January 2012 | Nate Pedersen

J.R.R. Tolkien and the Nobel Prize

What do Laurence Durrell, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, E.M. Forester, and J.R.R. Tolkien have in common?  They were all passed up by the 1961 Nobel Prize committee in favor of the eventual winner, Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andric.

The Nobel Prize Council's debate over each year's nominees remains a secret for fifty years after the award is given.  At that point, the archive is opened in the Nobel library in Sweden.  A Swedish journalist, Andreas Ekstrom, investigated the freshly opened archive from 1961 this week to reveal the Council's damning opinion on J.R.R. Tolkien's prose: "It has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality."  Ouch.  And this in reference to the man who almost single-handedly invented an entire genre.  Tolkien was nominated that year by his close friend C.S. Lewis.

The 1961 council, headed by Anders Osterling, was equally unimpressed with Robert Frost, citing his "advanced age," as a reason to vote against him.  Poor E.M. Forester was written off as "a shadow of his former self, with long lost spiritual health."  And Laurence Durrell was nixed on account of his "monomaniacal preoccupation with erotic complications."  So Tolkien wasn't alone in the loser's circle.  But if popular appeal is any vindication for Nobel prize dismissal, all of the above authors have long surpassed Ivo Andric in popularity.

The runner up in 1961 was Graham Greene, who somehow never won a Nobel, while Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, another very deserving writer, came in third.

You can read more about the findings in this fresh article from the Guardian.

And if all this talk about Tolkien has whetted your fantastical appetite, you can watch the trailer for the new Hobbit film, coming out in 2012: