two types who don't like the stories: 1) People who are very realistic and have undeveloped imaginations and 2) people who are responding to critics or develop a critical posture that tells them that they should not like Tolkien's work.

People who are realistic and down-to-earth cannot "get into" the stories and complain about the slow pace and plodding details. They can't enter any secondary world and generally dislike any fantasy work - it just seems too unrealistic. Tolkien described Hobbits as being small because of the small reach of their imaginations. This begs the question of whether Hobbits would like the Lord of the Rings. These appear to be the majority who give 1 ratings in this system. It's hard to tell because they usually don't give specific reasons.

The second type is more like yourself. You have the capacity for imagination and can enter secondary worlds. I think you ran into Tolkien's archaic style and decided to dislike the work because of this. Tolkien could have written the work in a modern demotic style that you like, similar to the works of Steven King that you like. He consciously decided not to do this because a modern style was not consistent with the secondary world. His world was the world of the Beowulf poet and he wrote in that style. That's why the story contains so much alliterative poetry. For Tolkien, above all was the language. Every word was chosen and edited and edited again so that the language matched the world. He even invented languages that matched the cultures making up the world. Certainly you must give him credit for inventing languages.

For some reason you have decided that the details are unnecessary for the deep illusion of a secondary world. LOTR has sold over 150 million copies. Millions of readers have re-read the 1200 page book many times. Millions of Tolkien readers enjoy all the details and would love to have more. Your assessment of the details is absolutely incorrect. If LOTR is badly written then 150 million people would not have bought it. Certainly the word would get out about how bad it is. Millions of people would not re-read it and savor the details if it was badly written because of too many details. We want more.

If you read Beowulf and gave it 5 stars then you have the capacity of imagination to enjoy the Lord of the Rings. You are divided by reason, your Ego (they must curry your favor) and your heart. In your heart you know the Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece; your Ego stops you from enjoying it.


message 34: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan I'm far from the King fan you think I am. Since he was on drugs for a good deal of the time he was a household name, his stories will not stand the test of time.

Your assumption of my "ego" shows your own ego. I love all different types of fiction. Lord of the Rings is not one of them, and it has nothing to do with its archaic language. I love Salman Rushdie, and he has used archaic language in his works. In fact, his best known work, The Satanic Verses, is next to impossible for the casual reader. I'm also a fan of lighter fare such as Dean Koontz, Agatha Christie, and Nora Roberts.

The problem with your using sales, though, indicates only the number of sales. It does not indicate how many of those sales resulted in happy experiences in reading. If we go based on just sales, though, Twilight is high literature, and I'm sure you're not inclined to say that.


message 35: by Mike (new)

Mike 94,000 people gave LOTR a 5 in this system.

I'm just trying to figure out why people dislike LOTR. Is it fair to say that you don't like it because it contains unnecessary details and superfluous material? Are there any other reasons you don't like it?


message 36: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Because they have a different opinion than you. Why should it matter? My favorite books have been trashed on this site and I don't go wondering about it. Why? Because I have more important things to do than waste my life on trivial matters.


message 37: by Mike (new)

Mike I am constructing a presentation on this issue for a conference. The incredible popularity of LOTR is a mystery. I think I know why people like it but I don't have a clear idea why people dislike it.


message 38: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan There is no understanding. It's just a matter of opinion. I don't know why people fall head over heals for a book like The Da Vinci Code yet despise Focault's Pendulum. Frankly, I don't care. There are much more interesting things to spend my time on.


message 39: by Kupus (new)

Kupus Mike wrote: "I am constructing a presentation on this issue for a conference. The incredible popularity of LOTR is a mystery. I think I know why people like it but I don't have a clear idea why people dislike..."


I think you are right about first category - people that just don't like any kind of fantasy, and prefer reality in their books.

As for second one - I guess there might be multiple of reasons - from ego, shallowness, self-indulgence - that makes some readers inept to leave "the reins" of the book in the hands of the author and simply enjoy the ride in to this new world. No matter if we talk Tolkien or some other creative genius. There is I guess small percentage of people that actually don't like the books due to some rational reason they apply to other books as well.

Anyway, I actually made this reply to say that Ursula Le Guin (very good Fantasy/SF writer herself) has written essays and books in defense of fantasy genre - and she often refers to and analyses Tolkien's work - so maybe there you can find some more ideas for your presentation. Here is the link on her page: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Plausibi...

Good luck!


message 40: by Mike (new)

Mike Le Guin also has an essay on her first reading of the Lord of the Rings in a book called Meditations on Middle Earth. The book has a number of great essays, including some negative ones. Informed negative reviews of LOTR are hard to find.


message 41: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Informed negative opinions on most anything are hard to find. Especially in this modern age. You're more likely to find "OMG! So stoopid!" than you are a well thought-out negative review. Suffice it to say, some people like different things than you.

I don't need to understand why some people like The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and others do not. Similarly, I do not need to understand why some people like I Am Legend by Richard Matheson while others do not. All I need to know is I like both.


message 42: by Mike (new)

Mike The incredible popularity of Tolkien's work deserves analysis and explanation.


message 43: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan It's been done.


message 44: by Mike (new)

Mike Who did it?


message 45: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Many people. There's a book written by the late Rabbi Pinsky that details why its themse resonate with some and not others. If you can read Yiddish, go for it.


message 46: by Mike (new)

Mike That's not sufficient to explain such extreme popularity. Many people discuss its themes and present theorize on why people like it. Usually the inverse of these are stated as the reasons people dislike the work. Christopher Tolkien and Tom Shippey have done the same thing (in English). Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories is probably the best example. However, this can apply to a good book that only sold 10,000 copies. Why has it sold 150 million copies? Why do so many millions of people read it more than once? The phenomenon of popularity is more than what is usually gleaned from a literary analysis. It is so great that it deserves its own analysis. I am also as much interested in why some people dislike it. This may help explain the general psychological underpinnings of literary imagination.

I am fascinated by Tolkien's statement that Hobbits have a short reach to their imaginations. He never explained this. I think he, Lewis and the Inklings had a theory about the role of imagination in the appreciation of all literature. They tended to focus on imagination as it revealed the mythological and supernatural aspects of religion. However, I think they believed there were people who could not imagine secondary worlds. They can only imagine aspects of the primary world. Tolkien states as much in his essay but does not really flesh out the theory in written form. I think this construction may explain the dislike expressed in this review and many others.

The lack of imagination among those who dislike the work and the emotional reaction of weeping that readers have to the eucatasrophies in the story are psychological aspects that psychology has no theories to explain. All this makes the further investigation of these worthwhile.


message 47: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Why do people read ANY book more than once? I've read LOTR once. I've read The Hobbit 4 times. I've read Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 8 times, but the other Narnia books once. I've read Moby Dick once, Winds of War/War and Remembrance 6 times, Les Miserables 2 times, Anna Karenina 8 times, Swan Song 19 times, Atonement once... The list goes on.

It's pure luck when any book/movie gains popularity. Moby Dick, for instance, was actually out of print for a decade after Melville died. He'd sold a handful of copies in his life, but a chance find in a thrift store and a person who loved its themes gave it new life. Then there's Dracula which received almost instant classic status while the book Varney is almost completely forgotten. The Godfather received high acclaim upon its release while La Costonostra, released a year earlier, was wildly reviled. Roots was hailed for its tragic story even though the book it plagiarized from, The African, is mostly forgotten.

Can you explain any of that because none of it makes a lick of sense to me.


message 48: by Mike (new)

Mike It appears that you like books written in romantic mode rather than ironic mode. The relationship between works in romantic mode and history/historical fiction is very interesting that I have not yet tracked down to see if someone else has written on this. I think the mutual attraction exists because history is written in romantic mode. Contrast an ironic work like Catch-22 vs Band of Brothers and you can see what I mean. You didn't list any works written in modern, ironic mode, such as Ulysses, Hemingway, Virginia Wolf etc. Romantic mode was killed with the World Wars. Tolkien resurrected it in 1954/55 with the Lord of the Rings.

You are really not getting my point on popularity. None of the works you mentioned have sold anything like 150million copies. The Hobbit and LOTR are obviously striking a chord with millions of people at this time in history. This is a phenomenon larger than an explanation that these books are good. The other tremendously popular works are the Harry Potter series. There is something about these fantasy works that tap into the literary imagination that any works set in the primary world cannot approach.


message 49: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Catch 22 is a fantastic piece of literature. I've read that many times. Ulysses is a book that should at least be attempted (much like Gravity's Rainbow) even if it is a bore. Hemmingway and Wolfe are both good, but neither are worth revisit often.

The "ironic" mode as you put it, however, does not put me off. I have 40,000 books in my house ranging in themese and style. I've read them all. The books I love I revisit.

And I do understand your meaning of "popularity". You just are not understanding mine. Some books are popular for no reason whatsoever. Sales figures mean nothing. If they do, then I return to my statement that Twilight it worth visiting. Harry Potter has themes of bigotry, revenge, power, and greed. For the most part, Rowling did not stray from the main story. She created a world that is easy to believe in, hard to leave, and did so without unnecessary refuse.


message 50: by Mike (new)

Mike I didn't mean to imply that you don't read or even like ironic mode. The books you listed as ones you re-read are written in romantic mode. The fact that you don't re-read Hemingway, Wolf and Joyce's Ulysses etc suggests that you like them less. You asked me to suggest an explanation

Sales figures in the range of 150 million mean a lot. They mean that the book has a very wide audience and appeal. If popularity was random, there would be far less variance in the sales numbers.

The major defect of the Harry Potter secondary world is that it lacks internal consistency. It has a Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland quality in which fantastic creatures and settings exist haphazardly without sufficient detail to make them believable in the secondary world. Apparently people still like the world enough to enter into it and enjoy the stories.


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