awkwardly

Sunday

Critque of the Rings

I'm reading a revisionist "apocryphal" version of Lord of the Rings called The Last Ringbearer by Kirill Yeskov. Imagine that everything you read was wrong, that LOTR was propaganda and the good people of Mordor were fighting to defend themselves. It was written in Russian and hasn't been sanctioned by Tolkien's estate, as if that matters, but a non-commercial English translation by Yisroel Markov is now available. (That's a 1 Mb pdf file, 139k words.)
By Wappen_Erbstetten.png: Source: http://www.burgstetten.de composed, modified and transparency added by User:Enslin. derivative work: Rondador (Wappen_Erbstetten.png) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There are quirks or flaws in it, and I can't tell if they are errors in translation, errors in the writing or editing, or just part of the way that Russian novels are different from English ones. For example after two interesting chapters that draw you into the story by focusing on some sympathetic Mordor characters on the run, chapter three starts like this:
Two types of climate epochs follow one another in the history of any world, including Middle Earth – pluvial and arid; the growth and shrinking of polar ice caps follow a single rhythm, which is a sort of a pulse of a planet.

Now that's scary. But easy to skim or skip over the chapter if you get totally bored, and there aren't a lot of raw exposition dumps like that. The quirks or flaws seem small enough to overlook so far, and overall I'd recommend it.

Anyway, in the course of looking up this story, I saw a comment thread on Metafilter about it, where people pointed out essays by Michael Moorcock, David Brin, China Mieville, and one by Kirill Yeskov explaining why he wrote his apocryphal treatment. Most of them are critiquing Tolkien, saying much worse things than I would have expected. They talk politics and whether escapism is good or bad, whether fantasy must always be comforting and reassuring and have happy endings (yes! no! maybe).

Epic Pooh by Michael Moorcock. (written in 1989 but updated since then.)
'The sort of prose most often identified with "high" fantasy is the prose of the nursery-room. It is a lullaby; it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth-music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles; it makes friends with you; it tells you comforting lies.' Moorcock compares a few paragraphs from Tolkien against A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh), L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), C. S. Lewis (Narnia), Ursula K. Le Guin, and a lot of other fantasy writers that I now want to try. I knew that Moorcock had a reputation as being contrarian and kinda crotchety, but was surprised that he had such a dim view of Tolkien and Lewis. And he's not the only one . . .

J.R.R. Tolkien -- enemy of progress by David Brin. (2002)
Doesn't it make you feel a little weird when you remember that all the good guys in LOTR are fighting to put a king in power, or fighting on behalf of their local aristocrats like Theoden? Sure, we know that Aragorn is a good guy, but would you rather have a good king or a democracy? Brin points out how Tolkien and many other fantasy stories indulge our yearning for a simpler time when men were men, women mostly knew their place, and politics was simpler because we could rely on benevolent leaders to decide for us. Brin talks about Romanticism and the Enlightenment, future versus past, tradition and nostalgia versus progress, and how these differences are reflected in Star Wars and Star Trek.

Fantasy and revolution: an interview with China Miéville (2000)
Why has fantasy literature so often appeared to be conservative and reactionary? Please don't freak out too much about the fact that this comes from International Socialism Journal, or that Miéville is a Marxist.

How and why I wrote an apocryphal treatment of The Lord of the Rings by Kirill Yeskov, translated by Markov.
Discusses Tolkien and Middle Earth, the differences between sequels and "apocryphal" stories. Ends with the line "Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead – long live Rozenkrantz and Gildenstern!"

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