Tolkien and Relevance

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Ebert’s full statement is “That it falls a little shy of greatness is perhaps inevitable. The story is just a little too silly to carry the emotional weight of a masterpiece. It is a melancholy fact that while the visionaries of a generation ago, like Coppola with ‘Apocalypse Now,’ tried frankly to make films of great consequence, an equally ambitious director like Peter Jackson is aiming more for popular success. The epic fantasy has displaced real contemporary concerns, and audiences are much more interested in Middle Earth than in the world they inhabit.”

Ebert here takes what Tolkien critic Tom Shippey would call an “English Lit” point of view towards fantasy. Relevance is only available to those who use realism in their fiction. Shippey points out that some of the most important authors of the 20th century have used one form or another of the fantastic mode to address ‘real contemporary concerns’: Orwell, Golding, Vonnegut and more. I summarize Shippey’s interesting analysis of Tolkien’s relevance here.

5:35 pm on December 17, 2003
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