Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Epic Pooh - A Timely Antidote To Hobbitses

It's hard not to be swept up in the enthusiasm for The Hobbit. I mean the movie, rather than all the GW products, which (as with the LoTR) leave me soundly unmoved. As I'm reading Michael Moorcock's rollicking epic fantasy series The History of The Runestaff at the moment I remembered that he'd written something wonderfully damning on Tolkien - it is, of course, his excellent essay Epic Pooh. (The link takes you to an up-dated version). 

This collided with another recent ponderance of mine that I've never - never - successfully re-watched the LoTRs movies. My only attempt, with the fattened version of The Fellowship... ended about half way through. It's actually rather dull and un-compelling (aside from the fact that they could've just flown to the end of the third book, blah, blah, blah).

Don't leave the Shire because all experience beyond is dangerous. And everyone you meet will be a thinly veiled racial stereotype.  
If you've never read Moorcock's essay then I urge you to now. Some highlights include:

On Tolkien and 'merrie England':
"Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down; they haven't got the approval yet to put a new one in."

On 'the Shire':
"The little hills and woods of that Surrey of the mind, the Shire, are "safe", but the wild landscapes everywhere beyond the Shire are "dangerous". Experience of life itself is dangerous. The Lord of the Rings is a pernicious confirmation of the values of a declining nation with a morally bankrupt class whose cowardly self-protection is primarily responsible for the problems England answered with the ruthless logic of Thatcherism. Humanity was derided and marginalised. Sentimentality became the acceptable subsitute. So few people seem to be able to tell the difference."

On the strangely undeveloped sense of what 'evil' is:
"After all, anyone who hates hobbits can't be all bad."

And a broadside on crappy mainstream sf and fantasy:
"If the bulk of American sf could be said to be written by robots, about robots, for robots, then the bulk of English fantasy seems to be written by rabbits, about rabbits and for rabbits."


  1. An Interesting post. I knew nothing of Moorcock's hatred of Tolkien and Adams before now, but having read his essay, I understand with a bit more clarity why it is that I've always loved and pored over and returned again and again to Tolkien's writings and to Watership Down, but have had a hard time sticking to anything of Moorcock's that wasn't in a graphic format illustrated by P. Craig Russell. Of course I never put Moorcock in anything like the same league as Tolkien or Adams, so there was never any need to seriously compare them. There still isn't.

    Totally agree with you about the films. For me, they're unwatchable. To anyone who can enjoy them, I say more power to you, but I'll stick with the books.

    Well, that's quite enough life experience for me for this evening. It gets dangerous out here in the blogosphere, as you know, and that alarms my small-minded, middle-class sensibilities. Now it's back to my rabbit hole and, you know, my quasi-fascist, petit bourgeois nursery language books by Tolkien and Adams which I've loved for years because I'm a racist or something.

    1. I should say that I've always loved The Hobbit. I think it's actually a wonderful oral narrative that just begs to be read aloud. Once my son is a little older (he's currently 3) I'll read it to him at bedtime and I know the experience will be wonderful for both of us. Obviously Moorcock over eggs this particular pudding and as I hadn't done anything vaguely controversial on here for a while I thought I'd stick this out there.

      I like the way Moorcock shakes things up and lays bare aspects of the national psyche that have shaped - and continue to shape - my own tastes and preferences.

    2. And I should say that I do enjoy my subscription to the Marienburg Gazette. And I do appreciate your posting of Moorcock's article, crass and preposterous though I think that article is, because I believe that truth is good. And I now know a truth I didn't know before, namely that Michael Moorcock is a posturing and a pretentious jackass...a B writer who, rather than tip his hat to an A writer, will gladly drag that writer's works through a slough of unadulterated bullshit if he thinks he can possibly increase his own stature by doing so. Don't believe I'll ever look at the creator of Elric through the same lens again.
      Hrrm. Anyway. I do enjoy the blog. You have some great minis and fun features here. Cheers.

    3. Thank you Mouse. I suppose I'm just a fluff bunny trying to be an anarcho-cyborg-rabbit...

  2. It's not as if Moorcock's writing isn't raddled with tedious ponderings about improbable metaphysics, which dress up his pulp potboilers to the point where he can call them 'speculative fiction' with a straight face. At his best Moorcock is inventive and workmanlike, at his worst he's a self-indulgent boor who urgently needs collaborators in order to make him remotely interesting. Best thing he's ever done was Silverheart if you ask me, and that was the one where he wrote a plot for Storm Constantine to put some original and interesting characters in it.

    I still quite agree with 'Epic Pooh', though. That said, I also still re-read Tolkien. That Moorcock's claims are valid does not invalidate Tolkien, Adams or anyone else who he lambasts - it's a call to read critically rather than uncritically, and a lament that it wasn't something like Gormenghast that lent its shape to the genre, if we must have a fantasy 'genre' at all.

    1. Yes I completely agree that Moorcock is at his best when he's dashing out pulp with hardly a moment to rest on one idea before flitting to the next. I found his Doctor Who book so irritating and self indulgent that I couldn't read anything else by him for a year.


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