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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Great Wednesday Compare 2: J.R.R. Tolkien VERSUS Doris Lessing

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (Lewis Carroll Vs. J. R .R. Tolkien), with a final score of 12-7, was Tolkien.

While the early votes seemed to indicate that Carroll might pull off a surprising win, they tapered off eventually and the Tolkien fans took over. I wonder if the shift had anything to do with Rob's comment about Carroll's photographs of naked girls. A few others mentioned that it was problematic for them as well. This is not to say, of course, that the ones who voted for Carroll condone child pornography. Maybe they hadn't heard of the controversy or maybe like August they acknowledge the photographs but don't make the link to paedophilia (as there was no conducive proof). Did anyone read the recent article about the Australian photographer Bill Henson who took pictures of nude teenagers? It made global headlines when Cate Blanchett came to his defense calling his work art. I haven't seen Carroll's photos (nor do I want to), but perhaps some people choose to see his photographs in that light. Another possibility is that the Carroll voters had heard of the pictures, do consider them pornography, and perhaps even assume he was a paedophile, but still allow the opinion that his books were better written than Tolkien's. Had I read a Carroll book and liked it more than Tolkien's, I'd probably fall with the latter group: voting for his work, but not his life. I used to have a really difficult time distancing myself from an artist whose worked I'd admired, later to discover some distasteful, or even horrific, facet of their life. Now I'm not as quick to delete mp3s or throw away books every time a musician or author disappoints me. To be honest, I wouldn't have much left: all my Beatles music would be gone, I'd have no more Smiths albums, and I'd probably never read Two Against The North again. I don't think we have to ignore our differences with artists to enjoy their work, either. Remember when James Brown died last year? I love the man's music (though I get strange looks when I'm overheard singing, "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!") but wasn't he a wife abuser? The media wants us to ostracize him when he's charged, yet praise him to the high heavens when he dies. The media adds a whole new dimension to the question about offensive artists: what do we believe in the first place in the world of tabloids? And I should also note that some issues are harder to look past than others. The swipes McCartney, Morrissey and Mowat took at Newfoundlanders pale in comparison to the paedophilia for which Carroll is accused. Still, I'd like to think that art is created through an artist, not by an artist.

Moving on to this week's contest, I'll admit being shocked if Tolkien doesn't win again. So why, you might ask, would I even pit him against someone I'm so sure will lose. No, I'm not intentionally throwing the contest. Consider it a survey of sorts. Recently I read an article on The Times Online that listed the best British post-war authors. Tolkien was number 6. Above him were two that have already come and gone on the Wednesday Compares (William Golding and George Orwell); two were poets (Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes) and, with a few exceptions, poets haven't fared all that well in the Compares; which leaves Doris Lessing. If you're like me, you're saying, "Who the heck is Doris Lessing?" (She's number 5, that's who!) If you're not like me, I guess the results next week will show me that I have yet another author to add to my undented TBR pile.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (June 24th, 2008), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

17 comments:

Bybee said...

I'm pretty sure I'm on the losing side again, but I'm voting for Doris Lessing. I really enjoy her short stories.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

DORIS LESSING! Her books had a huge impact on young adulthood, and rereading some of them years later, they still hold up.

Melanie said...

I'm sorry, this is a tough one, as I like both authors for different reasons. But I'll go with Doris Lessing.

kookiejar said...

I find this whole discussion of whether or not we can separate the art from the artist to be utterly fascinating. I tend to agree with you John...the art can and should stand on its own.

In any case, I vote Tolkien again.

Rob Hardy said...

Well, my negative campaigning worked! Tolkien won. But you make excellent points, John. Incidentally, in his old age, Mark Twain surrounded himself with young girls, too. (I've blogged about it here. Meanwhile, I'll vote for Tolkien again.

Nicola said...

Well, I know who Doris Lessing is but haven't read her.

My vote is for Tolkien.

Pooker said...

I'm with Barbara. Doris Lessing.

Remi said...

Lessing for two reasons:

First, she is a crotchety old broad of the highest order. Her response to winning the Nobel was great, packing far more fire then Smaug could ever muster.

The second is her role in Moxy Fruvous' My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors (Spilled some dressing / on Doris Lessing / These writer types / are a scream).

August said...

I am absolutely shocked to hear that you don't know who Doris Lessing is! Shocked, I say!

So I'm voting for Lessing. However I'd have to say that I'd vote for brain-damaged chimpanzee before I'd vote in favour of Tolkien. The only redeeming qualities I found in his books was that they made pretty good movies.

Carrie K said...

As I've never read Doris Lessing and read Tolkien only to see if the books were better, I'll sit this one out.

I think we need to divorce ourselves from the idea that people's behavior have anything to do with their creativity or politics. There are bound to be very, very few perfect people, especially with any scrutiny at all.

It'd be nice if they managed to not be murderous thieving pedophiles but.....as long as most of us aren't.

justareadingfool said...

I'll vote for Tolkien again, if just to spite august and his brain-dead chimpanzee comment ;) and not because I've heard of Lessing, but have never read any of her works...I agree with Rob and John about not judging Carroll too harshly. If we were to do so, then Roman Polanski movies...shudder. My comments last week were meant somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

Sam Houston said...

I'm going with Lessing.

gypsysmom said...

Although I voted for Tolkien last week, this week it has to be Lessing. Her writing (at least her novels as I've never read any poetry by her) is masterful. If you compare their works in the same genre (science fiction and fantasy) then perhaps Tolkien would win out but Lessing is so much more versatile that for that alone it would have to go to her.

Isabella said...

No contest. DORIS LESSING!

Jake Seliger said...

Better means nothing in this context: only different has any meaning.

(And this is coming from someone who's written an academic paper on Tolkien and plans to write more.)

Nicole said...

I'm so mad at myself for forgetting to vote last week. I meant to, but I didn't and then went on vacation so wasn't able to vote.

I was torn, but probably would have voted for Tolkien. And not because of the Carroll scandal. A writer's personal life has absolutely nothing to do with their creative ability. It is more than Tolkien's writing that has captured me. I have studied him and his counterparts and I just like the way he thought.

This week, I definitely vote for Tolkien. Like you, John, I'm asking, "Who the heck is Doris Lessing?" (Actually, I know who she is, I've just never read her works.)

BookGal said...

I'm voting for Lessing. I really don't like Tolkien's style. I'll probably lose this one:)