by Mary Jackson (November 2010)
"Venice seemed incredibly lovely, elvishly lovely--to me like a dream of Old Gondor, or Pelargir of the Numenorean Ships, before the return of the Shadow."
J. R. R. Tolkien
Can anything be more pretentious and arrogant than this? Venice, says Tolkien, is so wonderful it's like something he invented. It would be pretentious and arrogant had he said this about Bolton, let alone Venice. Elvishly lovely? Don't get me started on those elves. (I know nobody did get me started - I started myself, but that's not the point.) Or on Gandalf and the hobbit and Bilbo Baggins. Or was it Frodo Baggins? Are those names supposed to be funny or something? Well they aren't; they are just twee. Middle-earth's a dull and joyless place. And none I think do there embrace.
Perhaps I should confess that I haven't read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings; it's just difficult to avoid hearing about them. Yet as a child I devoured C. S. Lewis's Narnia books. My problem is with fantasy - pure fantasy that doesn't have one foot on the ground. The Narnia books, for all they deal with strange creatures and a magic kingdom, start and end in real life. In fact, if truth be told, I liked the bit where Lucy and the others were in the wardrobe with the mothballs, and the bit where they tumbled out of the wardrobe, rather better than the bits in between. I like the beginning of Voyage of the Dawn Treader where the sea in the picture starts to move, but I'm not too keen on Reepecheep, the talking mouse. I particularly liked Polly's den in the roof in The Magician's Nephew and the scene in Uncle Andrew's study in the Victorian London terrace house where the rings are humming.
Without some reality, books, for me, are dull. Plays, too. Something - not much, but something - has to happen, and it should be at least plausible. This is why Beckett leaves me cold. People don't sit around in piles of mud or in dustbins (unless they're Top Cat), so why make them? Beckett is boring, Tolkien is boring and nearly all science fiction is boring (Brave New World, The Time Machine and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are not science fiction). So is Stockhausen - music should have something resembling a tune. And artists should be able to draw or paint or sculpt.
According to legend, Tolkien scribbled the words: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Having done so, he felt compelled to take it from there. Why? He should have quit while he was ahead.
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