Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tolkien's Perfectionsim

In writing my research paper, I came to begin to understand what people meant when they talked about Tolkien's obsession with literary perfection. The Lord of the Rings is a common example of Tolkien delaying finishing a work until he was completely satisfied with it - which meant a lot of writing and re-writing.

In class, we have gotten the opportunity to read some of these unfinished works (Unfinished Tales being an obvious recent example), most of which were put together by Christopher Tolkien. Do you think that there is an obvious drop in quality when J.R.R. Tolkien didn't take the extra time to tweak his work? I have a hard time distinguishing between the "perfected" work and the somewhat unfinished work, but perhaps this is only because I'm not the most advanced Tolkien scholar (yet!).


Michael Lott said...

I would argue that the "unfinished" works are actually finished. They are indeed full and developed stories well worth the read. However, I think that the unfinished part comes from the fact that Tolken was not satisfied with the stories, Children of Hurin is a good example. To readers less attuned to the world of middle earth or simply enjoying the story as any old fairy tail, these problems he saw are probably non-existent. I see this as only an author tailoring his story to what he sees as its final image and not correcting flaws.

Anna Adams said...

I do not notice any obvious drop in quality when J.R.R. Tolkien didn't do extra tweaking of his work. I enjoy Lord of the Rings more than his other works, but then again his other works are different stories. I think Tolkien made changes to his stories because new ideas came to him naturally over the years. I did my research paper on Roverandom, and in my research I read about how the story changed. The story expanded or was changed because it was a Tolkien family favorite that was told many times, and so it evolved. I'm sure the first version was still good otherwise it wouldn't have been retold. I think Tolkien largely made changes because his ideas changed.

Megan said...

Agreed! I feel like when Tolkien writes, it comes out near-perfect on the first go (I'm sure this is false, but it certainly seems that way) and the "tweaking" is the world-building aspect. I don't see him quibbling over commas or adverbs, but we have obvious examples of names changing and scenarios changing and timelines changing.

So "unfinished" means less "rough draft" and more "this is a piece of the puzzle I can't get to fit into the whole just right yet."

Austin M. said...

I agree with the comments above. I don't think Tolkien was dissatisfied with his writing in its unfinished form for any mechanical reasons. I believe in all of his stories, he was attempting to capture a theme or feeling that resonated with the reader. Obviously, he was incredibly successful at accomplishing this, but perhaps in some of these stories that were never finished, the theme didn't sound perfect to his ear.