Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
“Bad prose” cost Tolkien Nobel prize

Translated excerpt from a Dutch newspaper article (NRC-Handelsblad of 7 January 2012)

“Bad prose” cost Tolkien Nobel prize

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “bad prose” and the work of Alberto Moravia suffered from monotony. No, compare with that the “epic power” of the Yugoslavian author Ivo Andric, author of “The bridge across the Drina”.
You have never heard of Andric? He was the Nobel laureate for literature in 1961. The recently opened archives of the Nobel prize committee revealed that, in addition to Tolkien and Moravia, the writers Lawrence Durrell and E.M. Forster and the poet Robert Frost were nominated.  Graham Greene ended in second and Karen Blixen in third place in 1961.  …….
Apparently, not only literary considerations determined the choice of Andric . The report of secretary Österling stated that “his Bosnian Trilogy reveals, for the first time, the individuality of a people and the fate of its history”. (end of citation)

It is interesting to read these comments after 50 years. Then, as now, it was apparently important to make the “politically correct” choice.  

I had, indeed, never heard of Andric but I have read and enjoyed the works of most of the other nominated authors.  But none of them has had such a lasting impact on me, and many of my contemporaries, as Tolkien. His style may not be to everybody’s taste but he succeeded magnificently in the “art of sub-creation”.  And I am delighted to see that new generations of readers have emerged ever since his books first appeared. They don't become "dated" as those that are "politically correct" at a certain historical moment in time often do.

Cover of Tom Shippey's book: J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century (ISBN 978-0-261-10401-3)

  • 1
And I am delighted to see that new generations of readers have emerged ever since his books first appeared. They don't become "dated" as those that are "politically correct" at a certain historical moment in time often do. Me too. I've never read anything before or since that has pulled me so completely into another world. Nor have I re-read any other work as many times as I have LotR.

After I had finished reading LOTR for the first time, I started again right at the beginning. And this cycle repeated itself many times. It was the need for an alternative reality in which the choice between "good" and "bad" still existed. And that will never be outdated.

i second what Addie says. After repeated readings, LOTR still has the power to charm and pull me into its universe. I read it first at 13 and remember my feelings then. My adult (and markedly middle-aged) feelings are not exactly the same. I had more innocence and less experience of life in those days. I couldn't see the .....totality of the whole thing.

Know what? The brilliant thing is that I still can't, but it has informed me, made me better and larger (in both the Pippin-esque and other sorts of ways)than i was.

LOTR may wear the disguise of a fantasy book, but it is ever so much more than that. It succeeds on every level I can think of.

And it doesn't really matter to me if the Nobel folks did not find LOTR worthy of an award. Their business is not concerned with the the heart.

My only wish is that JRRT might have had more monetary compensation for all the work he put into his universe. I think he well could have used it.

I have two things that I wonder about, in light of this reveal:

1) is the Nobel organization at all embarrassed by this omission, commission (or whatever...). Hindsight being 20/20, are they kicking themselves and hiding in their smials?

2) will this reveal help or hurt The Hobbit (or have no effect at all)?

I think you have to view it as a given that these sorts of prizes have some sort of political tag attached to them...or that it will seem so. And I think, also, that it is another given that many of the authors who receive the prize will not be remembered in 50 years, being either so high-brow as to not be truly accessible to the masses, or their work only topical for that moment in time.

I often think about the Oscars where ROTK took home every award it was nominated for. That meant a lot for the folks involved in this enterprise. But where did they spend their time after that ceremony? With the people who truly loved them and the films! An Oscar brings you money and recognition (same as a Nobel), but the fans, the ....common folk who breathe and live this world....that is where the true over-the-top joy of that moment lived. And that, I think, was their ultimate award.

At the end of the day, we have given our own prize. It is called:


That was *our* Professor. He wrote and lived a noble life. Lye mela lle, Professor, Lye mela lle!

If they're not embarrassed... they *should* be!


i feel sorry for them. I really do.

That was a heartfelt comment jan-u-win, and I agree with every word you said. I read LOTR for the first time in my early twenties, and after I had "lived a bit". I first read it in Dutch. And I still remember that I started at the beginning again right after I had come to the end. And not once but several times. Later on, when my English improved, the same thing happened with the English version. Eventually I had "read it to death". But, after an interval of years, I found I could read it again because I, myself, had changed as a person. That has now happened several times and I am grateful every time it happens. For me, the magic is still in the gravity of the tale. It deals with good and evil, with fate, with self-sacrifice, with "the soul".

If any of the original Nobel committee are still alive, I sincerely hope they feel utterly ashamed of themselves. These people are appointed for life and their decisions tell more about them than about the works they are judging (as is the case with all awards IMO). Do you know the films of Ingmar Bergman, a Swede himself but extremely critical of the culture he came from? I was reminded of his film Fanny og Alexander. It features a Lutheran bishop (the stepfather of the two children) who has strict moral principles but is utterly devoid of a SOUL.

I don't think this reveal will have any effect on the Hobbit. The audience is just so different.

Like the LOTR-film's cast & crew had their reward at the OneRing party after the Oscars, I think Tolkien had some kind of reward from the immense popularity his books had gained by the end of his life. Although, like Niggle, he would have liked to have been able to complete his "Tree" (the Silmarillion).

He was a truly a great man.

It's a marvel, LOTR is. An absolute marvel.

in my heart of hearts, I would have to say that, if the any of that Nobel committee is still alive, that they likely stand by their choice, although I also would think (and hope)that they'd concede that, on a personal level, it was (its "weaknesses" aside! (sheesh)) a good and powerful book, one with meaning, not only for our times, but *all* times.

Dark Lords, like Blue Meanies, *have* been spotted in the vicinity of......well, wherever you live. And it seems there is only one way to defeat them.....by the liberal and frequent application of the ideals and the true "magic" espoused by LOTR: love.

It must have been frustrating to JRR not to have completed the written Silmarillion. But I think that tree was full-grown and a'blossom in his head. And (no Niggl(e)ing about it) that surely counts for a lot.

A great man, indeed.

My VERY favorite way to experience LOTR is through the amazing voice of Rob Inglis. If you've never listened to him read the unabridged LOTR you have missed a real treat. His magnificent voice with Tolkien's majestic language are a marriage made in the Blessed Lands.

Give it a try if you ever get the chance.


That HE could lose the Nobel for 'bad prose' just boggles my mind.

What was WRONG with those people??


Dry sticks lacking a soul!

Lord, girl, you've got THAT right!



Thanks for this. I'm going straight to amazon.com and order Shippey's book. The only Karen Blixen I've read is the book Out of Africa is based on. I'll have to check what else she wrote. I love Graham Greene and Lawrence Durrell.

LOVE your icon. My feelings, exactly. Bookshelf space also becomes limiting! Nevertheless, do you know Tom Shippey's "The road to Middle Earth" (2005)ISBN 0- 261-10275-3? It has a chapter on "Peter Jackson's film versions". Well worth reading for a fan of the films.

I have that book. Another you should read is Peter Jackson: A Film-maker's Journey by Brian Sibley. I had to buy it from amazon.co/uk because it wasn't available in the US when it was first published. It is now though, due in part, maybe, to a campaign I initiated with the US branch of Random House Publishers. I became quite friendly with Brian while I was encouraging Random House to make the book available here. It's a biography, but 80% of it is devoted to LOTR. I couldn't put the book down once I started it. It's fascinating.

Read about that book but don't have it. Thanks for the tip. Going to order it online.

You're welcome. I'm certain you will love the book.

  • 1