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From: "Alice K. Turner" <aturner3@nyc.rr.com>
Subject: Epic
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2001 10:19:33 -0500

There's an essay in the already famous New Yorker of last week (famous for
its wonderful "Middle Eastern" cover map of New York--look for it soon in a
poster shop near you), by Anthony Lane, the magazine's intelligent,
literate, British-born movie critic. It's about LotR, not the imminent movie
version, but about the books and what they meant to him and his kind when he
was growing up. I thought I'd quote from a somewhat apt paragraph for this

"There is so much that is wrong and flabby with the book, but there is one
big thing that Tolkien got right: he got rhythm. His instinct for the
procedures of Dark Age saga was as reliable as his indifference to the mores
of the machine age, and he soon established a beat--a basic pulse, throbbing
below the surface of the book and forcing you, day after day, to turn the
page. We can no more leave Frodo stranded on his mission than his friends
can. Not all works of literature share that pulse: the Odyssey has it,
"Ulysses" doesn't. This is a way of suggesting that "The Lord of the Rings"
may be the final stab at epic, and there is invariably something risky, if
not downright risible, in a last gasp. Tolkien believed that he could
reproduce the epic form under modern conditions, and that there was no call
to update the epic vocabulary; hence both the mockery that met his
enterprise and the more charitable amazement that anyone could strive for
such a thing. (Read the comentaries of Tolkien scholars and you find them
plaintively torn between crying up his serious literary credentials and
claiming him for a man of the people, and Aragorn-like leader who will
outwit the snares of the elite.) It is a book that bristles with bravado,
and yet to give into it--to cave into it, as most of us did on a first
reading--betrays a certain nerdishness, a reluctance to face the finer
shades of life, that verges on the cowardly."

It goes on a bit, mostly with affection.


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