This guest post was just published yesterday at Grasping for the Wind. It's long, but I promise it's chock-full-of-nuts. Here's a taste:
We all know what makes “a good read.” Some elements...we can train ourselves to produce on demand. Others we must chase, like bright, sassy birds. The latter include coolness, irony, “attitude,” the essential twist, the careful darting beyond the reader’s moral comfort zone (far enough to shock, but never to appall). You need all these skills, but don’t worry—you can have them. They’re for sale. The old chestnut informs us that writing can’t be taught, but that is guff. Writing is taught everywhere, endlessly, like plumbing and architecture. Writing instruction is a massive business, and it thrives because it works.
Up to a point.
Because what can’t be taught are the furious intangibles. Vision. Benediction. Existential terror. Deep wonder. Aching need. These are not for sale. These things—however secular your orientation—you must pray for.
And a bit about Tolkien:
Just imagine the disaster if someone had persuaded Tolkien to tinker—to correct the aforementioned flaws... Lose the elvish, lose the birthday party, lose the talking trees! Man those hobbits up! You can’t seriously expect us to publish twelve hundred pages about some helpless, hairy gnomes! Cut the travel-talk. And for God’s sake, let Aragorn and this Arwen babe get their hands on each other. Couldn’t they hook up in Chapter Three?
Any and all of these “improvements” might have been urged upon Tolkien (the rookie Tolkien, the nobody) if he had written The Lord of the Rings today. They might well have been given as preconditions for being taken seriously, let alone published.
You can read the full, ranting, raving behemoth of an essay here.