Thursday, July 28, 2016

Say WHAT, Lin Carter??????

So, just reading Lin Carter's book Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy, apparently the first work ever written on fantasy as a genre in its own right. (Todorov's book came out that same year in 1973, though.) I got interested in Carter recently because of his role in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, which basically did everything to create fantasy as a publishing genre -- and Carter pretty much codified all the canonical "pre-genre" fantasy works.

And given how much the old-school academics hated Tolkien, I'm shocked to realize that Lin Carter basically has the same opinions. Just check this out:


  • The Lord of the Rings breaks down into certain favorite scenes and belovec characters, rather than lingering in the memory as a coherent work every part of which is equal to the whole” (117).
Okay, fine. You remember certain scenes and characters better than the book itself. I'm cool with that. Except. . . . 
  •  "Part of the trouble with Tolkien’s book may lie in what seems to me its essential shallowness. The lack of real philosophical or psychological depth in The Lord of the Rings show up most seriously, I think, in Tolkien’s failure to explore the nature of evil” (117). 

Sweet Jeebus, Carter. What a horribly bad mis-reading. And Carter also quotes a letter from Fritz Leiber apparently saying much the same thing.

What's even more shocking is that . . . well, Carter's basic tastes seem to run to pure adventure-story style plot. (That's why he likes The Worm Ouroborus way more than Eddison's other work.) And he has the gall to criticize a book for shallowness? Part of me wonders if he's not just reaching for the easiest possible explanation, no matter how wrong-headed, for why he isn't the Tolkien-maniac others of his time were. I wonder if there's not a bit of elitism here: I've been reading fantasy for decades, so I'm too cool to leap on your bandwagon.


It's like what "true" hockey or soccer fans like to say to casual or bandwagon fans.


Anyway, what also surprises me is that I've never seen this quote of Carter's in the secondary literature on Tolkien. I know that his actual book on Tolkien is thoroughly outdated, and the secondary literature does say so upon occasion, but I can't recall anyone ever mentioning Carter's opinion. They also prefer Edmund Wilson and that lot.

Incidentally, I did read one of Carter's 1960s dime sword & sorcery novels** back in the day. Pretty much the awfullest piece of crap I ever encountered. I remember reading one of his sentences to my freshman comp course at Ohio State and saying, "If anyone in this class ever dares write a sentence this bad . . . "



** Oh, apparently that book was The Tower at the Edge of Time. Thanks, wikipedia bibliography for Carter!

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