But Richard isn't the first prominent SF/F writer to discuss the many flaws in Tolkien's work. In the Fall 2000 issue of International Socialism Journal, China Mieville discusses Tolkien at length, both the debt that the fantasy genre owes him as well as the serious problems with Tolkien's most famous published work:
For Tolkien, the function of his fantasy fiction is 'consolation'. If you read his essay 'On Fairy Tales' you find that, for him, central to fantasy is 'the consolation of the happy ending'. He pretends that such a happy ending is something that occurs 'miraculously', 'never to be counted on to recur'. But that pretence of contingency is idiotic, in that immediately previously he claims that 'all complete fairy stories must have it [the happy ending]. It is its highest function.' In other words, far from 'never being counted to recur', the writer and reader know that to qualify as fantasy, a 'consolatory' happy ending will recur in every story, and you have a theory of fantasy in which 'consolation' is a matter of policy. It's no surprise that this kind of fantasy is conservative. Tolkien's essay is as close as it gets to most modern fantasy's charter, and he's defined fantasy as literature which mollycoddles the reader rather than challenging them.And over at the Tor.com blog, Kate Nepveu has been systematically re-reading and writing fascinating commentary on every chapter of the The Lord of the Rings, one chapter at a time.
In Tolkien, the reader is intended to be consoled by the idea that systemic problems come from outside agitators, and that decent people happy with the way things were will win in the end. This is fantasy as literary comfort food. Unfortunately, a lot of Tolkien's heirs--who may not share his politics at all--have taken on many tropes that embed a lot of those notions in their fantasy.
So I wanted to open this up to a wider debate, since I know that so many of the readers of this blog are fans of and/or writers of genre fiction:
JRR Tolkien: Do you love his work? Hate it? Why?
Jump into the conversation!