When it comes to Hobbits and the rest of J. R. R. Tolkein’s bestiary, I am pretty much at one with the critic Edmund Wilson. In “Oo, Those Awful Orcs!,” Wilson expressed astonishment, and not a little distaste, at the wild popularity of Tolkien’s kiddie books. “Juvenile trash,” I recall, was one phrase he employed about the whole Lord of the Rings cycle.
I wouldn’t go that far, but I, too, recoil at the cloying and airless tweeness of the Tolkien universe.
If you don’t move in conservative circles, you might not understand just how much bravery this admission of Roger’s involves: In those circles, Tolkien is a sacred cow of Paul Bunyanesque proportions. But I don’t think Roger’s word “tweeness” is quite right (though, admittedly, the book does include tawking twees), because some of my favorite books are generally dismissed as twee. (The Wind in the Willows, for example, is one I love to reread. I’d recommend it to all parents as something to read to their children, but I am a little too out of touch with what children like these days to do so with any real confidence. For all I know, kids today prefer The Little Golden Book of Miley’s Lost Weekend.)
Over the years, inspired by the countless, highly moving essays about how theologically Christian and ideologically conservative The Lord of the Rings is, I started the trilogy many, many times. I finally succeeded in slogging my way to the end about five years ago. There are passages I liked — Tolkien was, I think, a fine writer — and I suspect I enjoyed it more than Roger did. But in the end, I am inspired less by the heroism of Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins than I am by the heroism of our friend Roger Kimball, as he scales Mount Doom to confront the ferocious monster known as literary consensus.