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the hobbit situation
by a.r. yngve

Boy, am I going to get hate-mail for this. But that's OK--you can call me many things, but not a hypocrite. I have written a fantasy novel, despite the fact that I don't like fantasy at all...

There's this little joke I invented some time ago: the "Generic Fantasy Title Generator." Use this handy device to randomly generate titles for books, games and films! Just combine words from the following lists into fantasy titles:

1. Subject:

HERO/ES, WIZARD, WARLOCK, ELF, HOBBIT, KING, QUEEN, ORC, UNICORN

2. Object:

RING, SWORD, DAGGER, SCEPTRE, SPEAR, STONE, JEWEL, CROWN, THRONE, CASTLE

3. Relevant Astronomical Object:

MOON, SUN, EARTH, STAR/S

4. Mood:

DARK/NESS, SHADOW, NIGHT, LIGHT, DAWN, SILVER, GOLD

5. Action:

QUEST, FALL, RISE/RISING

6. Fillers

A, THE, OF, OVER

Example: "A Dawn of Unicorns"

Or: "The Sun Dagger King's Quest"

Or: "Fall of the Hobbit-King's Shadowquest of the Moonsword Castle"

Get it? It's just as easy to write the content of the book to go with the title--in fact, easier. Too much fantasy is a third-rate rip-off of Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings.

Somehow in the post-World War era of popular literature, Generic Fantasy became the be-all and end-all escape device. It was so easy to write. No bothering with grounding your book in reality, with all its annoying demands. Just assume that everything in your book takes place in a "Secondary World", and you can write anything you want... that is, rigidly repeat the same old pattern "Quest For Magic Object X, to kill Evil Badguy Y and free Princess/Country/Whatever Z".

OK, OK... granted, there is a very real need for mythology and fairytales in all cultures. There is a hidden wisdom in fairytales and myths. However, Generic Fantasy involves something that does not contain any wisdom at all. The Standardized Genre Book Industry's purpose is not to educate, but to pander. You notice quickly the basic difference between a genuine fairytale and a Generic Fantasy book.

FAIRY TALE MORAL: Do Not Go Alone Into The Forest, Unless You Absolutely Have To.

GENERIC FANTASY MORAL: Buy the next volume in the exciting Trilogy of the Second Part of the Fourth Saga, and postpone the much-awaited resolution forever!

Due to the demands of the mass market -- simply put: "Make'em buy the next book" --Generic Fantasy has become a perpetual "Coitus Interruptus." The "Big Saga" will never be resolved, unless the sales figures go down. The same phenomenon is present in science fiction. Another "DUNE" book by another team of hackwriters? What next? Will they dig up Frank Herbert's corpse and stick a typewriter under his crumbling skeletal hands to make it look like he's still writing? Let him rest in peace! OK?

There is no wisdom in that--just arrested development. Speaking of which-- and now I'm gonna stick my neck out against legions of passionate fans--I think The Lord of The Rings is too long and boring.

I happen to love fairy tales. I listened to them a lot as a child. My grandmother used to tell me stories about the mythical giants of ancient Sweden, and the man who tricked them to get the secret of the copper mines (as retold by Nobel Prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf in The Amazing Journey of Nils Holgersson).

The Lord of The Rings (TLOTR) is not a genuine fairytale, though. Fairytales are the products of entire cultures, created over generations as people pass them on from mouth to mouth. Tolkien's book is the archetypal "Generic Fantasy," the product of a well educated academic of British middle class society. He may talk the talk, but Tolkien can't walk the walk.

Several things in TLOTR are conspicuous by their absence. Grownups, for instance. The Hobbits act in every way like children (their refusal to wear shoes is symbolic in this respect, I think). The authority figures (read: Gandalf) are described the way you'd expect little children to think of their parents: physically larger, possessing mystical knowledge, secretive, at once benevolent and intimidating. And I demand to know, "WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN?" I'm not going to be so low as to suggest that Frodo is gay (like certain academics love to)", but he certainly has a problem relating to females. The whole world of the book seems frozen in time. No one is ever born, and it appears hobbits never really die, either.

A genuine archaic folk myth like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (or the Celtic myths it stems from) contains sex and death. That means, the characters are born, grow old, procreate, die, and they are capable of emotional complexity. That is why they feel real, and their tragedy moves us.

Tolkien "took" the old myths, "stripped" them of love, sex, death, complexity and anything that smacked of depth. We are left with a hollow myth. For God's sake, what's the "message" at the heart of the book? What do the enchanted rings represent?

Change, maybe. In Tolkien's world, all change is bad. Frodo and his fellow Hobbits are utterly reluctant to leave their village and get on with their quest, which makes the first 100 pages of the book painfully slow to read, but also suggests that Tolkien would have preferred a story where nothing at all happened.

Many critics have interpreted TLOTR as an anti-technological metaphor. Mordor and the Rings represent the big, bad machines and factories of the Industrial Revolution, and the Hobbits are the nice rural squires who fight for the preservation of traditional culture. I would have agreed, if the book had been more mature--but it isn't. What truly creeps me out about TLOTR are the many metaphors for child abuse.

The Gollum character (especially in the much superior, shorter "prequel" The Hobbit) speaks and acts like a caricature of a perverted old man or mental degenerate who preys on children (i.e. little Hobbits). Indeed, Gollum is killed at the end of the story, just because of his perverted desire for the Ring--desire so insistent, one can't help but think it is a sexual fetish.

The act of putting the "magic ring" on one's finger can, with little effort, be read as a metaphor for the sexual act itself. It is striking how often Frodo is warned not to "wear the ring," and how this act is supposed to "corrupt its owner." Make of it what you will, but all fairytales reek of subtext, and here it seems to read:

"Growing up is bad."

"I must not thread my 'Little Finger' through the 'Golden Ring'.

"I must destroy the 'Golden Ring' before it destroys me."

"Bad People who lust for the 'Golden Ring' die, people like nasty old Gollum."

Now there's a scary subtext.

I apologize if I hurt the feelings of all the Tolkien fans out there, but those are my honest opinions, based on reason and feeling.

I'd rather read real fairytales and old legends than any Generic Fantasy novel.

Here's some recommended reading, as an alternative to Generic Fantasy:

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'Arthur (The King Arthur Legend)

The Brothers Grimm Tales

Norse mythology (as collected in The Elder Edda by Snorre Sturlasson)

Icelandic sagas

1001 Arabian Nights (not the censored version)

Religious mythology (Old Testament, Hindu, Native American, African)

Copyright © A.R. Yngve 2000 All Rights Reserved

Born in 1969, A.R.Yngve was a cartoonist before turning to writing in the 1990s. He currently publishes his (illustrated) novels on his website, at:

http://members.spree.com/entertainment/readforfree/

 

 

 

 

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