What People Initially Thought Of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings (novel)

I recently came across a review of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings books when they were first published in 1954. Of course, today the books are regarded as some of the best fiction ever written and have spawned oscar-winning movies. But this review from 1954 featured in a British magazine, The New Statesman, was scathing:

“The Two Towers is the second volume of his mammoth fairy tale, The Lord of the Rings. It will do quite nicely as an allegorical adventure story for very leisured boys, but as anything else I am convinced it has been wildly overpraised and it is all I can do to restrain myself from shouting:….’Adults of all ages! Unite against the infantilism invasion’ “

The review goes on:

“it is all too far too long and blown up. What began as a charming children’s book has proliferated into an endless worm…although a great deal of imagination has been at work, it is imagination of low potential. The various creatures hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, ents are nicely differentiated. Their ecology is described with scholarly detail and consistency. But not one of them has any real individuality; not one is a character.”

It does have some nice words to say:

“The battle scenes are well done; the atmosphere of doom and danger and perilous night-riding often effective. The traditional mystical confusion attaching to a quest, and a struggle between good and evil, is neatly worked into the plot…”

But that’s only a pause, before the negative words resume:

“the fantasy remains thin and pale. And the writing is not at all fresh. Here is a sample – one of the rare descriptions of a female person in a story most of whose characters appear to be sexless:

…Grave and thoughtful was her glance, as she looked on the king with cool pity in her eyes. Very fair was her face, and her hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall was she in her white robe girt with silver, but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings.”

Ouch. The books and the movies have never appealed to me, so I can see where the reviewer is coming from!



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