By his own admonition, Richard Morgan is not a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Sure, he liked it as a kid, but as he’s matured, Tolkien’s black and white view of the world has faded from relevance. Morgan recently published an article on Suvudu about The Lord of the Rings, where he thinks the true heart of the story lies and why Tolkien dropped the ball so badly in the telling of it.

I’m not much of a Tolkien fan – not since I was about twelve or fourteen anyway (which, it strikes me, is about the right age to read and enjoy his stuff). But it would be a foolish writer in the fantasy field who failed to acknowledge the man’s overwhelming significance in the canon. And it would be a poor and superficial reader of Tolkien who failed to acknowledge that in amongst all the overwrought prose, the nauseous paeans to class-bound rural England, and the endless bloody elven singing that infests The Lord of the Rings, you can sometimes discern the traces of a bleak underlying human landscape which is completely at odds with the epic fantasy narrative for which the book is better known.

The orcs are disenchanted, poorly informed and constantly stressed by the uncertainties that lack of information brings. They suspect that the war might be going badly for their side, and that their commanders, far from being infallible, seem to be making some serious errors of judgment. They worry that if their side loses, they can expect scant mercy from their victorious enemies. They mutter their misgivings sotto voce because they know that there are informers in the ranks and a culture of enforcement through terror bearing down from above. They also seem possessed of a rough good humour and some significant loyalty to the soldiers they command. And they’re not enjoying the war any more than Frodo or Samwise; they want it to be over just as much as anybody else.

For me, this is some of the finest, most engaging work in The Lord of the Rings.

The great shame is, of course, that Tolkien was not able (or inclined) to mine this vein of experience for what it was really worth – in fact he seemed to be in full, panic-stricken flight from it. I suppose it’s partially understandable – the generation who fought in the First World War got to watch every archetypal idea they had about Good and Evil collapse in reeking bloody ruin around them. It takes a lot of strength to endure something like that and survive, and then to re-draw your understanding of things to fit the uncomfortable reality you’ve seen.

Well, I guess it’s called fantasy for a reason.

I only wonder why on earth anyone (adult) would want to read something like that.

It’s certainly worth a read, and it’s interesting to contemplate how Morgan’s thoughts on The Lord of the Rings may have affected his writing of The Steel Remain.

You can read the whole article HERE.

  • David February 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Sounds like another “attack Tolkien to try to sound new and interesting” type of article. Just trying to get attention.

  • Stormy70 February 18, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Please save me from one more author bitching about black and white fantasy writing. I like good vs. evil. Sounds like someone has a book coming out, and needs to pick a fight.

  • Shawn Speakman February 18, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    I think the man has a valid point. Some of his harsh words might not have been warranted but he certainly brings up an aspect of LOTR I had not thought of before. Since so much of the fantasy section is dominated by Good vs. Evil motifs and the publishing field turning from that story at the moment, I think people should look at the why of it and look at LOTR with new eyes.

  • TheDude February 19, 2009 at 9:47 am

    There’s no doubt that the essay brings up some interesting points, but it’s no different than all the other new writers “that are going to save fantasy” bashing on Tolkien just because it’s the norm these days.

    And the ending was embarassing. It was all a publicity stunt to promote The Steel Remains.

    I’m tired of this crap.

  • aidan February 19, 2009 at 9:49 am

    The publicity stunt at the end was cheesy, and probably hurt the impact of the article before it. I’ll admit that.

    That being said, Morgan is hardly a new author. He has several successful Science Fiction releases under his belt and is one of the best regarded writers of Speculative Fiction in the past decade.

  • A Tolkien Tempest in a Teapot February 19, 2009 at 10:38 am

    […] over at A Dribble of Ink, among others, has passed along this short essay by SFF writer Richard K. Morgan weighing in on the shortcomings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. He joins the ranks of many modern […]

  • TheDude February 19, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I actually like Richard Morgan’s books and I realise he’s been around for a while.

    When I said “new writers” I was including the ones from the so-called New Weird movement like Mieville, Vandermeer, Duncan all of them spouting the same speech and patronizing attitude. (I guess they all must’ve learned it from Michael Moorcock, which I believe was the original Tolkien hater)

  • Linda Palapala February 19, 2009 at 11:50 am

    I want to take issue with the “it’s all a publicity stunt to promote The Steel Remains” and that made it “cheesy”.

    First of all, as a self-employed person myself I can ask, what the hell is wrong with promoting yourself, your work and what you believe? Sorry, but that isn’t cheesy. I have to promote myself all the time, and I believe in what I do. Secondly, if you read Richard’s acknowledgments in TSR and posts on his site, other interviews, etc., he said much the same thing about Tolkien and especially Poul Anderson, long before he wrote The Steel Remains.

  • aidan February 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Good point, Linda. I do think that Morgan could have let the article speak for itself, rather than shoehorn his recently published novel into the discussion.

    One other thing to remember, for those unimpressed by Morgan’s stance on Tolkien, is that Morgan has taken the ultimate step to back up his words: wrote a response to what he feels were Tolkien’s shortcomings. It’s easy enough for us Internet pundits to trade arguments about what Tolkien’s work means to fantasy, but it’s another thing entirely to more or less write a rebuttal in the same medium.

    Morgan, more than almost everyone else entering this discussion, has the ability and, frankly, the responsibility to back up his words. Many of the Tolkien-haters mentioned (Morgan, Mieville, VanderMeer, Duncan, etc…) do not writer epic fantasy, so it rather makes sense that they may not be enamoured by Tolkien. Now, it may be different if authors such as Terry Brooks, Peter V. Brett or Tad Williams came out and denounced Tolkien, while at the same time building off his legacy by adopting many of the tropes established by The Lord of the Rings, but it’s asinine to expect anyone writing in the Speculative Fiction genre to adore Tolkien and his work. No one denies his influence, they just don’t like his novels all that much.

    Hell, I’m not an author, I don’t have a book to promote, but I’m not afraid to publicly admit that Tolkien was a much better ‘Idea Man’ than he was a writer. I don’t think it has anything to do with joining the ‘Cool Kids Club’, but rather that these authors just genuinely don’t jive with Tolkien’s writing.

    And there is nothing wrong with that.

  • TheDude February 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Promoting your book is fine, but doing it at the end of an essay where you’re trying to expose your ideas and opinions against a fellow writer might not be the best place to do it.

    And while it might not be a deliberate publicity stunt, the truth is that in the past few years, this type of speech has been recurrent in other writers like China Mieville, Hal Duncan, M. John Harrison, etc. All of it creates a lot of attention and seems to me to be very patronizing and arrogant. That’s my main problem with the essay.

    Hell, I don’t even like the Lord of the Rings that much! But this type of writer-bashing doesn’t sit well with me

  • Linda Palapala February 19, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, I recall reading somewhere that his “essay” is to be published on the Del Rey site…if that’s the case then mentioning TSR makes sense.

  • Todd February 21, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    It disappoints me so often to see these kinds of articles. The hip thing is to tear Tolkien down, I guess. And so many miss the point – they want Tolkien to be all things to all people, but in reality, it’s a Christian epic written in a different era for a different audience.

  • Gabriele Campbell February 23, 2009 at 4:14 am

    I don’t take issue with the promotion, but I do not want to be called a kid.

    I only wonder why on earth anyone (adult) would want to read something like that.

    I was 22 when I first read Lord of the Rings and fell in love with the book and the genre of Fantasy. I have read Steel Remains as well, and Mr. Morgan can thank my very adult interest in Tolkien that I also was interested in picking up his book. I could still read obscure 19th century novels and historical fiction only, had I not found Tolkien – not only Lord of the Rings but also the Silmarillion.