Oh No, Not Another Fucking Elf

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Amid this unharmonious convergence of forces clambering for some acreage of the Tolkien empire, there is also a literary reputation at stake. Can the words of Tolkien, the serious author, be heard above the din of Middle-earth's ravenous strip development?

So wring the hands of Ethan Gilsdorf, in the Boston Globe Magazine, reporting to you from an alternate universe where Tolkien's literary reputation is really all about the purity of the franchise and the public's well known enthusiasm for invented Saxon dialects, and not about the masses of geeks who like dwarves and swords.

NEXT: Intelligence Gap Observed

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  1. I’ll take Will Ferrell over that bug-eyed Elijah Wood any day.

  2. When I first read this article in the Glob, my immediate reaction was, “Wow, ‘Ethan Gilsdorf’ even sounds like it should be the name of Tolkein character!”
    –G

  3. Most of us geeks “who like dwarves and swords” also like the invented Saxon dialects. It’s that general public of yours that wants nothing more than Gandalf/Harry Potter slash and Orc killin’.

  4. If you’re sick of elves as kind, wise, lovers-of-nature, then I reccomend Michael Swanwick’s “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter”. It’s about as far from tolkien as you can get in SF/Fantasy.

  5. Interesting, Madog. I wonder if the link between elves and bow-and-arrows (as opposed to swords) was an outgrowth of white America’s 20th century mythologizing of American Indians.

  6. Like many, I fell in loive with the books when I was just a kid. I begged my mother to read them at the time, but I just couldn’t get her to read a book about elves and dwarves. Decades later, after having seen the first movie, she bought the books and has read them many times.

    Ther article blasts the merchandising associated with the movie, then it passes over the astonishing number of books that are sold each year. Those are mostly new readers, are they not? If the movies and the merchandising entice 3 million new people to read the books each year, then the movies and the merchandizing must be a good thing. Especially considering the anti-authoritarian themes in the book.

    My family and I often argued about politics when I was young; like many young libertarians, I felt terribly misunderstood. I recently had this amazing conversation with them about the difference between the motives of Borimer and Aragorn…

  7. While reading this article I couldn’t help but agree with the idea of how much better ‘Lord of the Rings’ would be if we could just keep the story out of the hands, and minds, of the great unwashed masses.

  8. When I was 10 years old, I read the entire Lord of the Rings cycle 23 times in a row. What finally loosed the orc-like grip that Elrond’s armies had over my eyeballs was a reading of Harvard Lampoon’s stupidly hilarious Bored of the Rings, which included a lot of lines like: “‘Shut up,’ agreed Goodgulf.” In fact, I still remember well some of Bored‘s epic poetry, such as:

    I sit on the floor and pick my nose
    and think of better things
    Like dragons who wear rubber clothes
    and elves who drub their dings

  9. Actually, I think the invented Saxon dialects are about the only thing about the LOTR books I care for. Splendidly brilliant philologist, Tolkein, but a tedious novelist. The movies are great fun, though, and perhaps in my golden years I’ll have the time and attention span to at least get past about page 60.

  10. Madog,
    Take a look also at Terry Pratchett’s _Lords and Ladies_. He knows that elves are not only short, but nasty and brutish.

  11. In Gilsdorf’s alternate universe, the intellectual elites have always considered Tolkien to be high literature. At least until Peter Jackson’s crass campaign of vulgarization.

    Seriously, what does this say about these elites (whose opinions he seems concerned with) that they would ignore a work’s literary merits simply because it has become popular with the masses?

  12. Joe – the thing of elves and iron…they cannot bear it. Hence, the bells in churches and the iron at the front door. Or so I’d read long ago.

  13. Drew Hayes’ “I, Lusipher” and later “Poison Elves” also gave a good rendition of what happens when an elf puts down the bow and picks up the sword (and bottle and gun).

  14. Matt – I could have written your last post. In fact, to this day I still agree with people by telling them to shut up.

  15. I think the point trying to be made is that Tolkien’s points about war vs. nature, and the politics of war, are likely to be overlooked by the aforementioned unwashed.

  16. R.C. — I’ve long been trying to figure out our mysterious connection. No more….

  17. Strange, I am, right now, rereading “The Silmarillion”

  18. I bumper stick from a local game store:

    They’ve got claymores and dragons, but we’ve got Ogres and Bolos!

  19. I saw this bumper stick from a local game store:

    They’ve got claymores and dragons, but we’ve got Ogres and Bolos!

  20. I have elf cluelessness. I don’t know what it is about and am assuming it will blow over. There are so many things it’s possible to remain permanently uncurious about today that it’s hard to know where to start.

  21. I have to agree with RabidFox. Is it not possible for someone to just WRITE a STORY? People always look for hidden meanings…LOTR is a great series, although I must say I like the movies better than the books, which sometimes read like the begats…However, for anyone who likes LOTR, try The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The NY Times says “Jordan has come to dominate the world Tolkien began to reveal.” This series is addictive!

  22. Well, attacking the racism in the Tolkein universe is not particularly novel; there was a thread about such in Plastic sometime after “Fellowship of the Ring” was released.

  23. Just think, I’ve never read any of his books. So nerks to all of you.

    I know he was a serious scholar, but was he really a serious author?

  24. max – Re: Tolkien’s points about war vs. nature, and the politics of war

    It’s my understanding that during his lifetime, Tolkien rejected all interpretations of his work as political or social metaphor. He specifically denied that the work had any hidden deeper meanings.

    Now, you can make the argument that there is value in scholars searching for underlying themes and values even if they were unintended by the author, but it seems a bit odd to attack readers for enjoying the work in exactly the manner the author intended — as an adventure-romance in the tradition of the great medieval epics.

  25. I had the privledge of reading one of the editions that had had a foreward written by Tolkien himself. In it he specifically stated that he wasn’t making an east/west nuclear bomb analogy. He, rather vigorously, stated that TLOR was written to and for his sons who were both serving overseas in WWII. It was just an entertaining story and escapism. To this day I laugh out loud when some ‘intellectual’ starts to deconstruct TLOR.

  26. “The Silmarillion” is a good barometer of how serious a person is about Tolkien’s books. I have yet to meet anyone who became a fan based on the movies who could read that book all the way through.

  27. Can we now marry Elves in Mass?

  28. Well said Lady Sidhe
    All too often the words of critics encroach on what writing is about, when really they are trying to justify their own existance.

    Stealing unapologetically from R.A. Salvatore on how important Literature (with a BIG “L”) is?

    Writers make $#!T up and people enjoy it.
    Bad writers make smelly $#!T up.

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