Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea is a story about a boy, Ged, and his experiences as he becomes a wizard. At one point during his education, Ged accidentally releases a shadow-spirit from the underworld and spends the rest of the novel alternately hiding from, running from, and chasing after it. It’s not until the end of the book, as he is fleeing over the vast ocean water, that Ged realizes the shadow is his own, and upon giving it his name, accepts it as part of himself.
In 1978, Michael Moorcock wrote an essay titled “Epic Pooh,” designed to challenge – in the words of New Yorker author Peter Bebergal – “the long shadow of Tolkien and other fantasy devices.” Many people still refer to Moorcock’s essay, and he has updated it multiple times, swapping out authors as those he originally referenced became forgotten, replacing them with newer, more recognizable names. However, his assertions have remained mostly unchanged, and “Epic Pooh” has grown a rather lengthy shadow of its own. In fact, like Ged’s shade, the shadow Moorcock pooh-poohs was not created by Tolkien or anyone else; it is a shadow of his own making. Unlike Ged, at the age of seventy-five Moorcock has yet to realize the shadow is his own.
Moorcock and Crit Fic
There’s a specific form of literary straw man argument that Dr. Corey Olsen (aka, the Tolkien Professor) has termed crit fic, short for “critic fiction.” Basically, crit fic is any explanation that a critic makes up about authorial intention (e.g., “What the author is doing here…”), regardless of external support.
The main problem with crit fic is that it is very difficult to know what authorial intention was at the time a particular passage was written. Even if an author states clearly, “This was my intention,” that statement may not be reliable, and authors often misremember or change their explanations of their own intention. For example, I recently showed how Ursula K. Le Guin explained her intentions for The Left a Hand of Darkness in “Is Gender Necessary?” only to revise them years later in an annotated “Redux” version of that same essay, which at some points completely contradicts her younger self. Which of Le Guin’s essays shows the “correct” intention: the earlier one, which is closer to her thoughts at the time, or the later one which allowed more time for reflection? Either or neither may be the case.
Even if we could determine an author’s intention, whether from her own words or by some other divination, it often is not relevant to the story as it exists. The author may have failed to achieve their intended result, or she may have achieved it only partially, in which case intention and finished product necessarily diverge. In those extraordinarily rare cases where an author is able to perfectly state her intended idea, what matters is not that she was successful in sharing the idea, but the idea itself that was shared. Critically, the idea actually shared through the words printed is also the important thing even if the author states it imperfectly or unintentionally.
In practice, crit fic is problematic because it is often used to attack a position that the author may not even support. Crit fic frequently is irrelevant to the actual text of the story, and critics who employ tend to have some external point that they wish to support. This may be satisfying to some critics and readers of criticism, but in the end it is only argument by speculation.
Moorcock builds a fair amount of his criticism in “Epic Pooh” from a position of crit fic. Early in the essay, in discussing the tone of “high” fantasy, Moorcock writes that authors like Tolkien “take words seriously but without pleasure,” presenting one particular passage from early in The Fellowship of the Ring without explaining how it is (paradoxically) simultaneously funny yet serious and absent pleasure from the author’s perspective. This a particularly odd position to take against Tolkien, who stated repeatedly that his love of language was the genesis of his stories (which, I would argue, may be informative for the method in which we analyze the final story, but does not itself provide guidance for what the story “means”). However, Moorcock ignores such authorial statements, preferring instead to foist a particular intentionality onto Tolkien’s finished product without any support.
The “seriously but without pleasure” attitude is supposed to explain another bit of crit fic that Moorcock creates, that the humor – the whimsy with little wit, in Moorcock’s estimation – in Tolkien et al is “often unconscious.” How Moorcock could possibly know which bits of humor any writer other than himself consciously intends is beyond me, and certainly Moorcock, in the tradition of all augurs, does not deign to explain the source of his revelation. That the passage seems that way to Moorcock may be the case, but presenting his own feeling as authorial intention is inherently fallacious. Together, the “often unconscious” humor that is “serious but without pleasure” is the cornerstone upon which Moorcock builds the rest of his gripe about Tolkien.
All of that said, it is a fallacy to rely entirely on the identification of fallacy as an argumentative device. Although Moorcock builds straw men to hold up his criticisms of Tolkien, it may be that his assertions can stand either on their own or by different arguments. Showing Moorcock’s assertions to be wrong requires positive analysis.
The Petit Bourgeoisie
Moorcock complains about Tolkien’s apparent presentation of the middle class.
Like Chesterton, and other orthodox Christian writers who substituted faith for artistic rigour[, Tolkien] sees the petit bourgeoisie, the honest artisans and peasants, as the bulwark against Chaos. These people are always sentimentalized in such fiction because traditionally, they are always the last to complain about any deficiencies in the social status quo.
Moorcock is notably vague throughout his essay, and it’s unclear who exactly he is referring to as the “petit bourgeoisie” that constitutes the “bulwark against Chaos.” (Also, since when are peasants bourgeoisie?) The most likely subject is the hobbits of The Shire, who live in relatively idyllic bliss, drinking tea and eating six meals a day. No other group of people fits the description. Excluding the hobbits (which I will return to in a moment), which other members of the Fellowship might be properly classified as “petit bourgeoisie” is beyond me: Certainly not the wizard (Gandalf), the royal heirs (Aragorn and Legolas), the son of a Gondorian steward (Boromir), or even the dwarf who has an extremely large inheritance coming to him someday and is the only one of his race who will ultimately visit the Undying Lands (Gimli). No other group within Middle-earth seems to fit Moorcock’s description either.
So taking the hobbits of The Shire to be the subject of Moorcock’s comments here, anything more than a cursory analysis shows that their characterization as a “bulwark against Chaos” is both simplistic and incorrect. Frodo’s own contradictory perspective seems to be the one readers are prompted to take as well:
“I should like to save the Shire, if I could – though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them. But I don’t feel like that now. I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”
Thus, the “petit bourgeoisie” of The Shire are not a bulwark against Chaos, but the thing that such a bulwark is meant to protect. Frodo, at least, recognizes precisely the problems of the social status quo, and it is those very problems which lead later to Saruman’s seizure of The Shire. Frodo and his hobbit companions are neither petit nor bourgeoisie (at least, according to Moorcock’s appositive definition of “honest artisans and peasants”): All four hobbits of the Fellowship literally grow in stature, and they are distinguished from those whom they wind up protecting through their bravery, skill, and experience. I would argue that this change is demonstrative, not causal, of their status as something other than petit bourgeoisie. Sharkey’s men certainly notice something different about the four returning hobbits:
The ruffians gave back. Scaring Bree-land peasants, and bullying bewildered hobbits, had been their work. Fearless hobbits with bright swords and grim faces were a great surprise. And there was a note in the voices of these newcomers that they had not heard before. It chilled them with fear.
The important thing is not that the “petit bourgeoisie” were being protected rather than protecting, but rather that no amount of protecting stopped the chaos that Moorcock insists was Tolkien’s bugaboo. While it may not have been a dragon or an earthquake that beset The Shire, the whole Scouring episode shows that Frodo and the rest of the bulwark – including the entire protective apparatus from Minas Tirith all the way to the Dúnedain Rangers patrolling The Shire’s borders – could not stop The Shire, and Middle-earth at large, from altering. Although Frodo and team mount a resistance and ultimately rout Sharkey and his crew, the experience leaves The Shire and its people permanently changed.
The Scouring episode is just one of many examples throughout The Lord of the Rings of the idea of the “long defeat.” Taken from Galadriel’s description of her and Celeborn’s time in Middle-earth (“…ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat” [II.7]), Tolkien used the phrase to describe his own Roman Catholic view of history as well: “I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letter 255). If anything, Tolkien’s religious belief here belies Moorcock’s claim that Tolkien saw the “petit bourgeoisie” as a “bulwark” against “Chaos,” if only because Tolkien believes mortals cannot be such a bulwark. Moorcock might disagree with that view (potentially in many different ways), but his disagreement doesn’t change Tolkien’s own view itself.
Tolkien the Conservative
Tolkien was a medievalist at heart and disliked many aspects of modernism, that much is clear from his fiction, letters and academic writings. I would never try to argue that Tolkien wasn’t chagrined by industrialization and the loss of things he believed to have value. However, even Moorcock admits that “there is an argument for the reactionary nature” of The Lord of the Rings (and other books by the Inklings), but nonetheless chastises Tolkien’s view as being “deeply conservative and strongly anti-urban.” Moorcock is partly right here, but not for the reasons he implies. To understand better, we need to look at the several ways in which Tolkien expresses his distaste for modernism.
One way Tolkien dislikes modernism is from an aesthetic perspective. In Letter 58, Tolkien bemoans “the growth of great flat featureless modern buildings” in Birmingham, suggesting that there is something preferable to an older, more ornate style. In Letter 281, Tolkien states his distaste for a drawing on the cover of the paperback version of The Hobbit, which he characterizes as “in the modern mode in which those who can draw try to conceal it.” I suppose those who like the look of modern architecture (as it was employed in early 20th century Birmingham) and artwork can criticize Tolkien for his distaste here, but this is pretty much a case of de gustibus non disputandum est. Trying to build a rational argument based on a difference in aesthetic preference is itself irrational.
Perhaps more significantly, Tolkien expresses his love of things that he associates with an older world, linking them specifically with his conception of what the hobbits prefer. In Letter 213, he recounts his early years “in ‘the Shire’ in a pre-mechanical age,” calling himself a hobbit “in all but size” and admitting to a list of preferences, some of which tend away from modern tastes:
I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.
In one sense this is more de gustibus, but a couple things in this list (unmechanized farmlands, unrefrigerated food) hint at Tolkien’s primary dislike of modernity: his antipathy for “machines.”
Tolkien’s dislike of machines is pervasive throughout his fiction and letters. For example, Saruman’s worst fault is not his treachery, but the thing that prompts him to commit it – that is, his “mind of metal and wheels” (III.4). Tolkien writes to the editor of the Daily Telegraph that “Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy” (Letter 339). In Letter 75 to his son Christopher, Tolkien writes, “Labour-saving machinery only creates endless and worse labour,” and he expresses his religious belief that “the Fall…makes our devices not only fail of their desire but turn to new and horrible evil.” It’s clear from this that Tolkien thinks machines are not inherently bad, but that people tend to place false hope in their potential while simultaneously ignoring their deleterious possibilities. Even worse, in Tolkien’s view, machines lead to greater and greater destruction. In Letter 96, written in 1945, Tolkien calls World War II “the War of the Machines,” noting that it has left “everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines.”
As for how that affects his storytelling, Tolkien links machinery and magic in some interesting ways. He tells Milton Waldman (Letter 131) that he uses the word “magic” to describe both “the devices and operations of the Enemy [Sauron], and for those of the Elves,” noting parenthetically that “all human stories have suffered the same confusion.” However, there is good reason for the confusion, since “the Enemy” is the “Lord of magic and machines” whose “evil can and does arise from an apparently good root.” This is important, in Tolkien’s own analysis, because “the Elves [of Eregion] came their nearest to falling to ‘magic’ and machinery.” To Naomi Mitchison (Letter 155), Tolkien avers that “[t]he basic motive for magia…is immediacy,” and machinery serves the same purpose: “if you have command of abundant slave-labour or machinery (often only the same thing concealed), it may be as quick or quick enough to push mountains over, wreck forests, or build pyramids by such means.” Tolkien puts this same sentiment into Merry’s recount of the Battle of Isengard when he says, “I think [Saruman] has not much grit, not much plain courage alone in a tight place without a lot of slaves and machines and things” (III.9).
Tolkien’s antagonism against machinery translates (perhaps necessarily) into a distaste for industrialization in general. In Letter 144 (again to Mitchison), he jokingly suggests that the Entwives’ “experience of industrialized and militarized agriculture had made them a little more anarchic.” In an earlier letter to his son, in which he somewhat famously claims that his “political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy…or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy,” Tolkien writes (presumably ironically), “There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit!” Given these sentiments, it seems strange that Moorcock – writing to a (primarily) leftist anarchist audience – does not find at least some point of commonality.
Examples of Tolkien’s animosity toward machinery notwithstanding, it is entirely wrong to claim that Tolkien hated all modern devices, and stating such a strong position requires one to ignore other evidence. Writing to Mitchison (Letter 155), Tolkien says, “It would no doubt be possible to defend poor Lotho’s introduction of more efficient mills; but not of Sharkey and Sandyman’s use of them.” Thus, again, it is not industrialization that annoys Tolkien per se, but rather the use of machines by irresponsible, ignorant, and aggressive people to destructive results. Simplifying Tolkien’s view here to reactionary jerkism is both dishonest and intellectually weak.
(In postscript to this section, I should mention that the vast majority of Tolkien’s use of the word “modern” in his letters occurs as a technical term in reference to language, such as “Modern English.”)
The Shire as Utopia
Moorcock criticizes Tolkien’s alleged portrayal of The Shire as a utopian vision. Moorcock even prepares a lengthy metaphor for it:
If the Shire is a suburban garden, Sauron and his henchmen are that old bourgeois bugaboo, the Mob — mindless football supporters throwing their beer-bottles over the fence the worst aspects of modern urban society represented as the whole by a fearful, backward-yearning class for whom “good taste” is synonymous with “restraint” (pastel colours, murmured protest) and “civilized” behaviour means “conventional behaviour in all circumstances”
It’s unclear what Moorcock is quoting here. According to my ebook versions, and accounting for the slight variance between British and American spelling, Tolkien does not use the phrases “good taste” or “conventional behaviour in all circumstances” in either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. The word “conventional” does not appear anywhere in either text, and the word “behaviour” is employed only to refer to the strange behavior of Bilbo, Frodo, and Gollum – which is decidedly non-convnetional in each case. “Civilized” likewise does not appear, and the only character to use the word “civil” is a member of Moorcock’s “Mob,” the orc Shagrat, who at different times tells Gorbag and Sam how to act. The single use of the word “restraint” is employed to describe Faramir’s loss of it when responding to his father. If there is some source beyond the texts discussed that offers elucidation about these quotations, Moorcock has failed to indicate what it might be.
Petty use of scare quotes aside, Moorcock’s assertion that Tolkien upholds The Shire as an idealized place is simply not correct. Twenty-four years before Moorcocks’ essay, Tolkien anticipated this argument in a letter to Naomi Mitchison (Letter 154), writing that
hobbits are not a Utopian vision, or recommended as an ideal in their own or any age. They, as all peoples and their situations, are an historical accident – as the Elves point out to Frodo – and an impermanent one in the long view. I am not a reformer nor an ‘embalmer’! I am not a ‘reformer’ (by exercise of power) since it seems doomed to Sarumanism. But ‘embalming’ has its own punishments.
This goes back again to the idea of the “long defeat.” Tolkien is basically expressing here what is commonly, and perhaps wrongly, associated by Westerners with an Eastern philosophical concept: that the only constant is change.
In fact, Tolkien’s stories repeatedly reveal the uselessness of trying to preserve (or “embalm”) things beyond their time. In reference to Bilbo’s uncannily long life, some hobbits “shook their heads and thought that this was too much of a good thing” – granted, they did so out of jealousy, not propriety, but the effect is the same. More to the point at hand, Elrond’s description of the three Elven rings indicates the inevitability of loss and the futility of false conservation:
Those who made [the Three rings] did not desire strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained. These things the Elves of Middle-earth have in some measure gained, though with sorrow. But all that has been wrought by those who wield the Three will turn to their undoing, and their minds and hearts will become revealed to Sauron, if he regains the One. It would be better if the Three had never been. (II.2)
Even destroying the One Ring will not allow the Three to regain what is lost, Elrond believes, saying that “the Three will fail, and many fair things will fade and be forgotten” (II.2). This again shows that things cannot preserved, or conserved, out of their time.
These examples reveal an important distinction between Tolkien’s writings and the Moorcock’s assessment of those writings. Tolkien certainly portrays a sense of sadness at losing good things, and his conservatism resides in the recognition of those good things that were lost. He even states that it would be good for some things not to have been lost, whether they be people, places, objects, or even attitudes. However, Tolkien never makes the argument, explicit or implied, of which Moorcock accuses him, namely that it is good to return to or attempt to prolong anything beyond its natural existence. On the contrary, Tolkien argues exactly the opposite, that such attempts at preservation are wrong and that trying to regain a lost thing is impossible and misguided, if not outright wrong.
Good versus Evil
Moorcock complains about the supposed starkness of the “Good versus Evil” fight in The Lord of the Rings. Evil, he says is “never really defined,” and he wonders “if Sauron and Co. are quite as evil as we’re told,” adding snarkily that “anyone who hates hobbits can’t be all bad.” As with the Shire-as-Utopia argument, Tolkien heard this argument well before Moorcock complained about it, and addressed it in a letter to Naomi Mitchison (Letter 154):
Some reviewers have called the whole thing simple-minded, just a plain fight between Good and Evil, with all the good just good, and the bad just bad. Pardonable, perhaps (though at least Boromir has been overlooked) in people in a hurry, and with only a fragment to read, and, of course, without the earlier written but unpublished Elvish histories. But the Elves are not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without his assistance they were ‘embalmers’. They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal historical Middle-earth because they had become fond of it (and perhaps because they there had the advantages of a superior caste), and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert, where they could be ‘artists’ – and they were overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret. In their way the Men of Gondor were similar: a withering people whose only ‘hallows’ were their tombs. But in any case this is a tale about a war, and if war is allowed (at least as a topic and a setting) it is not much good complaining that all the people on one side are against those on the other. Not that I have made even this issue quite so simple: there are Saruman, and Denethor, and Boromir; and there are treacheries and strife even among the Orcs.
These are not the only points of ambiguity that may be gleaned from the text. Upon meeting Faramir and his band in Ithilien, Frodo spoke with two of the Rangers, Mablung and Damrod, who both express their distaste for the Southrons and their dealings with Sauron. However, the sentiment of these Rangers, who effectively are on the front lines of a long-time battle, is not the one the reader is prompted to take, nor is there any reason to believe that they are the views which Tolkien held.
Rather, a few pages later, Sam witnesses his first battle of men against men, and he is horrified by it. Upon seeing a dead man from the opposing army, Sam ruminates about him.
He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace… (IV.4)
Given that this scene is not isolated but juxtaposed with the earlier expression of hatred by the Rangers of Ithilien, it seems that at the very least Tolkien is presenting multiple views on the topic. If that does not indicate a nuanced, complex view of hatred and racism in the face of warfare, then I don’t know what more could.
As for whether “Evil” is ever defined, Moorcock must not be looking very hard. True, there is no dictionary-style definition of evil in the book, but then what fictional story would provide such a thing? Sauron is clearly considered, at least by the characters, to be the epitome of evil in The Lord of the Rings, and he is frequently associated with treachery, deceit, domination, and wanton destruction, among other unfavorable things. It’s worth noting that the orc Gorbag suggests similar evil actions of the supposed Elvish spy that was on the loose, calling his treacherous desertion of his companion (Frodo) a “regular Elvish trick” (IV.10).
Moorcock might disagree with these actions as being evil, and he might wish to explore Sauron’s feelings on the matter – which would make for an interesting as-told-by-the-other-side story, a la Wicked. Sam briefly does something like this when he considers Gollum’s point of view:
Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway. And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he’s the hero or the villain? (IV.8)
Regardless of how such a story might play out, whether any characters consider themselves to be evil or good or something in-between, to maintain that it is unclear what the characters in The Lord of the Rings mean by the word “Evil” is at best unobservant and at worst willfully obtuse.
Moorcock makes much of the tone in which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are written.
The sort of prose most often identified with “high” fantasy is the prose of the nursery-room. It is a lullaby; it is meant to soothe and console. It is mouth-music. It is frequently enjoyed not for its tensions but for its lack of tensions. It coddles; it makes friends with you; it tells you comforting lies.
He offers two passages to support his premise, one in which some hobbits are discussing Frodo’s sale of Bag End and another, found “entirely at random,” in which Pippen grows sleepy while Gandalf is telling a story.
In one sense, Moorcock’s description is correct. As Tolkien describes in his essay “On Fairy-stories,” he believes that such stories “offer a sort of escape, and old ambitions and desires (touching the very roots of fantasy) to which they offer a kind of satisfaction and consolation.” Tolkien goes on to describe his concept of eucatastrophe, or “the Consolation of the Happy Ending,” which Moorcock finds particularly objectionable. “The great epics dignified death,” Moorcock writes, “but they did not ignore it, and it is one of the reasons why they are superior to the artificial romances of which Lord of the Rings is merely one of the most recent.”
However, Moorcock’s assessment of Tolkien’s concept of eucatastrophe is entirely off base. Tolkien does not ignore death, but acknowledges it at every turn. In fact, writing to Joanna de Bortadano (Letter 186), Tolkien argues, “The real theme [of The Lord of the Rings] for me is about something much more permanent and difficult [than War, Power, or Domination]: Death and Immortality.” Elsewhere (Letter 181), Tolkien cites the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen, a mortal man and an immortal elf, as “the most important [tale] of the Appendices” because he is “concerned with Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees.” Indeed, had Moorcock quoted just a little further, he would have seen that Tolkien’s very concept of eucatastrophe requires him not to ignore death and suffering, since “the possibility of [sorrow and failure] is necessary to the joy of deliverance.”
Furthermore, while the passages Moorcock quotes might show that Tolkien does write portions of his books in a consolatory style, it does not prove that the entire story is written in such a way. Certainly, there are passages within both of Tolkien’s novels that demonstrate tension, that do not “make friends with you” — however a text is supposed to accomplish such a thing — and that do not merely “soothe and console.” An immediate example jumps to mind of the anxiety and fear experienced by the hobbits and Strider on Weathertop, when they are trying to assess whether Gandalf had visited recently, whose boots had trampled the ground of the campsite they found, and whether the black figures in the distance were the Black Riders or some other travelers. Another example is that of the growing frustration and despair that Frodo feels as he moves ever-so-frustratingly-slowly through Mordor toward Orodruin.
Of course, even Moorcock admits that Tolkien periodically “rise[s] above” the “prose of the nursery-room,” although such elevations are “ruined by ghastly verse” and “frequently…draw back from the implications of the subject matter.” However, despite its supposed remarkability, Moorcock doesn’t follow through with a description of what implications he sees Tolkien pulling back from in those instances. (Instead, he rambles on about the “petit bourgeoisie,” which I addressed above.) Thus, it’s impossible to actually respond, either affirmatively or otherwise, to the claim, since Moorcock provides no evidence for or example of what he means.
In rebutting Moorcock’s claims, I have referred in part to Tolkien’s letters, which were published three years after Moorcock’s essay appeared. To some that might seem unfair, since Moorcock would not have had access to them at the time he wrote the original essay. However, Moorcock has maintained his same position for nearly four decades, three and a half of which those same letters that I referenced have been available to the public. He has even revised the essay multiple times, choosing to update the authors he refers to without significantly altering any of the tendentious (and often factually incorrect) positions that he began with.
Benjamin de Casseres once wrote, “Great men are known by their contempts.” However, it does not follow that every contemptuous man is therefore great. In Moorcock, I see nothing but a contemptuous man whose failures include, but are not limited to, a myopic assessment of Tolkien (and other writers) based on a perverted reading of their texts to suit his own caprice and disillusionment. Why is it necessary to respond to such a person’s beliefs? Because unfortunately, there are those who still read his essay and believe that his assessment is correct. My only hope is that at least a few of those will look beyond Moorcock’s dismissive and quarrelsome tone and take Tolkien’s stories on their own merit, rather than under the false shadow that Moorcock conjures and refuses to acknowledge as his own.