‘6 great novels that were hated in their time’: Hope for overlooked novelists and brave readers

image What do The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (one book shown), Moby-Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath and Brave New World have in common?

Literary critics hated them.

So, at least, says Jacopo della Querci’s Cracked piece—must reading for brave readers and overlooked novelists alike. Here’s the lowdown on the reception befalling The Lord of the Rings Trilogy:

“The reasons for Tolkien’s negative feedback were numerous, not the least of them being that he was a career linguist, not a professional writer. The New York Times described Tolkien’s writing as ‘high-minded’ and ‘death to literature itself.’

“The New Republic described the book and its characters as ‘anemic, and lacking in fiber’ which was apparently a real burn back then in the pre-Cheerios days. Even heavyweights like Isaac Asimov weren’t sold by the book’s whole industry versus the environment message, retorting that modernity ‘or perhaps the modern world… wasn’t all bad.’

“Hell, not even Tolkien’s friends were all that big on it. Tolkien had to stop reading samples of the book to them on account of negative feedback/hurt feelings. One member of Tolkien’s circle, Hugo Dyson (H.V.D. Dyson in geek) once famously moaned from a sofa during one reading: ‘Oh, fuck! Not another elf!’

How about Brave New World? "Even fellow futurists like H.G. Wells were shocked by the book’s dystopian landscape. Despite being the same man who wrote War of the Worlds, Wells describe Brave New World‘s bleak future as ‘a betrayal.’ As for the book’s more forgettable critics, i.e. everyone else, responses ranged from dismissal to childish name-calling."

Now here’s a question. If even critics can’t get these things right, just what are the implications of the above in an era when Amazon and many other book-related Web sites rely so heavily on the opinions of civilians? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, since the readers are rating books for each other, not posterity. Or does it? Meanwhile I think it’s tragic that Kilgore Trout is only imaginary and Kurt Vonnegut is dead. I’d love their opinions on these matters.

Detail: “Jacopo della Querci” is apparently a pseudonym? Note the similar name of an Italian Renaissance sculptor.

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David Rothman

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