Tolkien Rejected For Nobel Prize Because Of 'Poor Storytelling'

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First Posted: 06/01/12 07:34 Updated: 08/01/12 23:06

J. R. R. Tolkien may have won over millions of devoted fans across the globe with The Lord of the Rings, but to a small committee in Sweden known as the Nobel prize jury, his epic tale of Middle Earth just wasn't up to scratch.

Newly declassified documents showing the inner workings of the world's most prestigious literary prize have revealed that, 50 years ago, Tolkien was rejected because The Lord Of The Rings had 'not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality'.

Nominated by his friend C S Lewis - author of The Chronicles Of Narnia - in 1961, Tolkien was swiftly dismissed by the committee along with other lauded figures such as Graham Greene and EM Forster as they awarded that year's prize to Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić instead.

Andreas Ekström, the Swedish reporter who made the discovery for newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet, said according to the Guardian:

"I have been doing this as a bit of a personal and journalistical tradition the past five years or so, and this was the first time I have seen Tolkien's name among the suggested candidates,

"The academy keeps a strict secrecy around the archives for 50 years, but doesn't reveal everything. The final decision is made without any notes ever becoming public. But the list of suggestions is indeed public, with some commentary to it.

"Tolkien was nominated by CS Lewis, that was the first thing I saw ... Lewis was a professor of literature, and hence qualified to nominate. However, the short commentary from Anders Österling, the dominant literature critic in the academy, was fairly sour. He basically just said about the [Lord of the Rings] trilogy: 'the result has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality'".

Tolkien, who would have turned 120 this year, won surprisingly few awards for his fiction, despite his work regularly topping reader's polls and being the subject of enduring fascination around the world.

His modest collection of gongs began in 1938 when The Hobbit won a prize awarded by the New York Herald Tribune for best children's story of the year. Later in 1957, The Lord Of The Rings won the International Fantasy Award at the 15th World Science Fiction Convention. Tolkien labeled the rock statuette he was given 'absurd', but kept it nevertheless and claimed to have enjoyed the convention.

Posthumously, The Silmarillion won the Locus Award in 1997 and The Hobbit was awarded the Keith Barker Millennium Book Award Winner in 2000 for being 'the most significant children's book published between 1920 and 1939'.

But perhaps the biggest personal recognition Tolkien ever received came the year before his death when, in 1972, he was honoured as a C.B.E. for his contribution to literature.

Read: Tolkien and fiction's best ever made up languages.

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Filed by Sam Parker  |