Up Front by Emma Hart

Read Post

Up Front: The Classics Are Rubbish Too

300 Responses

First ←Older Page 1 3 4 5 6 7 12 Newer→ Last

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Jake wrote:
    <blockquote>Tolkien may have been horrified at the genre his work spawned, but spawn it did. Frankenstein too regretted his monster (and that's a great, great book).</blockquote>

    Oh, you're getting no argument from me that Tolkien's children are responsible for an entirely unwelcome revival in the three (and more) volume brick of dubious merit. MY limited point - and one probably not made as well as possible - is that I'd rather ping Professor Tolkien for his work, not his imitators. Just as I think it would be stretching a point beyond the grave to hold Jane Austen to account for Bridget Jones' Diary. Or Hammett for oceans of ink wasted on crap that is about as hard-boiled as a fresh egg.

    I agree with you that the appeal of LoTR is *cough* somewhat opaque, but the Jenny Turner essay I linked to was a pretty successful attempt to dissect why there are plenty of people who'd argue the toss.

    And just to play devil's advocate, I don't think someone who worked in the rather rarefied atmosphere of an Oxford college (and had a devoted wife to manage the tiresome practicalities of keeping house and raising children) would know a functioning economy from a stale rock bun.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    The Man in the High Castle isn't half bad.

    No, it's all bad. It must take some kind of genius to turn a premise that good into a book that dull.

    Andrew Davies is working on the script. Against my better judgement, I watched his (depressingly typically) "sexed up" Room with a View on Sunday.

    Andrew Davies was described to me by my wife at the weekend as 'her nemesis'. He is (apparently) a one-trick pony who got lucky with the whole Colin Firth/Mr Darcy thing (and the wet white shirt wasn't his idea - it was the directors and the actors). Somehow, he has managed to parlay that into being the go-to guy for period adaptions. He has one tone, and one idea (this script needs more explicit sex!).

    Hey, don't shoot the messenger....

    LoTR - the smartest thing Peter Jackson ever did was get rid of 'Hey nonny nonny, Dingdongadildo, merry old Tom Bonkadoll'.

    'The Hobbit' is pretty good, though.

    My personal, A-number-one literary peeve is Martin Amis. I was given 'London Fields' by a family friend when I was a young teen, handed over with the reverence that accompanies a holy text, and I read it with that in mind (if the adults say this is a work of stunning genius, it must be, right?). Couldn't quite shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right, though....

    Re-read it again a few years later as an adult. What a load of sneering, supercilious, hateful old shit. That man's writing would curdle milk at 20 paces. I have the greatest difficulty reconciling the fact that not only is this oxygen-thief still alive, but is lauded as a premier member of the UK's literary set. if there is ever a Martim Amis lynching party, I'll be holding the rope.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And now I've had my grumble, here's some multi-volume epics that would be worth taking to the beach:

    The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton.

    the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons.

    Kage Baker's Tales of The Company

    I've ranted at length elsewhere about how, if he wasn't a genre writer Gene Wolfe would get his due as America's finest living writer. And I think the three inter-related sequences and one 'pendant' sometimes collectively known as Wolfe's 'Solar Cycle' is worth investing the time and effort in.


    And last but not least, if your life is too short (and your patience too short) for Neil Stephenson, I recommend John Crowley's Aegypt quartet -- all the 'secret history of the world' (and others) without the filler.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    @joe

    The World War Two backstory of Zadie Smith's White Teeth takes place in a setting that's rather reminiscent of The Zone in Gravity's Rainbow. Nice imaginative bit of literary thievery.

    you're assuming she read it.

    Ffs che, I'm posting a fluffy opinion on someone's blog, not submitting a goddam term-paper.

    LoTR - the smartest thing Peter Jackson ever did was get rid of 'Hey nonny nonny, Dingdongadildo, merry old Tom Bonkadoll'.

    Ghod yes. Tom Bombadil, titan of twee.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    Ffs che, I'm posting a fluffy opinion on someone's blog, not submitting a goddam term-paper.

    chortle.

    and i'll admit freely that tolkien was desperately in need of an editor. that whole epic should have been *one* 500pager.

    moving right along: stephen donaldson and the white gold series. anyone read his subsequent space opera? that brother might need a shrink for his r@pe fantasy fixations... i put down the first book and never went back.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    and i'll admit freely that tolkien was desperately in need of an editor. that whole epic should have been *one* 500pager.

    Maybe, maaaaaaayyyyybeeeeeeee, 100 pages. Maybe. In fact, just read The Hobbit, then stop. But if I may be so bold as to refer back to the first comment on this thread:

    Lord of the Rings sucks ass.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Stevenson,

    Re Jake's request that writers pay more attention to population dynamics and economics.

    Be careful what you wish for, every writer world building like Robert Jordon and the Wheel of Time? No one wants that.

    Stephen Donaldson's Gap series was based on the Ring cycle, blame Wagner

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    blame Wagner

    ah... i missed the whole r@pe of the valkryies connection... silly me.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    __Wait, who mentioned Kiwiblog?__

    *sigh* I can't complain that someone took a shot at the open goal. :)

    Craig, was that a ... sports metaphor?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    @hadyn. yeah, but LOTR was one of the c20th's first big effort to write a complete hero mythology, with back story.

    a good comparision is star wars. i *freaking loved* that series.

    but i was only 8.

    adults hate LOTR, but kids love it. assuming they can make their way past that first 100 pages of tosh. why have a barrow-story when the hero can be reborn passing through moria? that tolkien guy needed to get his sequence right...

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    Two-dimensional lesser-mortal characters who blunder about driven by a mumbling fear of death, in a way that DeLillo's intended gentle readership is encouraged to treat with detached scorn?

    Well, I suppose your talk of the dimensionality of the characters is an indication that we read it in different ways. I don't generally read in order to be told a story about psychologically realistic characters, but for the joy of reading per se. In many of my favourite books (e.g. Pale Fire) it's hard to tell whether the characters even exist, or which one invented the other.

    White Noise is presented like a standard realist novel in some ways (it's not an Oulipo exercise or explicitly metafictional confection), but for me the point was not whether you liked or believed in the characters or whether the treatment of consumerism stands up to academic srutiny. It's the fact that mood, observation, style, prosody, abstract themes, pace and imagination are all woven into whole: not necessarily a coherent one, but one that entranced me. Oh, and for what it's worth, it never crossed my mind to treat Jack Gladney with detached scorn.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    @Cecelia

    I hate Da Vinci Code with a passion and I haven't even read it. The first SENTENCE is appalling.

    You're not alone.

    That sentence, btw, is:

    Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery.

    Why would you start a sodding novel with the word "renowned"?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22849 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Craig, was that a ... sports metaphor?

    *sob* I keep bad company...

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Stevenson,

    Why would you start a sodding novel with the word "renowned"?

    But would you start reading one that began "It was a Thursday my Grandmother exploded"?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    why would your grandmother want to explode a thursday? was it wednesday and she was desperate for the weekend?

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Kerry Weston,

    I'm quite surprised at the preponderance of fantasy/sci fi stuff people read. I'm more interested in contemporary stories, often read absolute twaddle in fact, because I figure it's like meditation - I can lose a whole hour, my mind freewheeling, unstressed, somewhere whilst i appear to be reading.

    I love Tim Winton - his "The Turning" stories are superlative. Love his novels too - they're not perfect, but he's a mesmerist alright. I've enjoyed Charlotte Grimshaw, Carl Nixon and that kiwi chick who went to the Deep South (google to find name... Paula Morris) and Martin Edmond - http://nzbookmonth.co.nz/blogs/martin_edmond/archive/2007/06/04/1151.aspx

    Manawatu • Since Jan 2008 • 494 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    and i'll admit freely that tolkien was desperately in need of an editor. that whole epic should have been *one* 500pager.

    Umberto Eco had a nice piece about the often unacknowledged role of editors in the creation of literature's great classics. It was an editor for instance who got Eliot to change the opening lines of The Waste Land, which in the first draft read

    April is the cruellest month, and
    Don't even get me started on May:
    Sheesh, what a jerk!

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I'm quite surprised at the preponderance of fantasy/sci fi stuff people read. I'm more interested in contemporary stories

    Please don't take this as a dis, Kerry,because as far as I'm concerned the house of literature has many mansions. And genre snobbery inverted is just as tiresome as genre snobbery right way up. I was just reminded of a friend who never ever reads that rubbishy "unrealistic" crao -- unless it's written by "real" writers like Henry James, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Owen Marshall, Elizabeth Knox, Philip Roth, Italio Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Valdimir Nabokov, Keri Hume, Margaret Mahy, Don DeLilo, Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison, Witi Ihimaera, Virginia Woolf etc.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Tolkien and the economy - the man was a raging conservative and hated what industrialisation was doing to the English countryside (regardless of the fact that it was feeding and clothing more people better than feudalism could). LOTR does touch on the economy of the nations of Middle Earth, but it's usually negatively - the effect of Saruman's war machine on the nearby forest, the extent of its trade networks as far as the Shire; the gatherers and sharers of the Scouring of the Shire. And there are references to food-growing regions in Mordor, the townlands around Minas Tirith that become battlefields, wagons bringing trade goods and so on. It's just not the main point of the book. But I'll be betraying how many times I read the damn things as a teenager by going too much further.

    It's got a whole heap of flaws in terms of characterisation, the massive change in tone from book 1 to book 3, and that kind of stuff just isn't everyone's cup of tea. But it's still a giant in terms of its lasting popularity and influence.

    Mary Gentle wrote a satire of the genre called Grunts that may appeal to people with more robust senses of humour. It hit my good taste boundaries real fast, but it does deal pretty effectively to the innate unfairness of the whole beautiful goodies always win against ugly baddies thing. I just had to scrub the inside of my head for a while afterwards.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    . . . it never crossed my mind to treat Jack Gladney with detached scorn.

    Of course not - apart from being the only character with any real complexity, he's the one you're invited to identify with. It's his poor gormless wife, along with the semi-sentient denizens of the supermarkets and malls, that you're invited to despise. Because everyone looks a bit stupid when they're at McDonalds it doesn't follow that they're like that 100% of the time. White Noise panders to a certain smugness that wants to believe that they are.

    From what you appear to have drawn from White Noise it would seem that you've not simply read it, you've deconstructed it. How else would you have made the mediaeval connection? It certainly isn't apparent for someone like me who lacks the wider scholarship. Good for you, I'm sure the experience was worthwhile.

    My beef with White Noise is the way it panders to academic complacency by portraying a largely imaginary lumpenproletariat. Adults may attempt to lose themselves in consumerism, but generally they don't fear death in the way DeLillo's fumbling rubes do. Do we identify with poor Babette's fears? Of course not, thanks to the self-awareness gained from postmodern theory - or whatever - we like to think that we've come to terms with the concept of personal annihilation. What happens to her is what happens to lesser beings.

    Put the word radio in the lyrics of your song - or better still, in the title - and they'll play it. Set your novel in a campus and they'll teach it. Everyone likes to see something of their lives reflected in art. The problem I have with teaching campuslit such as White Noise is that it tends to reinforce a rather smug academic isolation.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale,

    __Henry James, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Owen Marshall__, Elizabeth Knox, Philip Roth, Italio Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Valdimir Nabokov, Keri Hume, Margaret Mahy, Don DeLilo, Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison, Witi Ihimaera, Virginia Woolf

    Speaking of, I really liked Dreamhunter/Dreamquake.

    YA books also seem to suffer a lot less from page-count creep, for whatever reason. There are exceptions of course - JKR, I'm looking at YOU...

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    But would you start reading one that began "It was a Thursday my Grandmother exploded"?

    Just to be pendantic for a moment, the actual sentence is:

    It was the day my grandmother exploded.

    As for feeding the people of Gondor, contrary to the bleak portrait of the Pelennor (the plain around Minas Tirith) painted by Jackson, Tolkien gives this picture:

    Pippin could see all the Pelennor laid out before him, dotted into the distance with farmsteads and little walls, barns and byres...

    <Hangs her head in shame as she admits that she spent most of her angst-ridden teenage years immersed in Tolkien.>

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    It was the day my grandmother exploded.

    Nice. Even more succinct than the famous opening line from Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers:
    "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    From what you appear to have drawn from White Noise it would seem that you've not simply read it, you've deconstructed it. How else would you have made the mediaeval connection?

    You seem to be implying a very narrow definition of the word "reading". I noticed a parallel to mediaeval worldviews simply because I'd been reading a lot of Eco, and the similarities were quite clear.

    It certainly isn't apparent for someone like me who lacks the wider scholarship. ... My beef with White Noise is the way it panders to academic complacency by portraying a largely imaginary lumpenproletariat. ... Set your novel in a campus and they'll teach it. ... The problem I have with teaching campuslit such as White Noise is that it tends to reinforce a rather smug academic isolation.

    You seem to be under the impression that I actively studied White Noise as part of an academic exercise, or that it appealed to me because it was set partly on campus. Not at all: I haven't formally studied literature since the 6th form, and I've never been an academic. I read it for pleasure, but my interests in poetry and philosophy meant that "reading" for me isn't just about following a story but about everything that language can do.

    And you might find his treatment of the American exurban landscape as condescending, but I find it strikingly real and scary, as a homogenous mallscape expands around the world. It's not about what DeLillo or his supposedly intended audience think of the "lumpenproletariat", but a slightly surreal vision: the end game of a mindset whereby people are given value only through their status as consumers.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    @hadyn. yeah, but LOTR was one of the c20th's first big effort to write a complete hero mythology, with back story.

    being "FIRST!" doesn't mean you're any good (see first comment)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

First ←Older Page 1 3 4 5 6 7 12 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

Please sign in using your Public Address credentials…

Login

You may also create an account or retrieve your password.