Michael Moorcock wrote a fairly critical appraisal of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in 1978, one both dismissive and elitist in the way it condemned what Moorcock perceived as childish and pedestrian-minded content. Having read LOTR several times over the years, and Moorcock’s churlish reproach of the work, I noted one inconsistency that rather struck me.
Moorcock early on in the piece notes that Evil is not explicitly, and expresses his ambiguous approach to the sentimentality and rustic yearnings others find LOTR to inspire and engender, his rationale:
“This county, like many others, has seemingly limitless landscapes of great beauty and variety, unspoiled by excessive tourism or the uglier forms of industry.Elsewhere big cities have certainly destroyed the surrounding countryside”.
To my mind, the bucolic romanticism Tolkien captures, particularly in the Hobbits, as well as the sense of devastation and reprehensible ruin of the natural environment that occurs in Isengard to fuel Saruman’s war, and again later in The Shire, certainly stand as prominent examples of what constitutes ‘Evil’ in LOTR.
Moorcock also notes the sluggish and insular perspective of such simple country-folks as the Hobbits, noting:
“I think it is simple neophobia which makes people hate the modern world and its changing
society; it is xenophobia which makes them unable to imagine what rural beauty might lie
beyond the boundaries of their particular Shire”. I think this is too swift and caustic a dismissal; after all, I think it both admirable and healthy for anyone to love their home, to be attached, and to want to preserve what makes it special. At the same time I can recall the sense of grandeur and wonder, very much a positive awe, that ensconced our humble hobbits when they came across such magnificent sights of Middle-Earth as Lothlorien; the Pillars of the Argonath along the Anduin; the glimmering radiance of the White Tower; the rough, rolling hills and grasslands of the Riddermark… hardly xenophobic or insular, and more akin to the same sense of joy and novelty one finds among any traveller, adventurer, or tourist.
It is only in the darkest hours and the most war-ravaged and desolate of lands, chief amongst those of The Enemy, that the protagonists can truly appreciate what is good and wholesome back home, and also reflect on the diverse beauty of other sights encountered in their journey; those lands not yet touched by the rapacious, malevolent forces of Sauron. There can be a morbid and sombre beauty to a scorched earth landscape, such as Ered Gorgoroth or the Emyn Muil, yet the heroes of LOTR find it not and never comment as such, which leads me to believe that the bucolic sentimentality exhibited by the Hobbits is neither something to deride or remark of with derisive scorn and conceit; nor do they strike me as wilfully ignorant of all the marvels and heart-stopping landscapes they wander through. Their love for the natural environment and magnificent constructs wrought by the hand of man seem equal, only desolation and waste draw their ire or fuel their sense of despair, so Moorcock’s criticism at least in this regard seems churlish and unwarranted.
Literary criticism has a place, as does the analytical and critical appraisal and deconstruction of cherished stalwarts or genre juggernauts. For my part, such activity holds little appeal, and I would prefer the simple contentment of the Hobbit; musing wistfully on his little backyard garden, or putting his feet up with a good book in front of the hearth, than to indulge and ply in the acerbic trade of the condemnation of such an endearing and enduring creation as The Lord of the Rings. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll even have an adventure or two.