Saturday, January 28, 2017

Speak of the Devil (or the Aesir, in this case): Michael Moorcock

My copy of Michael Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance arrived last night, a book which I originally read during undergrad but which I figured, well, might as well own it. And no sooner do I start reading then I see a very laudatory Guardian review of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, which I blogged about just yesterday morning. So, apparently the book is even less forgotten than I thought! Anyway, Moorcock claimed that Poul Anderson did Norse literature so well that it just about ruined Tolkien for him -- even beyond all the other infamous critiques he made of Tolkien.

Incidentally, my opinion of Wizardry and Wild Romance has apparently waned considerable since I first read it years ago. First, it's basically a survey of fantasy (romance) literature, which tend to be incredibly dull. The interspersed commentary is vivid and polemical but often head-scratching. Moorcock, furthermore, has a great obsession with style and influence. Influence tends to be a topic of overblown importance, and almost all discussions of style are hopeless for lack of a decent critical vocabulary.**  After all, so what if someone's prose "wants to make friends with you?" Even if it was true in Tolkien's case -- it isn't -- that's not all that great an issue, or at least it shouldn't. I quite liked Winnie the Pooh and couldn't quite figure why Moorcock hated it so much. Otherwise, I was heartily struck by the following irony: Moorcock's main theme is improving the quality of genre prose, but his own Elric book that I had read was as awful as other sword and sorcery I've been reading. 

China Mieville did a forward praising Moorcock for Wizardry, incidentally. Mieville is someone I think an absolutely fabulous writer, and apparently he truly appreciated Moorcock for explaining his own lackluster response to The Lord of the Rings.

** Off the top of my head, two particularly admirable essays on prose style:
Drout, Michael D.C. “Tolkien’s Prose Style and its Literary and Rhetorical Effects.” Tolkien Studies 1 (2004): 137-63. Web. Project Muse. 2 Jun 2015.

Rateliff, John D. “’A Kind of Elvish Craft’: Tolkien as Literary Craftsman.” Tolkien Studies 6 (2009): 1-21.

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