- Paperback: 246 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2nd ed. 2003 edition (October 21, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1403912637
- ISBN-13: 978-1403912633
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,233,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon 2nd ed. 2003 Edition
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The Amazon Book Review
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'Brian Rosebury's book offers a compelling analysis of Tolkien as a thinker. Especially convincing are his accounts of Tolkien's views on free will, moral choice, and creativity, as these are woven into The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Rosebury also deftly exposes Tolkien's often disregarded skills in narrative and description, and he does it, like Tolkien, in plain English. The chapter on Tolkien's reception and transformation into the movies is the best available.' - Dr Tom Shippey, Walter J. Ong, S.J., Chair, Saint Louis University
'In this revised version of a book first published over a decade ago, Brian Rosebury sets out to reclaim Tolkien from the bestseller lists and reposition him as a serious literary figure. It is an attempt both largely convincing and long overdue...The book offers a necessary corrective to decades of misplaced snobbery and belittlement.' - Jon Barnes, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
BRIAN ROSEBURY is the author of Art and Desire: A Study in the Aesthetics of Fiction (Palgrave/Macmillan, 1988), and of articles in Victorian Poetry, Philosophical Review, Political Quarterly and the British Journal of Aesthetics. He is Principal Lecturer in the Department of Humanities, University of Central Lancashire.
Top customer reviews
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First, Rosebury expends a good deal of thought and energy articulating the manner in which the literary establishment categorizes, accepts or rejects "The Lord of the Rings". As in a similar attempt by Marjorie Burns, this opening chapter is excellent in its linearity, breadth of information and depth of context. But in the end it shapes up as either preaching to the choir or another apologia to the critics who refuse to apply their own attention to the work. I'm happy that Rosebury seems unable to admit that the only threshold to cross in accepting or rejecting Tolkien is, right or wrong, simply one of taste -- even though such acknowledgment does nothing to diminish Tolkien's accomplishment. And to be fair to those critics who do not grasp what a singular accomplishment The Lord of the Rings is, I have to confess that despite the esteem I have for that work it is possible to see the opposition's point. The analogy might be this: while much of 20th Century literature is safely viewed as the work of artists, Tolkien's work -- implicated as it is with his professorial status in language -- can be seen from that vantage as the accomplishment of a highly gifted engineer.
Just as some self-taught painters are categorized as "outsider artists" there is no shame in leaving Tolkien --to his credit -- an outsider. Take into account his late-in-life doubts about "creativity" (not to mention his willful addition of the prefix "sub") and we see a very Catholic doubt that was most recently repackaged and forcibly dragged into the 21st Century by no less a figure than Pope Ratzinger in his 2006 screed against this innately human pursuit. And I doubt the distinction would mean much to Tolkien personally -- we owe at least as much to the brilliance and creativity of engineers as we do artists and often the distinction can be artificial.
Second, Rosebury is manifestly at his best in evaluating the Jackson film version of the book. But there is another nagging nit here, and that is Rosebury's willingness to chime in with the conventional wisdom claiming dramatic necessity concerning some of Jackson's less questionable indiscretions with the text. Perhaps we all need to understand that the more questionable indiscretions were decided purely for reasons of commerce, not for drama. The amount of money involved in the production of Jackson's three films -- and the volumes of profit they were designed to generate -- is all you need to know about what shaped such decisions in making the film version of the book. There is certainly no legitimate cinematic reason for the distortions: you need look no further than the films which comprise the art house canon to see that cinematic form is more pliable than Hollywoodland would have you think. Resorting as Jackson's films do to overt and routine cliff-hangerism, the only explanation remains this: neither cinematic nor dramatic concerns but Popular Cinema and Commercial concerns were the guideposts. A book as eccentric and disdainful of contemporary forms as "The Lord of the Rings" does not demand to be made into a film of such nakedly conventional form. Place that in the context of Tolkien's own views on matters of either commerce or form and you can reasonably conclude that the only "Return" of importance here was good ol' ROI -- "Return on Investment" safely remains King.
Don't get me wrong: I love the books and I appreciate and enjoy the films. Rosebury makes a good argument in support of the idea that the film versions will not ultimately subsume the text, as has been the outcome in other cases where movies dumb down their sources. In the end, "Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon", is one of the clearest and most contemporary assessments of the works and their influence: highly recommended to anyone wishing to delve into the text and the cultural interactions with it.
Most of his argument is that there is no excuse for critics to dismiss "Lord of the Rings" as a bestseller and therefore bad: it has the literary qualities in conception and narrative that these critics should be looking for and appreciating.
Tom Shippey says much the same in "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century." But the books differ: Shippey is more concerned with broad cultural context, while Rosebury focuses more narrowly on the text as an object of literary art. He writes a cool analysis with only occasional touches of exasperation at wrong-headed criticism, where Shippey is a polemicist.
Rosebury is equipped to tell critics why they should be reading Tolkien. Ane he does his telling in plain English, so we may all follow him and learn a great deal.
What I thought was a strength of Rosebury's study is still there and in some places elaborated on, namely, an actual study of Tolkien's writing style (as opposed to a study of his sources). Rosebury's discussion of the "high style" found in The Silmarillion and some passage of The Lord of the Rings is thought-provoking. I agree with his assessment of the writing in the story "The Fall of Gondolin" from The Book of Lost Tales, that Tolkien writes with "ruthless energy" and a strength that evokes "panic and disorder while maintaining narrative coherence."
I also found his chapter on the films interesting. I have to totally agree with his assessment of Galadriel's temptation scene - her transformation resembles a "roaring seagreen hellhag." Exactly my feeling about that not-so-special effect!
This new edition improves an already worthwhile book, but could have used one final proofing polish. You expect to find a few typos in any book on Tolkien because of the complicated spellings and names, but this edition seemes to have a bit more than its share.
Anyway, I do recommend this edition of Rosebury's book.