Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

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Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by halfwise on Thu Jan 01, 2015 2:27 am

Has anybody here read any Michael Moorcock? Came across the article below. I've never read any Moorcock, but if he nurtured the likes of Samuel Delaney then I must be a fan of his. I have to admit his critique of Tolkien as a place where readers 'will see not the “beautiful chaos of reality,” but “stability and comfort and safe catharsis”' rings true. Though I wouldn't call this a criticism so much as an observation.

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http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/anti-tolkien

The Anti-Tolkien
BY PETER BEBERGAL


Michael Moorcock once wrote, “I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas”
This month, the author Michael Moorcock celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday, which, as fate would have it, fell in the same month that Peter Jackson closed out his hexology of films that began with “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship the Ring” and ended with “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” The latter is the third part of Jackson’s “The Hobbit” sequence, a book once considered a delightful fable that has been torn asunder to make its story fit in with the vast continuity of the earlier films, while also trying to honor every one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s footnotes, appendices, and letters. The films are astonishing Hollywood spectacles, and for those of us who grew up reading the books and playing elves in Dungeons & Dragons, it was a thrill seeing those characters realized on screen. Gollum and Sauron and Aragorn were drawn from mythic tropes but are now so integral to science-fiction and fantasy culture that they have become tropes themselves. But Moorcock, one of the most prolific living fantasists, sees Tolkien’s creation as little more than a conservative vision of the status quo, an adventure that brings its hero “There and Back Again,” rather than into a world where experience means you can’t go home again. Moorcock thinks Tolkien’s vast catalogue of names, places, magic rings, and dwarven kings is, as he told Hari Kunzru in a 2011 piece for The Guardian, “a pernicious confirmation of the values of a morally bankrupt middle class.”



Nevertheless, Moorcock might be someone to trust in these matters. From his first job, editing a Tarzan fan magazine at the age of seventeen, to his seventieth novel, which will be released in January, he has essentially written the other style guide for modern fantasy. Moorcock is the author of an almost uncountable number of short stories; he’s edited anthologies, written critical books of nonfiction and had his novel “Mother London” shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. With that output, Moorcock is likely to have written some duds, but he is quick to acknowledge his own limitations. He once wrote, “I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas”

It is also a lovely irony that it was fifty years ago this year that Moorcock, then twenty-four years old, was offered the editorial helm of the British magazine New Worlds. It was there that the young editor called foul on the old guard of science fiction and fantasy by publishing writers who—with a counterculture fire under their feet—changed the very course of science fiction and fantasy: J. G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny, and Samuel R. Delany, to name a few. It was also here that Moorcock gave a platform for some of the most insightful critiques of Tolkien’s vast influence.

Moorcock and his peers had become tired of the dominant science-fiction landscape: vast fields of time travel, machismo, and spaceships, as well as the beefcake heroes of the fantasy subgenre “Sword and Sorcery.” The Golden Age of Science Fiction, held aloft by authors like Frederik Phol, John W. Campbell, and Robert Heinlein had, by the nineteen-sixties, sputtered out into a recycling of the same ideas. Within the pages of New Worlds, Moorcock created a literary revolution, one that would have science fiction fans calling for his head. It would be termed New Wave, and it was characterized by an insistence that speculative fiction doesn’t need to rely on laser blasters, one-eyed Martians, and sub-light engines to expand its imagination. The stories in New Worlds under Moorcock were often experimental, sometimes pushing the boundaries of what some considered good taste. His first editorial, titled “A New Literature for the Space Age,” set the bar high:

More and more people are turning away from the fast-stagnating pool of the conventional novel — and they are turning to science fiction (or speculative fantasy). This is a sign, among others, that a popular literary renaissance is around the corner. Together, we can accelerate that renaissance.
Not even Tolkien’s vast philological scholarship, his deep knowledge of mythology, and his world-building skills could impress what Moorcock and company saw as a troublesome infantilism inherent in Tolkien’s work. In a 1971 essay in New Worlds, the writer M. John Harrison acknowledges Tolkien’s position as the first and last word in fantastic fiction, but begs readers to look more closely, where they will see not the “beautiful chaos of reality,” but “stability and comfort and safe catharsis.” In 1978, Moorcock did a more thorough takedown in an essay called “Epic Pooh,” in which he compares Tolkien and his hobbits to A. A. Milne and his bear.


But the message was not getting through. In 1973, long before Tolkien’s characters would become internet memes and Lego figures, the British don died and left behind a pop culture landscape that was quickly being populated by elves, orcs, and hobbits. Tolkien could be found in songs, Harvard Lampoon parodies, and hippie slogans (“Frodo Lives!”). By the early nineteen-eighties, “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy had spawned not only adaptations in the form of cartoons and animated motion pictures, but had established the dominant flavor of fantasy books, games, and films.

Because Moorcock is a fiction writer, it was only fitting that he would offer a critique of Tolkien through his own work. In the nineteen-seventies, swimming in the shadows like a remora alongside Tolkien’s legacy, was a hero of sorts with a slightly darker nature than that of Bilbo or Gandalf. His name is Elric, a frail, drug-addicted albino and the reluctant ruler of the kingdom of Melniboné, where revenge and hedonism are abiding characteristics, and human beings are enslaved. The inhabitants of Melniboné are not the spiritual, almost angelic elves of Lothlórien, but a race of decadent autocrats whose magical gifts are bestowed by demons. While Elric loves his people, he despises their selfishness, and the stories and novels follow Elric across strange lands and times as he tries to come to terms with his own internal struggle with his companion, Stormbringer, a sentient sword that feeds off the souls of those Elric kills.

Moorcock’s influence is nothing like Tolkien’s, at least on the surface, but his vision of a speculative-fiction genre that can be psychologically complex is evident in how very sophisticated some of it has become—from “True Detective” to Jeff VanderMeer, from David Mitchell to “Under the Skin.” But Moorcock also embraces the joy of pulp, and, like Tolkien, his creations are namedropped and sourced high and low.

Rock and roll has proved to be one of the more potent vehicles for enshrining both Tolkien and Moorcock’s characters in pop culture. For all the claims of devil worship lobbed at Led Zeppelin, Satan doesn’t make a single appearance in their lyrics. Tolkien is where their real allegiance lies, with references to Gollum, Mordor, the Misty Mountains, and Ringwraiths. Moorcock, however, came of age during rock’s ascension and understood rock’s power to give electrified life to his creations. Moorcock worked directly with bands like Hawkwind and Blue Öyster Cult as both a spiritual and literary guru. And, like Tolkien’s characters, Moorcock’s heroes and anti-heroes appear in comic books and role-playing games. But more often his presence is seen the form of loving nods as, when, in the “Game of Thrones” television series, someone yells out “Stormbringer” when King Joffrey asks for possible names for his sword.

Moorcock’s literary agitation shook the fantasy and science-fiction establishment and made it possible for writers to step outside the long shadow of Tolkien and other fantasy devices. And frail Elric, dependent on a soul-stealing sword to keep his kingdom from utter dissolution, is a necessary corrective to the bloat of something like the “Hobbit” movie trilogy. Elric is not high art by any means, but is as rich and complex as anything calling itself fantasy. And the Elric stories are terrific fun. But, more importantly, Elric is not about abstract ideas of good and evil, with faceless powers looking to strip the world of its trees and its hobbit holes. Elric is about law and chaos, and how, sometimes, choosing one over the other is no more or less just.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Jan 01, 2015 2:54 am

I am sure I read some Moorcock as a teenager but for the life of me cant remember what.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Orwell on Thu Jan 01, 2015 4:08 am

I am a Moorcock fan -- though I don't agree with his views on Tolkien. Moorcock isn't in Tolkien's league and his views on Tolkien are weightless, but I liked some of his books - especially the Dancers at the End of Time trilogy, a definite favorite of mine!  cheers The Swords (Corrum) trilogy is fun too, along with the Runestaff (Hawkmoon) quatology. Very Happy Also the steam punk time traveller (Airship? scratch ) ones, can't think of the names of those books off hand. New Year memory loss perhaps... pub Didn't care for Elric or the emphasis on the whole Eternal Champion thingee though... Suspect

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Jan 01, 2015 5:37 am

Orwell!!! cheers Happy New Year Cobber (is that friendly Aussie slang or... scratch drunken ) Good to see you back again. Just in time for a New Years drink, I'll have a bag of peanuts with mine thanks. drunken pub

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Forest Shepherd on Fri Jan 02, 2015 4:09 am

What a dick. Rolling Eyes

Edit:
I mean, he is to Tolkien as Phillip Pullman is to C. S. Lewis (except that I liked Phillip Pullman's series and I haven't read Moorcock yet).

P.S.
I just noticed it, and I swear my first response was not an intentional play on words!

P.P.S.
I mean, what's the big deal? That Moorcock put out fantasy writing that conformed to post-modern moral disillusionment? I mean, congratulations, but it's fantasy writing; bugger off.

P.P.P.S.
And yeah, like Petty pointed out (or was it Halfwise?), this whole "Tolkien as Black and White Morality Writer" is frivolous poppycock brought on by simplistic misunderstandings of the material involved. Worldviews don't even come into it, this is a matter of pseudo-intellectual reductionism!
Everyone knows, Tolkien is more about those shades of grey. Razz

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Mrs Figg on Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:02 pm

he mentioned the Grey word Shocked


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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Mrs Figg on Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:11 pm

Halfy can you recommend a Moorcock for beginners? sounds interesting stuff but not sure which book to begin with.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by halfwise on Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:26 pm

I haven't read anything by him. Orwell has, prod him.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by halfwise on Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:34 pm

Actually Orwell DID make recommendations, just read up a few posts.

I can recommend works by Samuel Delaney; my only connections to Moorcock is the links people have made between him and Tolkien, and the fact that he recognized and nurtured the talent of Delaney.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Orwell on Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:53 am

I HAVEN'T TRIED TO READ pULMAN. hIS VIEWS ON c.s PISSED ME OFF IMMEDIATELY. i SAW THE sPYGLASS MOVIE. nOT MY THING. i JUST REALIZED MY UPPERCASE AND LOWERCASE ARE TOPSY TURVY... that's better... Pulman takes himself too seriously for mine. Tolkien was a serious writer and he didn't take himself (as a person) too seriously.

Moorcock took himself more seriously with time. I didn't read him after he got that way.

Mrs Figg. My definite favorite is the Dancers at the End of Time trilogy. I rate it very very highly. A departure - though not a total departure - from his Sword and Sorcery stuff of that period of his writing. The books are An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and Dancers at the End of Time. It's a tale about the decandent humans at the end of Time, one of whom meets a woman time traveller from Victorian England. Farcial, imaginative, and very very romatic in my opinion. You know me - I like my old fashion romance - especially if it occurs at the decadent (and often ridiculous) End of Time. Actually, it's on my list of all time second favorites after Tolkien. It sits alongside with Jack Vance's four part Planet of Adventure* series in my heart. Tolkien, of course, is my Number One -- or should I say, my Eru. Nod

*The individual books are City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, The Pnume. For daft Politically Corrct reasons, sometimes The Wankh are now the Wanneker or similar. God that shits me! I miss Fanny and Dick from the Faraway Tree too.. Mad  

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Mrs Figg on Tue Jan 06, 2015 2:43 pm

thanks Orwell. Very Happy

and the Golden Compass film is NOTHING like the book. Mad the book is great.
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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:02 pm

Petty, I dream of a time when you actually buy me a buckie...- Orwell

So long as you are only dreaming about it thats fine! Nod

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by azriel on Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:30 pm

I see the BBC is advertising "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" for a spring/summer showing on TV ? & I thought of you Forest Very Happy

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Radaghast on Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:32 pm

I think I read one, maybe two, Elric books. Can't remember which ones.

Anyway, it's funny to see this article because I was kind of struck how Turin Turambar and his black sword reminded me of Elric and his black sword. Not that I ever assumed Moorcock was influenced by or read Tolkien. But maybe he should have before he opens his big yap, since the tale of Turin is hardly about going "there and getting safely back again."

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Forest Shepherd on Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:59 pm

azriel wrote:I see the BBC is advertising "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" for a spring/summer showing on TV ? & I thought of you Forest Very Happy
Thanks Azriel!

You guys should look through the list of actors if you like, there's no really big names, but quite a diverse group of people.
The actor who played Thoros of Myr in Game of Thrones has a small role in it.
Charlotte Riley (who is married to Tom Hardy) plays Strange's wife.
While the titular characters are played by:

Strange played by Bertie Carvel (who I remember briefly as the banker in an episode of Sherlock):



and, in what I believe to be a terrible miscasting (although we shall see!), Eddie Marsan as Mr. Norrell:




Mr. Norrell is an incredibly insecure older gentleman who is rather weak physically with a penchant for deceiving others and mistranslating England's history of Magic in order to protect his stature as the preeminent modern magician in England (and probably the world, as the English consider themselves the cream of the crop). It's just not a role I'd see him filling very well, but who knows.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Orwell on Wed Jan 07, 2015 4:19 am

Have thought about reading Norrell - the book. Is it truly good?

As to magic swords (or anything else), Moorcock is very inventive, but alas! as to his inventing anything new, whether swords or other, much as I like him, he hasn't.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by azriel on Wed Jan 07, 2015 10:32 am

Well, I like the look of it & when it airs Im gonna give it a go Very Happy especially as Im finding it difficult to focus on reading.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Mrs Figg on Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:07 pm

Eddie marsan is a very good actor indeed. I didn't know his name before you posted his photo but I remember he did a stint in Law and Order UK as a neurotic and brilliant defence lawyer. He was the highlight of the show. I haven't read Mr Morell but it sounds right up my street. Very Happy actually it sounds like the Bartimaeus trilogy for adults.
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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Forest Shepherd on Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:41 pm

It is a good book, with many excellent passages. The one shortcoming it has it that it sprawls a little bit. The narrative does move forward, to be sure, and in a mostly linear fashion. But it doesn't have the building directness one sees in, say, a Harry Potter book. It's more like a novel from the 19th century in that regard.
That being said, it is wonderfully ironic and satirical in all the best places (when dealing with 19th century racism or British superiority or Class struggle), and the author's characterizations are very good.
It's not for everyone, but you might as well try it out. The reason I'm not as excited about it as I once was is that I am currently rereading it due to a shortage of other good books around the house. For a first-time read though, it is a delicious reading choice.

P.S.
(It's hilariously apt, by the way, that you're all calling it simply "Mr. Norrell" as that character would certainly want his name, and his alone, to be remembered. Razz  )


P.P.S.
I do agree that Eddie Marsan is an excellent actor, but he often plays very angry characters. It is that aspect of his abilities that does not suit the character of Mr. Norrell (at all) and for which I am concerned.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by azriel on Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:57 pm

I just looked that guy up, hes done a shed load of films etc Wink I have seen him play someone a bit slow or dim witted ? It might work out ? I bet it does Very Happy

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Orwell on Thu Jan 08, 2015 11:56 am

One day - when I'm back in the fantasy-reading frame of mind - I might give Mr Norell a try. Thankee.

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Orwell on Thu Jan 08, 2015 11:59 am

Not sure this needs a Thrread of it's own, so as I'm already here, here, in true Forumshiran tradition, will do...   Nod

I just finished watching Cowboys and Aliens. With no expectations. Chanced upon it flicking through stations, and remembered a trailer I saw maybe when I saw the first Hobbit movie. Thought it sounded like a fun idea at the time and promptly forgot about it. (Maybe the first Hobbit movie damaged my sensory organ more than I realize!  Shocked ) Anyway, chancing upon it, I watched without expectations and I enjoyed it a lot. Cowboys and Indians on the same side! Gotta like that. Let's face it, the only good evil alien is a dead evil alien. Very Happy

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by halfwise on Sun Jan 11, 2015 10:47 pm

No/low expectations are good. Nod
(But try patiently explaining that to women you are trying to date and it gets you exactly nowhere.)

Scantily clad Olivia Wildes are even better. cyclops

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Orwell on Mon Jan 12, 2015 12:52 am

One must enjoy the good bits and ignore the bad in modern cinema... um... you know what I mean. Very Happy

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Re: Moorcock, the anti-Tolkien?

Post by Forest Shepherd on Sat Apr 25, 2015 10:15 am


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The way is in Boar in Brockhall
Under ale, under bread, under cheese.

-Mossflower, by Brian Jacques.
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Forest Shepherd
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Posts : 3504
Join date : 2013-11-02
Age : 26
Location : Northern California

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