The Dec. 19 release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of three films encompassing the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy, offers an opportunity to reassess his literary legacy.
In 1956, literary critic Edmund Wilson dismissed The Lord of the Rings as “balderdash” and “juvenile trash.”
He was not alone, nor first, in his disapproval.
Two years earlier, novelist Alfred Duggan insisted that the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy was “not a work which many adults will read through more than once.”
Even the book’s English publisher wondered, “Quite honestly I don’t know who is expected to read it: Children will miss something of it, but if grown-ups will not feel infra dig to read it many will undoubtedly enjoy themselves.”
More recently, literary critic Harold Bloom described Tolkien’s magnum opus as “inflated, overwritten, tendentious and moralistic in the extreme.”
And yet. The Lord of the Rings has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide since its publication in the 1950s; and its predecessor, The Hobbit, more than 40 million.
Tolkien launched a revolution in popular reading that spawned or at least paved the way for a slew of best-selling authors, including Terry Brooks (the Sword of Shannara series) and Stephen R. Donaldson (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever).