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10 December 2014 @ 10:09 am
The monsters and the lecturers  
Diana Wynne Jones on being taught by J.R.R. Tolkien. The way I heard it, he never was a good lecturer. He appears as a minor comic figure in the lives of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, the inept professor in a required course, talking inaudibly and writing illegibly.

Thanx to andrewducker

ETA: kalimac (go-to authority in these matters) says that Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before Diana Wynne Jones got to Oxford.
Kalimac: JRRTkalimac on December 10th, 2014 04:48 pm (UTC)
Amis and Larkin had a particular reason to dislike Tolkien: they were reading English to have civilized discourse about modern novels, and not for hard facts about the history of the language and its early literature which were Tolkien's specialty. This affected, I think, their opinions of his lecturing. If you'd asked W.H. Auden (who, admittedly, took Tolkien's courses much earlier, before he'd gotten so crusty) or Robert Burchfield, later editor of the OED (who was Amis and Larkin's contemporary), about him, you'd have gotten a quite different answer.
El Coyote Gordo: buckysupergee on December 10th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
Indeed. In one of the infamous letters, Larkin complains about being expected to admire the "filthy lingo."
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on December 10th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC)
That was in specific response to Tolkien's Beowulf lectures, I think: "I can just about stand learning the filthy lingo it’s written in. What gets me down is being expected to admire the bloody stuff."

My favorite Larkin dismissal, though, is the one that Amis reports finding written in the college library copy of Faerie Queene: "First I thought Troilus and Criseyde was the most boring poem in English. Then I thought Beowulf was. Then I thought Paradise Lost was. Now I know that The Faerie Queene is the dullest thing out. Blast it."

Even though I don't entirely agree (though I found Paradise Lost impenetrable, I would far rather re-read Beowulf than any number of Victorian novels, and not just because it's a lot shorter), I enjoy seeing a literary titan be so rude about established masterworks.