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Tolkien's Nobel prize hopes dashed 'due to poor prose'

6th January 2012

Despite authoring some of the bestselling and most beloved works in the history of English literature, J. R. R. Tolkien did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature because his prose was of an insufficient standard, according to newly declassified documents.

The decisions of the Nobel committees to award each year's prizes are kept secret for 50 years after the presentations are made, with this week seeing the release of the documents detailing the 1961 committee's deliberations and reasoning for eventually awarding the literature prize to Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andric.

Swedish journalist Andreas Ekstrom delved into the Nobel treasure trove and discovered that Tolkien was in contention for the 1961 prize after being nominated by his friend C. S. Lewis, but ultimately lost out.

It will not be known whether Tolkien was nominated again after 1961 until further archives are made available, though Ekstrom believes the popularity of the writer's work likely led to further Nobel nods.

At the time the 1961 prize was being judged, jury member Anders Osterling said Tolkien's work 'has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality', while it was also revealed that E. M. Forster was in contention but overlooked because of his 'advanced age' - something that is no longer an obstacle when the prize is awarded.

Ekstrom, who regularly analyses the declassified documents when the archive is opened, said 1961 was the first year that Tolkien was nominated as potential Nobel laureate.

'Tolkien was nominated by C. S. 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 Osterling, the dominant literature critic in the academy, was fairly sour!'

Despite being overlooked by the Nobel committee, Tolkien had the last laugh, as his works have gone on to sell more than 250 million copies worldwide, with The Lord of the Rings voted the UK's favourite book in 2003's Big Read poll.

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