June 28th, 2006

LotR (NetHack style)

LotR re-read: cultural context

At the party last Saturday, a group got to talking about books (surprise!), and it was suggested that there are some books that readers can't fully connect with if they don't share a cultural context. I regard this uncontroversial; for instance, even with all the research and commentary at reading_genji, I know I'm not appreciating it on all the levels that contemporary readers did. (Genji is still bulking on my bedside table, making me guilty every time I spot it. I swear I'll get back to it someday.)

(Disclaimer: I was coming down with a migraine during this conversation, so I am reconstructing and paraphrasing all over the place.)

Shortly thereafter, Lord of the Rings came up, and a guy raised in Japan said it didn't work for him. The reason he offered was the Ring; if I understood properly (and I may not have), he thought the concept of putting all that power into an object was strange, and possibly stupid. An English professor, who specializes in post-colonial literature and who therefore has some experience in studying cultural relationships, thought that LotR was a good example of books that worked best within a shared cultural context.

Now, the original objection wasn't necessarily culturally-based [*]; I can name a couple of people raised in the U.S. who probably have the same reaction to the Ring. And the point of this post is not to debate the validity of the objection. Instead, I'm wondering if anyone else can share reactions to LotR from those raised in a non-European-descended culture, either their own or those of others. (I have this vague memory of a newspaper article about the book being read all over the world and the different meanings that people got out of it, but that's not exactly enough to search on.)

[*] However, it is interesting to note the comment on "LotR as wuxia" by anna_wing. (And yes, I know that wuxia is a Chinese genre.)

Two unrelated notes:

  1. Thomas Nephew posts about reading LotR to his daughter. Though now that I look at his post again, he talks about the Ring as a very successful part of the tale.
  2. GIP! I know it should wait for many more chapters, but I couldn't resist. Yes, I am that much of a dork.

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