Classified docs reveal why Tolkien failed to win '61 Nobel Prize

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Marc Bernardin
Dec 16, 2012

You'd think that Lord of the Rings' J.R.R. Tolkien, author of one of the best-selling books in the history of books, would've been a shoo-in when he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature back in 1961. But he wasn't—and now some recently declassified Nobel committee documents show why.

Basically, in the eyes of the Nobel jury, Tolkien just wasn't good enough. The Nobel committee keeps a vise-like grip on its secrets, only making its inner processes available to the public 50 years after the awards are handed out. A Swedish reporter found the records for the 1961 Nobel Prize and found Tolkien's name on the ballot—he'd been nominated by his good friend and contemporary, The Chronicles of Narnia's C.S. Lewis.

And, while the competition was fierce—Robert Frost, Graham Greene and E.M. Forster were also nominated in '61—Tolkien lost because, in the eyes of the jury, his prose "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality." (The 1961 Nobel would eventually go to Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić.)

Ah, there's nothing quite like being so fundamentally wrong ... and then having people find out why.

(via The Guardian)