Moorcock's essay on conservativism in fantasy

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Tanniel, Nov 18, 2016.

  1. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Pretty much what I thought of this essay, only you have managed to express your ideas far more eloquently than I did.
    This why you write books and why I only read them…
  2. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    You are too kind. =)
  3. Nuomer1

    Nuomer1 Journeyed there and back again

    I admit that I only tried one book (plus a couple of short extracts that mis-guided friends have offered me over the years . . . . )
    But I also attended several Cons back in the early '70s (I was on the committee for Novacon 1) and so observed Mr Moorcock on panels and in the bar. I admit I did not actually engage him in deep conversation, but I was close enough to observe other friends who did. I did not much enjoy his company. Purely a personal reaction.
  4. Lyric Blade

    Lyric Blade Philosophizes with Kellhus

    Does it seem to anyone else that Moorcock presents his narrow focus on the Shire and neglect of most of Tolkien's writing as if that were somehow a merit of his criticism? It seems very odd to me. I remember frequently being told that one must take into account all aspects of a work, not only one part of it if one is to provide a fully informed critique.

    If the Shire were the only civilization in the Middle Earth that matters in the story, if it was Sauron vs the hobbits and that was it, then I could see how the conclusions about Tolkien being a conservative ruralist would make sense... except that is not what the Lord of the Rings is all about at all... at least not merely. You also have elves and dwarves, immortal wizards, men from different cities and even the forest itself fighting against the forces of darkness. Tolkien's Middle Earth is pretty diverse and a great variety of many very different kinds of society and civilization are represented as all having value. Sauron is not anti rural as much as he is anti civilization in any form, unless Moorcock would call an endless concentration camp in which everyone is either a slave, dead or both a civilization.

    So... besides the mistake of conflating political views and quality as Tanniel and Elvira discussed, I really don't think Moorcock's analysis of Tolkien's implicit perspective is accurate. Tolkien may be conservative in other ways, but the claims about the extent and specific nature of that conservatism seem weakly supported at best. His points on Lewis seem somewhat solid, but his reading of Tolkien strikes me as over all superficial and irreverently lazy. Does anyone else feel the same way?

    EDIT: Expanded a few points, added a little clarification.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2016
  5. David Sims

    David Sims Told lies with Locke

    Moorcock does seem fond of complex sentences. And of rambling while he makes them.
  6. David Sims

    David Sims Told lies with Locke

    I've looked around a bit. It seems like there's a leftist vs. right-wing political storm brewing, and Moorcock might be part of the part of it in the UK. There has been more going on that has a similar character. A fantasy novel titled The Glorious Path, written by Seth Cooper, is being targeted by leftists as an endorsement of fascism. The author says that it is just a fantasy novel in which mankind must raise itself to the status of Nietszche's "superman" because the Gods have abandoned the world. If the Marxist left is targeting fantasy, then there's probably more activity of this kind.
  7. Nuomer1

    Nuomer1 Journeyed there and back again

    Not available on Kindle in UK, and hardback out of stock and almost £25 when it is available . . .
    Not much chance of me (or anyone else!) reading that and being indoctrinated by any concealed message!
    Even so . . . Some minor subgenres of Fantasy have always been susceptible to political as well as religious extremist themes, and sadly not always with the extremists as the bad guys. I am tempted to quote Norman Spinrad's Iron Dream - but I mustn't, I never finished reading it. Someone else may wish to comment. And Heinlein's work, normally counted as SF but sometimes veering towards Fantasy (Stranger in a strange Land, Time Enough For Love, et al) had some distinctly libertarian themes that many people would read as right-wing.
    Generally speaking, F/SF readers are savvy enough to enjoy the books but realise that in the real world those ideas don't fit too well! I even wonder if sometimes the political propositions are in there just for the sake of provoking the reader to find arguments to knock them down (it all good intellectual exercise!).
    This could link back to a discussion I was involved in a few months back about the extent to which an author's personality should influence the reader's reaction to their work. That drifted off into the sexual proclivities of MZB and others - but in politics, it is equally valid, maybe more so.
  8. Sparrow

    Sparrow Journeyed there and back again

    Yeah, that's my conclusion also.
    Moorcock's hero is less attractive than some, but there's still magic swords and demons, and all matter of things to get a teenage boy's cock hard.
    I'll take Tolkien's last gasp of English classism any old day.:)
  9. Sparrow

    Sparrow Journeyed there and back again

    And that's where Moorcock hits on our own prejudices, and he definitely has a point... just wish he was a better writer.:)
  10. Cyphon

    Cyphon Journeyed there and back again

    I didn't read the essay but all I can think about when these issues crop up is "you are doing it wrong". I say that mostly sarcastically, but from my perspective it rings true. I go into movies and fantasy books looking to be entertained, so unless you are beating me over the head with something politically, I probably don't even notice it. If I want to think about those things or do some sort of critical analysis on real world ideas I will pick up a book or movie that is more serious.

    You know what I thought about Lord of the Rings? It was boring. I never once thought about political leanings of the author. I don't know, maybe I am the one that is doing it wrong and not adding much to the thread but I guess ultimately my question is, who gives a shit if an author is conservative or liberal? Just do what I pay you for and write an interesting story.
  11. Nuomer1

    Nuomer1 Journeyed there and back again

    Am I glad you said that! F & SF can be useful vehicles for expressing a philosophical, political, or religious viewpoint - but their principle function (from my point of view) is entertainment! If the author has a religious problem (Tolkien, Lewis) I will probably notice, but provided the work is well written I shall just sigh and read on. If I want serious political arguments I can find them elsewhere.
    Boring . . . actually, if I came to it now, I would probably agree with you. Back in my late teens, in the late 1960s, I really appreciated it. People change, and in this context I think the whole culture has changed.
  12. Cyphon

    Cyphon Journeyed there and back again

    It is odd to think about but I wonder if I had been around when it was first released if I would have different thoughts on it. I know some younger readers still like LotR but it makes for an interesting conversation about when you have read something and what you have to compare it to.
  13. Nuomer1

    Nuomer1 Journeyed there and back again

    LOTR was not the first fantasy to be published, by a very long stretch - but it was a founding source of something . . . the popularisation of fantasy? The shift of 'fairy tales' in o the adult and/or mainstream worlds? I can't find the words for this - but it was VERY widely read in my generation, and became a key strand in the culture. And stayed that way for 10/20 years. However, its reputation suffered greatly over the following 20 years or so as huge numbers of authors began writing in similar worlds, following similar memes. Most of them weren't a patch on Tolkien, but a few could actually write rather better than he did - and in either case, his status was reduced, either by the whole Fantasy genre being damaged by poor writing, or by Tolkien's errors and omissions being pointed out.
    A proper assessment of his work requires extensive study of British history and sociology, roughly 1935 - 1975, maybe later
  14. atheling

    atheling A Poet of the Khaiem

    I read the essay. As others said, it seems like he's saying that Tolkien is conservative because of his syntax and word choice. He goes brushing by some other ways that he might be conservative, and he throws out some interesting tidbits about how he backs away from tension or something--but with no examples, no further explanation. I couldn't possibly repeat a line of this to someone else and make a lick of sense. So, he may be right, but there's no way to say so from what little was here.
  15. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    How much of marketing is based on what you take in without ever realising? (That's both a question and a point, I might have a poor idea of what happens in marketing).
  16. Theophania

    Theophania Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Enough that subliminal advertising is illegal in the UK, apparently!

    In books, of course, it's subliminal education/proselytising/preaching (whether religious or otherwise). Any book that makes you think, or teaches you something you didn't know before, or prompts you to go and look something up, has done more than merely entertain you - whether the author had that intention or not.

    I learned quite a bit about the 19th-century Royal Navy by reading Hornblower and Dudley Pope's Ramage books, and that prompted me to go and read more around the subject. Terry Pratchett is right up there when it comes to political authors, in my opinion; in his heyday (Night Watch and Thud!) he was brilliant at conveying a message, or multiple messages, via a very entertaining an well-told story.

    There's an article here about fiction-reading influencing empathy - but only if the reader is emotionally "transported into the story" - presumably that's figuratively, rather than literally (in the Eyre Affair sense). Interestingly, the researchers found that the increase in empathy after reading fiction didn't happen immediately, but over the several days after reading:

    Theoretically, fictional narratives are more likely to influence behavior over the course of a week rather than directly after the narrative experience, because the process of transformation of an individual needs time to unfold... For instance, people think back and mentally relive the story they have read. The effects of fictional narrative experience may flourish under conditions of an incubation period, in which the changes in empathy become internalized and part of the self-concept...

    Important stuff, fiction. :)
  17. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    I am very familiar with both the essay and the author. This was not my first experience with either, nor was it when I first read it. I started in elementary school reading Lewis, and Engle, (as well as some serials like young Indiana jones) graduated to tolkien but when I got to middle school I wanted something more adult and started reading elric and corum...
    By high-school I wanted something...less adolescent than elric.

    It was in college in between one classic literature book and another that I read the essay I thought it was brilliant and accurate.

    The argument is not about syntax or grammar, that's just more evidence, it's about a serene idyllic world that coddles the reader rather than giving a good hard lesson of fantasy.

    You have to remember that when this essay was written nearly all of the modern fantasy you could read was just like the examples. (Life is good and rural and we must protect it.) Narnia the shire and the hundred acre woods are the same place, a place outside of the world and therefore untouched by industrialism.

    There wasn't any alternatives. Read about rolling cottage speckled hills or don't read fantasy. ( much like in america you read about robots, or you don't read scifi) at the time that is. That's what he was railing against. Moorcock was writing the most hard edge fantasy you could find (teenage Ish now) so his work and this essay helped bring about more hard edge stuff. People started writing darker stuff and grittier stuff. You can blame the all encompassing grey antihero and the gritty stories you see everywhere now on moorcock.

    Before him fantasy was idyllic grass hills best read on a warm sunny spot on a Sunday afternoon.
  18. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    In defense of moorcock..ohh yes Elric is best read by a male teenager but there's more to it than that.

    So his earliest works were more structured like scifi serials. He had Kane of old Mars (with his pen name to set him next to Edgar rice Burroughs) .

    From there it gets into his corum, hawk wind, and elric era... this is all in his genre sword and sorcery (I said his, because he coined the name) this style is all action and male heroes, damsels in distress. (Yes..for male teens. Now. Then it was high school , college and men in their twenties who wanted something harder.)

    But as fantasy changed around him so he did. He was able to write more adult themes, more sophisticated fantasy. He writes steampunk and cloak and dagger, he writes on the early 1900s, and modern 22st century. His essay helped created a revolution that allows so many variants to exist off of when he was writing..only one type.

    EDIT: There's more on moorcock work if you want.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2017
  19. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    Nope. He elaborates by giving an example from Minas Tira the. He states that beyond the borders of the shire, it's still written like the shire is right next door.
  20. Theophania

    Theophania Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I wonder how much of the difference between Tolkien and Moorcock is influenced by where they were coming from? Tolkien was an academic, and his work was heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon literature. Not to say that all academics are divorced from reality, but we have the phrase 'ivory-tower academic' for a reason.

    On the other hand, Moorcock is coming at it from the commercial fiction end of things, where he needed to be very much in touch with what his audience wanted, and 'real life' in general.

    Personally, I can't stand Tolkien: I find him too smug and didactic. That said, Moorcock isn't precisely my cup of tea either. I think I read one of the Elric books and wasn't keen, but The War Hound and the World's Pain was something else again. I've only read it once, but it's stuck with me - in a good way. I liked where he took it, and it seemed to be rather about humanity's capacity to create a better future rather than harking back to a pseudo-idyllic past.

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