BBC News ran a story yesterday summarizing the initial critical reception of Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, upon the 50th anniversary of its publication. Although FOTR did receive some positive reviews (notably including a rave from Tolkien's friend and colleague C.S. Lewis), many of the book's first critics were unable to take the novel seriously because of the genre. Even if they admired other aspects of the work, they dismissed it as children's literature.
I was a child of 11 when I first read The Lord of the Rings. It was love-at-first-chapter for me then, but I think I get even more enjoyment from it as an adult. There are layers of subtlety in the portrayals of the main characters that were lost on me as a child and teenager. Also, the central themes of the sacrifice of comfort for the greater good, how heroism is possible for anyone, and the bittersweetness of inexorable progress resonate much more now that I'm older. These themes weren't especially original even in the fifties, but Tolkien's presentation of them is both so compelling and so entertaining that their impact is greatly intensified.
So happy birthday to the beginning of one of the greatest stories ever told. Like the works of Beethoven, Mahler, and so many others, Tolkien's trilogy is proof that initial reception tells us very little about the historical and artistic value of a work of art.Posted by at July 30, 2004 3:28 PM