Matt Colville, and Most Tolkien Critics, Are Wrong

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The simpler explanation is that he both got paid more, and delighted in it such that even when he was quite successful and was getting paid quite well for appearances, he continued to write in his signature verbose and indulgent style.
An *even simpler* explanation is that "verbose" is subjective. What seems overly verbose and tiring when you are reading for two hours straight may seem just if you are reading one serialized section a day.

Shakespeare's plays were written to be performed, not read. Dickens was written to be read in small installments, not in long segments.
 
IMO, the world could use a new Dickens.

Le Guin is an amazing author, but like many authors she gives advice from the perspective of what has worked best for her. That is probably impossible to completely avoid, in fact.

Sometimes “more words” can elevate a work, without being strictly necessary to tell the story. We don’t have to know about the lay of the land in the shire to know that it’s idyllic and rustic, JRRT could just say that it is, but it’s a better work for his loving descriptions of the place.

Many great authors use eloquent prose to accomplish *more* than telling the story, and readers are richer for it.
I think you're missing the point I was trying to make, and what Le Guin meant. The quantity of words used has no bearing, in and of itself, on the quality of the prose. It neither inherently adds or subtracts from quality, which has to do with how you use the words.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think you're missing the point I was trying to make, and what Le Guin meant. The quantity of words used has no bearing, in and of itself, on the quality of the prose. It neither inherently adds or subtracts from quality, which has to do with how you use the words.
The quote is still about not using “extra” words. It still implies that brevity is better, unless more words are necessary to tell the story.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
An *even simpler* explanation is that "verbose" is subjective. What seems overly verbose and tiring when you are reading for two hours straight may seem just if you are reading one serialized section a day.

Shakespeare's plays were written to be performed, not read. Dickens was written to be read in small installments, not in long segments.
Or, Dickens is only tiring when you’re accustomed to brevity as a “rule” of good writing.

I’m fairly sure that serialised fiction is pushed even more toward brevity than novels are, today, as well.
 
Last edited:

Janx

Adventurer
I think you're missing the point I was trying to make, and what Le Guin meant. The quantity of words used has no bearing, in and of itself, on the quality of the prose. It neither inherently adds or subtracts from quality, which has to do with how you use the words.
The basic lesson is "Remove Unnecessary Words." Quite a few writers have said this in variations.

In my experience (aka as mistakes made), the lesson is really a tool used on somebody who's over-written. Too verbose, repetitive variation of phrasing. Stuff that an editor can cross out and it will be shorter, simpler, better.

The other use of cutting out excess isn't individual words, its sentences, paragraphs and even chapters of content that really doesn't add to the story and removing it doesn't damage the rest. It's why cutting Tom Bombadil didn't kill the LotR movie, despite lamentations of Tolkien purists.
 
Last edited:
I don't know Matt Colville from Adam, so I don't care what he has to say.

But I skip all of Tolkien's poetry and the Old Forest chapter -- every time.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The basic lesson is "Remove Unnecessary Words." Quite a few writers have said this in variations.

In my experience (aka as mistakes made), the lesson is really a tool used on somebody who's over-written. Too verbose, repetitive variation of phrasing. Stuff that an editor can cross out and it will be shorter, simpler, better.

The other use of cutting out excess isn't individual words, its sentences, paragraphs and even chapters of content that really doesn't add to the story and removing it doesn't damage the rest. It's why cutting Tom Bombadil didn't kill the LotR movie, despite lamentations of Tolkien purists.
Eh, not just “purists”. I don’t care that Saruman didn’t give his “I’m of all colors now!” Speech, or that it was the Elves of Lothlorian who show up at Helm’s Deep instead of the Dunadain. Bombadil and the Old Forest was more important than dumb gimli jokes, or Pippin knocking things over all the time, or several other little scenes.

The movies lost something by its absense, as does every adaptation without it. Not just bc of Tom, but the whole sequence of leaving the shire is just less interesting and could be cut down by half as it is, rather than being an adventure itself with symbolic resonance by the end of the trilogy.
 

Ryujin

Adventurer
Eh, not just “purists”. I don’t care that Saruman didn’t give his “I’m of all colors now!” Speech, or that it was the Elves of Lothlorian who show up at Helm’s Deep instead of the Dunadain. Bombadil and the Old Forest was more important than dumb gimli jokes, or Pippin knocking things over all the time, or several other little scenes.

The movies lost something by its absense, as does every adaptation without it. Not just bc of Tom, but the whole sequence of leaving the shire is just less interesting and could be cut down by half as it is, rather than being an adventure itself with symbolic resonance by the end of the trilogy.
I missed Tom Bombadil. I missed "The Scouring of the Shire" more.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The quote is still about not using “extra” words. It still implies that brevity is better, unless more words are necessary to tell the story.
The irony here is that you completely misunderstand Le Guin's words and yet are telling others what good writing is. Le Guin's advice is more of a truism -- it's good when it's good, and the addition or subtraction of more words defeats that. As such, it really can't be argued again, because it's merely saying that it's right when it's right and offers no real advice on when that is. But, here, you're insisting that it "implies" brevity, which is surely does not. It's like cooking and adding salt; too much or too little will make an otherwise perfect dish into a lesser version of itself.

On topic, Tolkien is a poor novelist. He doesn't follow the normal structure, and his changes do not enhance his story, so it's not a matter of stepping outside the box and still hitting it out of the novel writing park (to mix metaphors). He is, though, a good writer. And, for the LotR, his goal really wasn't to write a novel, but to present his world. So, he bends his talents to building and exploring that world, which makes for a poor novel. You can love it for his worldcraft -- it's tremendous -- and even the scope of his tale, but the actual execution is poorly done. It's like reading a picture book, but on every page you have to wait while the illustrator draws a masterpiece. If you're reading the story for the story, this is tedious. If you're wanting to enjoy the glorious illustrations and soak in their craftsmanship, then you'll love it. So, bad books, amazing worldbuilding. It's all a matter of what you're seeking in them.

And it has nothing to do with post-moderism, which has been used as a buzzword when it has little to do with the discussion so far.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The irony here is that you completely misunderstand Le Guin's words and yet are telling others what good writing is. Le Guin's advice is more of a truism -- it's good when it's good, and the addition or subtraction of more words defeats that. As such, it really can't be argued again, because it's merely saying that it's right when it's right and offers no real advice on when that is. But, here, you're insisting that it "implies" brevity, which is surely does not. It's like cooking and adding salt; too much or too little will make an otherwise perfect dish into a lesser version of itself.

On topic, Tolkien is a poor novelist. He doesn't follow the normal structure, and his changes do not enhance his story, so it's not a matter of stepping outside the box and still hitting it out of the novel writing park (to mix metaphors). He is, though, a good writer. And, for the LotR, his goal really wasn't to write a novel, but to present his world. So, he bends his talents to building and exploring that world, which makes for a poor novel. You can love it for his worldcraft -- it's tremendous -- and even the scope of his tale, but the actual execution is poorly done. It's like reading a picture book, but on every page you have to wait while the illustrator draws a masterpiece. If you're reading the story for the story, this is tedious. If you're wanting to enjoy the glorious illustrations and soak in their craftsmanship, then you'll love it. So, bad books, amazing worldbuilding. It's all a matter of what you're seeking in them.

And it has nothing to do with post-moderism, which has been used as a buzzword when it has little to do with the discussion so far.
IMO, all of that is dead wrong, except the part about great worldbuding.

Le Guin is saying that being more (or less) verbose than is needed to tell the story is going to make the work less good. I’m saying that isn’t true, you just have to be good at it, like Dickens or JRRT. Too little can make a story incomprehensible to the reader, but “too much” only exists if the language itself isn’t part of your goal, and/or if you aren’t good enough at writing eloquently. It’s harder, not worse. It’s like fighting case instead of with a single sword. Most ppl can’t do it well enough to make it worthwhile, but those who can elevate the artform.

Tolkien writes an excellent novel, even if you don’t see LOTR as good novels, the Hobbit is certainly an excellent novel.

But I reject utterly the notion that LOTR is a bad set of novels. The characters are engaging, the story imminently comprehensible, yet epic, resonant, and possessed of both apparent and hidden depth. The characters develop, change, struggle, fail, and ultimately rise above their challenges in ways that are both inspiring and movingly human.

“The normal structure” is not a requirement of good novel writing. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to form, but equally there is nothing wrong with changing the structure to suit the nature of your story.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
While your being so helpful, let me ask you another question:
Why should I care about his opinion?
Why post in a thread for no purpose other than to rudely question the validity of the thread?

If you can’t be bothered to watch the video, you are free to just keep scrolling. No one is forcing you to post in any given thread.
 

Jhaelen

Villager
Why post in a thread for no purpose other than to rudely question the validity of the thread?
I'm sorry if you didn't like my (initial) post, assuming you actually bothered to read it. I thought the thread's title implied it was intended to also invite opinions on Tolkien critics in general. If I was mistaken I'll happily refrain from posting again.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
While your being so helpful, let me ask you another question:
Why should I care about his opinion?
It’s just a video sparking off a conversation. If you’re not interested, there are plenty of other threads.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
The modern world favors text where every word is load-bearing. If an editor could cut it out and the the story still stands, it should be removed. Steven King says adverbs suck and to not overly describe things, let the reader's mind do that. Again, the load bearing rule comes to play.
I'd say this is also pretty good advise for DM's, when describing a scene. Get to the point quickly, and only describe what is relevant first and fore most. Do not describe every detail of the room, before mentioning that there's a massive dragon in it. Make sure that when you describe something, it has meaning to the players. Sure, it might be interesting that there's a fountain shaped like a mermaid in the room, but is it important, and is it something the pc's would be paying attention to? For example, when the players enter a tavern, they are probably more interested in knowing if the tavern is empty or full of people, rather than knowing the intricate details of the furniture.

I've seen DM's go nuts with their room descriptions, only to have the players ask them afterwards how many doors there were, and where they are. I pride myself on the fact that I usually don't need to give such clarifications after describing a scene to my players. I only go into details after the players have declared an action, and/or stated what they want to examine something in the room more closely.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The irony here is that you completely misunderstand Le Guin's words and yet are telling others what good writing is.
I dunno. If Le Guin was so amazing, maybe it should be harder to misunderstand her? :)

That's a joke. Actually, I expect Le Guin knows full well there are at least three texts - What the author wants to say, what gets on the page, and what the reader gets out of it, and none of those are exactly the same. Ever. And that's okay - expected everywhere, and even desired in many cases.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I'd say this is also pretty good advise for DM's, when describing a scene. Get to the point quickly, and only describe what is relevant first and fore most. Do not describe every detail of the room, before mentioning that there's a massive dragon in it. Make sure that when you describe something, it has meaning to the players. Sure, it might be interesting that there's a fountain shaped like a mermaid in the room, but is it important, and is it something the pc's would be paying attention to? For example, when the players enter a tavern, they are probably more interested in knowing if the tavern is empty or full of people, rather than knowing the intricate details of the furniture.

I've seen DM's go nuts with their room descriptions, only to have the players ask them afterwards how many doors there were, and where they are. I pride myself on the fact that I usually don't need to give such clarifications after describing a scene to my players. I only go into details after the players have declared an action, and/or stated what they want to examine something in the room more closely.
I remember one AD&D module (or was it in Dragon?) that had a long description of a room, and sandwiched in the middle of a bunch of details was the fact that there was a Balor in it. LEAD WITH THAT.

That said, when describing any scene I try and invoke at least one sense outside sight and have gotten a lot of positive feedback from players about it over the years. The sharp smell of copper from the copious amounts of spilled blood at the murder scene, the ragged panting of the abomination, the stomach churning motion of the rope bridge.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'm sorry if you didn't like my (initial) post, assuming you actually bothered to read it. I thought the thread's title implied it was intended to also invite opinions on Tolkien critics in general. If I was mistaken I'll happily refrain from posting again.
I’ve no issue with your initial post. If I did, I’d have replied to it in similar fashion as I did the last one.

Asking why you should care who the guy in the video in the OP is, is a useless post. If you intended to find out who he is beyond being a guy in a video, you could have actually asked that. Otherwise, I can’t imagine any useful motivation for that post.
 

Advertisement

Top