As mentioned in a previous Owl, literature and popular music often find themselves walking the same path. On occasion, those paths are mildly contentious.
Michael Moorcock is a British author best known for his fantasy work. His most enduring creation is Elric of Melnibone, although many others like Jerry Cornelius, Dorian Hawkmoon and Kane of Old Mars have avid fans.
He is an innovative, occasionally brilliant, writer. He is also one of the most influential science fiction editors, ushering in the sf “new wave” in the 1960s. And he truly dislikes the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.
His explanation of this dislike can be found in his book of fantasy criticism Wizardry and Wild Romance as well as in a variety of pieces written over the years for places like The Guardian and the New York Times. It can be summed up thus: Tolkien’s work was designed to support the status quo and promote basic societal mores. Moorcock thinks that the purpose of writing should be to challenge the status quo and offer alternative viewpoints to basic societal mores. In other words, Tolkien is representative of everything Moorcock thinks is wrong with literature.
Lest this seem like mere jealousy, it should be noted that Moorcock is exceedingly famous and successful on his own. He is not at Tolkien’s level of fame, but his works are popular throughout the world. This isn’t jealousy, it’s a feud.
Unlike most literary feuds, though, this one has bled over into music, with prominent bands occasionally incorporating one or the other’s work into theirs. Examples include Rush and Led Zeppelin for Tolkien:
On the other side of the equation, we have Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind… both of whom not only played songs based on Moorcock work, but had him write songs for them and occasionally joined them in concert.
To be completely fair, by the time Moorcock threw down the gauntlet, Tolkien had already passed away and had no opportunity to learn an instrument and play onstage with Led Zeppelin.
It would have been interesting to see, though, and I bet Robert Plant would have gotten a kick out of it.
Question of the night: what’s a favorite song to reference (or be based on) a written story?