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SIDNEY-SPENSER  February 2004

SIDNEY-SPENSER February 2004

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Subject:

Re: Fwd: CFP: Theorizing J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

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Sidney-Spenser Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 18 Feb 2004 12:07:19 -0500

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I agree with what Dot says about current study of Spenser with
(post)modern techniques, and am truly grateful for it, but only up to a
point. The tendency to make so many early modern writers (or indeed
writers of most past centuries) do the perp-walk as sexists, racists, or
elitists does raise awkward questions, such as why read such guys if they
are so limited to their cultural context (no, the answer is not to say
they were not of an age but for all time--my class on 17th c. poetry was
reading Jonson yesterday and agreed that to be for "all time" is a problem
if like Shakespeare you are born in 1564 and the world was born in c.
14,000,000,000 BCE, and yes we were sort of kidding around). I cannot be
the only professor to whom some grad students have complained that they
have lost their initial liking for literature, if I may use the word. I
*do* think that our increased awareness of gender, race, class, etc. etc.
has refreshed the field, and I've been fascinated that when I spend time
on issues involving sexuality, lesbians, etc. you could hear a pin drop,
but we shouldn't forget the price. There's less fireside reading of
Spenser than there once was (and of Tennyson, too, I imagine, and of
Fielding and all sorts of wonderful writers) for all sorts of reasons, but
I can't help thinking that the professionalization of literary studies,
much as I am myself engaged with it, is one of them or that this is
"progress"--a problematic word in all sorts of ways. But the real point of
this posting is simply to pass on two details:
     First, the list might be amused to know that there was a clown in the
greater NYC area a few years ago who called himself "Gandalf." He did
kids' birthday parties etc. The Tolkien estate sued him, which I
thought was pretty niggling (yes, that's a Tolkien allusion). He
argued that Tolkien didn't make up the name and there was a court
case. A local branch of Fox, I think it was, phoned me and there I
was on live radio for about three minutes explaining that yes,
"Gandalf the Clown" had a point. The station had given me a few hours
to get ready, so I had a chance to locate Gandalf in some Edda or
other and to read the bit, although the original Nordic Gandalf
wasn't a wizard and the clown was, I think, straining a bit. I never
did hear how the legal suit turned out.
     Second, long ago when I first read Tolkien in the English edition as
a classmate got it from overseas and passed it around the dorm I was
beyond entranced but sensed even then where the vulnerabilities were
and didn't want want my other world shattered by academic analysis.
I'm braver now. After Tolkien became an American cult classic I
assumed he would fade away and so was disappointed but not surprised
when my then colleague, Catherine Stimson, ended the somewhat
disdainful pamphlet she did on him for a Columbia UP series on 20th
c. writers by saying "Frodo lives--but on borrowed time." The "Frodo
lives" is from buttons you used to see around campus in the late
1960s. I bet they're valuable now. She may have been right in the
long run, but reckoned without movies. She too thought Tolkien mere
pseudo-medieval, but she forgot that "pseudo" is in the eye of the
critic: Spenser, if you admire Spenser, has intertextuality and
*imitatio*; Tolkien, if you don't admire him, is pastiche. Anne
Prescott.

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