Saturday, January 26, 2002

MCSLOTMAN AND MRS. MCARDLE: Megan has posted and responded to my comments over on her blog. I think I have isolated the essential literary difference between us: she is a self-described Robert Heinlein baby, whereas I am one of the world's bigger Philip K. Dick fans --two science fiction authors who wrote pretty differently, you might say. In life Heinlein and Dick had an interesting relationship: Dick, at least early on, was inspired by Heinlein's books --the man of The Man In The High Castle is supposed to be a Heinlein figure. But later on Dick found Heinlein's militarism unpalatable and he was also probably resentful of Heinlein's success, especially compared to his own obscurity at the time. Yet apparently Heinlein spontaneously floated him a loan no-questions-asked when Dick was out of money in the seventies. Dick probably cared about what Heinlein thought more than Heinlein cared what Dick thought, so it was a one-sided relationship in that respect. But it was there. I can take solace in the fact that Blade Runner was way better than Starship Troopers --which actually wasn't that bad. Hey, Paul Verhoeven did a Heinlein movie and a Dick movie (Total Recall) --I forgot about that. And I haven't seen Puppet Masters so I have no idea if it was better than Screamers, which was acceptable B-movie SF. The rubber match will be the fifty-year old Destination Moon versus Impostor.

Anyway, that there was a tangent. As for Megan's comments: I think you could prove or disprove the idea that Tolkien stunts the growth of his readers if you find some of the people putting him at the top of their lists and asking them, you know, when did they first come across Tolkien, how many books have you read in the last year, what those books were, etc. It would probably have to be the project of a crazed academic with an axe to grind --but it would be doable.

I guess my point is --and now that I think of it, I don't think it's a very big deal-- is that I have no problem with literary people having complicated standards for judging which books they like, as long as those standards are the result of them reading a lot of books and genuinely loving books. And when Megan says "But too, those lists of "The Greatest Books" weren't coming from English professors; they were coming from regular people. And those people didn't set up some complicated standard by which to judge greatness; they ranked their favorite books" --I mean, there's no reason to think regular people don't have their own complicated standards for judging greatness. Tolkien's achievement is that his great personal and heartfelt work happened to mirror the great internal workings of a whole lot of other people; if Andrew O'Hehir (see below) is right, perhaps a lot more people are skittish on our modern existence than we might think. Or I might think.

So here's a review on Salon from a while ago also about Shippey's book. It's by Andrew O'Hehir; he calls LOTR "a distinctive, even definitive, modern work of rebellion against modernity" which he argues is why it was so beloved by the counterculture. And here's the original list in question. Note that it is the hundred greatest books of the century as voted on by the British populace; I don't know if a similar poll of American readers has ever been done. I speculate that Stephen King would top such a poll here if it was done of authors and not books; if it was books he'd probably get his vote pretty split due to his insane output.

She's got me on Freud, though. I was babbling.

No comments: