J. R. R. Tolkien’s 'The Lord of the Rings': The Book, the Film, and Genre Criticism

Kim Selling

Abstract


Contemporary audiences recognize the distinctive bookshop genre of “fantasy literature” that appeared following the publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1954- 55. The fantasy genre has experienced exponential growth over the last forty years, and its popularity shows no sign of abating. Yet the perception of genre fantasy as a subject not really worthy of scholarly attention has remained entrenched in the broader field of literary and cultural analysis, and until very recently fantasy has been excluded from most English literature curricula. Fantasy readers and critics have on the whole tended to assume a defensive position, arguing for their right not only to read fantasy but also to study it within intellectual institutions. Whence came this great need for justification and validation, and whence the perceived attack? The key lies in the classification of fantasy as genre fiction: a term with a long history of derogatory implications separating “genre” from “real” literature. The relatively low cultural esteem in which fantasy is held is evident in the marginalization of its texts as objects of study in the academy.

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