When the Nobel Prize Committee Rejected The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien “Has Not Measured Up to Storytelling of the Highest Quality” (1961)

1960s: Days of Rage


“When J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books appeared in the mid-1950s, they were met with very mixed reviews, an unsurprising reception given that nothing like them had been written for adult readers since Edmund Spencer’s epic 16th century English poem The Faerie Queene, perhaps. At least, this was the contention of reviewer Richard Hughes, who went on to write that ‘for width of imagination,’ The Lord of the Rings ‘almost beggars parallel.’ Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison did find a comparison: to Sir Thomas Malory, author of the 15th century Le Morte d’Arthur — hardly misplaced, given Tolkien’s day job as an Oxford don of English literature, but not the sort of thing that passed for contemporary writing in the 1950s, notwithstanding the serious appreciation of writers like W.H. Auden for Tolkien’s trilogy. … The note was discovered recently by Swedish journalist Andreas Ekström, who delved into the Nobel…

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