Archives for October 2006

Ad effigiem

The strawman fallacy in Utopian fiction

Of all the habitual fallacies and prejudices that have poisoned the wells of reason in our time, none, perhaps, has been so destructive as what Owen Barfield christened ‘chronological snobbery’. This is the strange belief that modern ideas and habits, simply because they are modern, are inherently superior to those of former times. This belief has become so prevalent that it is now recognized as a category of informal fallacy in itself. [Read more…]

The road less travelled by goes ever on

Long ago, I have read, Irving Berlin offered the young and struggling George Gershwin a job as his musical secretary, for the then princely wage of a hundred dollars a week. ‘But don’t take the job,’ said Berlin. ‘If you do, you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, someday you’ll become a first-rate Gershwin.’

In the five years since Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings began to be released, there has been a fresh outpouring of critical, academic, and fannish writing dissecting, rehashing, and expanding upon every facet of Tolkien’s work. Probably no other author since Joyce has been subjected to such torrential inquiry; perhaps none since Dickens. If the flow continues a few years longer, Tolkienology may end up second in volume only to the endless study of Shakespeare.

Not all of this outpouring is wasted ink, and some of it is work of exceptional brilliance and inspirational value. I had a flash of insight — even I get flashes of insight from time to time — when I read Tom Shippey’s excellent and audacious Tolkien: Author of the Century. The Afterword on ‘The Followers and the Critics’ changed the whole focus of my thinking with respect to my own work specifically and fantasy in general. [Read more…]