The Nobel prize archives are sealed for 50 years and now a Swedish reporter has looked at the 1961 jury’s comments.  Here’s a snippet from the Guardian:

The prose of Tolkien – who was nominated by his friend and fellow fantasy author CS Lewis – “has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality”, wrote jury member Anders Österling. Frost, on the other hand, was dismissed because of his “advanced age” – he was 86 at the time – with the jury deciding the American poet’s years were “a fundamental obstacle, which the committee regretfully found it necessary to state”. Forster was also ruled out for his age – a consideration that no longer bothers the jury, which awarded the prize to the 87-year-old Doris Lessing in 2007 – with Österling calling the author “a shadow of his former self, with long lost spiritual health”.

Durrell, meanwhile, “gives a dubious aftertaste … because of [his] monomaniacal preoccupation with erotic complications”, while Italian novelist Alberto Moravia “suffers from … a general monotony”.


  1. This is hardly surprising. The Noble Price for Literature is notoriously ethnocentric. Swedish authors are grossly overrepresented. Authors from the third world, particularly Asia, are grossly underrepresented. They really ought to call it the Noble Prize for Scandinavian (and occasionally other) Literature.

    I suspect, in the case of Tolkien, that the rejection was not based on the quality of the prose, which fits its hobbit-centric context perfectly, but from the hostility Tolkien triggers in some literary critics. Those who dote on ‘realism’ disdain romantic writers. We never learn if Bilbo and Frodo’s comfortable home has a toilet.

  2. Well, to be honest, Tolkien really wasn’t that good a writer. He was a great linguist, he came up with a really interesting mythology, wrote a fairly average children’s book, got pressured into writing another one, decided to combine the mythology and children’s books, turned all but forgotten until the 1960s drug inspired college students started buying his books in bulk. He was successful, yes, but not exactly Nobel prize writer.

  3. Biri is quite right. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and the Hobbit) are wonderful books but they are amateurish compared to the world’s great literature. They are magnificent when you are 14 but become as trivial as comic books when you become a mature adult. Same thing applies to Lovecraft. None of the books by these two writers have anything valid to say about the world or our place in it (any more than Spiderman does). The world is a complicated, tragic, and mysterious place for anyone who does any thinking. Tolkien is escapist literature of an above average kind, but compared to the best mankind has written it will fall into the dustbin of history (as will Harry Potter).

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