Ratings Game! rate famous works based on WFG ratings system

The discussion thread on Rating Other Peoples' Work gave me an idea for a just for fun ratings exercise. Think of a well known published book that most other people will have probably read or be familiar with , either from English lit courses or popular culture, and say how you would rate it based on the WFG scale:

See http://webfictionguide.com/about/ratings/

It will be fun to see how other people rate.

I'll start it off with what I consider to be a couple of interesting cases:

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien: 5. Because it's epic, unforgettable, and at it's time was original, though it wouldn't be today because basically the whole sword and sorcery genre is deriviative of it. This is an interesting case because it doesn't aspire to be great literature in terms of saying something deep and philosophic (although you can find that in it), and for me it has some major flaws - some of the writing is way longwinded and I personally find a tough slog. But at its best - its LOTR, is has to be a 5 right? Do you think so? Would you rate different books within the trilogy differently?

2. In the Skin of a Lion by Micheal Ondatje. 2! This may not work because I don't know how well this book is known outside Canada, but it's won some major literary awards. So maybe my 2 is going to be controversial but I seriously cannot get into this book although I've tried twice. Not because it's too deep and heavy, but basically because imo the plot, charactors, dialogue are stilted and unconvincing. Only the setting is of interest and that would mainly be if you are familiar with the city of Toronto. I think Ondatje is way over-rated and his other major work The English Patient is one of the few cases of the movie being better than the book.

3. Any Harlequin romance: Basically all of these are 1's or 2's. If you've read one you've read them all. So here's some examples of what I would give a 1 or 2 to which I have almost never done on WFG. Yet it's not so much that they are "unreadable" or even "a tough slog" ; you could skim them fairly quickly if you were extremely bored but you'd just end up saying "boy that was lame" (or I would; I guess some people enjoy them because they do sell)

So now it's your turn. If you're familiar with these books, what would you give for a rating (say why briefly if you want). Then suggest another well known work and what you would give it.

I like this game!

Lord of the Rings is a 5 because of the epic scale and the work that went into it -- Tolkien designed Elven Languages for goodness sake! Personally, I enjoy the Hobbit more because it doesn't drag in slow places like LOTR can, but I think of all four as a series and a mythology. Tolkien had skills.

I haven't read Ondatje, because even though I'm Canadian I feel like we're all "ooh, look at us, we have culture." We seem so weirdly desperate. I like Yann Martel's "Life of Pi," though, that's like 4.5 stars (it's not EPIC but it's very well-written).

Robertson Davies as a Canadian is a deep thinker and clever, but dry. 4 stars for his Deptford Trilogy.

For more mainstream -- I really enjoyed Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I would give the series as a whole a 4.5 even though King himself can vary from a 2 to a 4 most of the time -- he worked on it for like thirty years or more, starting in college, and it connected with most of his other works. His LOTR, really, and the imagination in it is impressive. Individually, "The Gunslinger" was a 2.5 star book with a few 3.5 star moments -- showed potential but nothing spectacular (except for Roland's "test" where he becomes a gunslinger, it shows the epic story to come and verges on five star writing). "The Drawing of the Three" was 4 stars, great characterization, action and tension. "The Wastelands" was like 3 stars, not as enjoyable as the first except for drawing Jake into Roland's world. The fourth book "Wizard and Glass" is a western featuring Roland as an adolescent, right after his test, and the first time he falls in love. It's one of my favourite books and stands out from the rest of King's writing -- 5 star. Then the last three books are kind of downhill, barely 3s except for certain scenes, until the ending of "the Dark Tower," book 7. It makes so much sense for the series that it elevates it all to my 4.5 rating, because there was so much of King in the story. He really had to work on it.

I'll see other people's thoughts on other stories before I write more -- other than to say Shakespeare is kind of in a class by himself :P

I agree with Fiona about reading HM&B Romance. From a box of 42, I read 9 cover to cover, enjoyed 3 of those, skimmed another 9 and threw the rest at the wall inside the first three chapters.

But I have to raise a point.

HM&B, [forget Avon, Dorchester and Kensington etc], sell to real percentages of the world population. There are 6.8 billion people; imagine selling a book to 1%. There are 30 imprints, each churning out around 6 novels per month. And they do it month in month out.

That is why there is so much bad romance in the mix. Filling the shelves.

But, what that says about the rating system is:

If peer reviews are a guide to recommend stories people might enjoy, and the vast majority of readers enjoy reading romance [as demonstrated by the figures] then surely an across the board 2 because all romance is crap is misleading the punters.

Just a thought.

Also, pretty much every author 'in a class of their own' Tacitus, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Bragg, Coleridge, Blake, etc etc etc who wrote before Y2K, wrote longwinded prose. Stick figures in a flat world are just the fashion for the moment. The pedulum of taste will swing again.


Good point, Letitia! Given that you're going to find some jewels among the dross, let's amend that to "A typical Harlequin romance". I picked on Harlequin because they seem to me to be the worst offenders in terms of being extremely formulaic - they all seem to only have one plot, and a really cheesy plot at that (in my experience at least).

Agreed. ;)

Here are my (initial) votes. I've already mentioned one of them in the "Rating Other People's Stories" thread, but I didn't say enough about it there to suit me.

My Name Is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok)--a 5. Very powerful, very moving. Fiction in which the protagonist is an artist can be corny and trite, and it sometimes appears embarrassingly autobiographical, but there isn't a hint here of any such thing. This novel is brilliant, beautiful, and real. Very highly recommended.

Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke)--a 4. I don't read a great deal of science fiction, but I liked this. Original, intriguing, and better-written than most.

Sylvie and Bruno (Lewis Carroll)--a 3. I'm the biggest Lewis Carroll fan I've ever met . . . but that's the Lewis Carroll of the Alice books and The Hunting of the Snark. Here he goes all moral . . . and his pyrotechnic wit suffers for it.

The Shining (Stephen King)--a 2. This is the only Stephen King novel I've read, and I really only read it because I wondered how it compared to the TV movie of a few years back--the one that was made to King's specifications. I thought the movie was a disjointed mess and that it didn't make enough sense, and I sort of assumed the book would, as usual, be better. It wasn't. Add to the above complaints clumsy writing and, if memory serves, a less-sympathetic father character.

A score of 1 would have to go to a story I simply could not finish, and that hasn't happened for some time--since high school, I think. And that's too long ago; who knows, I might not hate those stories now.

Thanks, Fiona, for starting the thread.


I would give the Shining a three because it was genuinely scary reading it in the dark in high school. However, it's not the best example of King's writing, and it doesn't have any great allegorical meaning or anything. Just creepy. However, it probably affects things to see movies first and books after. I HATED the Forrest Gump book because in the movie he was kind of goofy and sweet, but on paper he came across as a total asshole redneck. Maybe it would be different if I read the book first, but the whole thing seemed ludicrous while the movie was sentimental but sweet. 2 stars for the book.

Lord of the Flies, 4.5 star. Great Gatsby 4 star. Grapes of Wrath four star, I get sleepy. Robert Heinlein's career 5 star, but individual books vary between 2.5 and 5. Too many to name ;)

I first read Lord of the Flies in high school and have reread it since (though not recently) and would pretty much agree with you on that: a 4 or 4.5. The Great Gatsby I read in college and absolutely hated, to the tune of about a 1.5, if you'd asked me at the time. (I think I managed to finish it, but only because it was assigned.) All these years later, though, I'd hate to trash the thing without another look, just in case. But I hated Fitzgerald's writing style, and if anything I'm pickier now.

In fact I find it hard to believe he was a friend of Nathanael West's. Speaking of whom: The Day of the Locust, 5; Miss Lonelyhearts, 4.5. Harder to rank his other two novels, especially the peculiar The Dream Life of Balso Snell, which is packed with literary in-jokes of one kind or another.


Children's novels:

The Chronicles of Narnia I would rate between 4 and 5 (depending on the book). I know that now it's very old-fashioned, and there's a lot of telling as well as some showing. But the allegorical structure of the series, and the Biblical allusions, took a lot of planning -- and the imagination at work in the creation of Narnia and some of the charming dialogue and narration -- all of that adds up. I don't think it's the same as modern fiction, there's no point in comparing -- but if you admire it like the design and planning for a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural piece (which no one today would live in) then you can admire the artistry.

I don't know how many people would know about it, but I really like Edward Eager's books. He was an American who wrote a few books about a family of children, and then another few books about their kids, and then a few books about kids who actually read the stories about the other group. There's Half Magic, where the children get a coin that grants half of a wish, so if they want to catch a burglar one handed they need to use two hands. There's Knight's Castle, where the toy castle they play with during the day becomes real at night. Seven Day Magic, I think was the one where they get a magic book from the library that lets them go into any other story they've read and meet the characters. He had a great imagination and the stories are more fun than Narnia, but not as quite as much detailed planning and moral philosophy. I'd give him 4 stars for sure -- He would have said E. Nesbitt was better, she was his inspiration. I liked him more though, growing up.

I'd give all the Narnia books a 5 except for The Last Battle, which gets a 3.5, because it starts out so depressing and then there's a deus ex machina, literaly ha ha, but that's what deus ex machina means! If there were extra stars above 5 I'd give an extra star to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, A Horse and his Boy, and The Silver Chair.

In terms of comparison with modern stuff - I don't know - I don't think they suffer...when I was a kid I remember enjoying them as much or more than any more recent children's lit and kids don't discriminate or care if something's a classic, they like what they like.

On that note: Harry Potter! I'm hovering between a 3.5 and a 4 for the series. It's heresy, especially as my cousin had a bit part in one of the movies! - but I never got into them much. I found the names etc too silly to take the drama seriously - I can't be afraid of a curse that sounds like "I wanna cadaver"! But I didn't find it funny enough to take as humour. I probably would have liked them as a kid but there wasn't enough to transcend to adult appeal for me.

I'm biased about Potter because I know the Brit Lit influences that comprise the mythology. I feel like Rowling just put all of Britains major literary archetypes into a well-marketed package. The repetitive nature of each story (Harry finds out about a problem at the start of the school year, doesn't tell the teachers, tries to solve it himself, and then handily solves the problem just in time for school to be over with the help of friends and teachers) drove me crazy, especially since it was repeated in Deathly Hallows which didn't even take place at school.

However, the narrative is very thorough and descriptive, you can see the world Rowling sees. I think there's talent in evidence, and I can kind of forgive the repetitive structure because it's for children, sort of. The series is pretty dark. Because the magic is derivative of other British stories, and the structure is repetitive, the only thing interesting for me in each story was the development in the friendships between Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny. The relationships went through a lot of grief and still managed to stay strong. I'd say three to four stars, depending on the book and my mood. I only read them because my wife was a big fan.

The Magician's Nephew, in particular, gets five stars plus some phantom stars on top of it. Screw the mythology and Christian allusions (though I always appreciated the mild subversion of 'original sin'--putting the great sin on the shoulders of the boy, rather than the girl)--the language in it is just so goddamn *excellent*. This comes out in pretty much all of C.S. Lewis' stuff; The Screwtape Letters are another example. The man knew how to stick a noun next to a verb like nobody's business.

Also, I might have already hinted this, but anything by Luis Borges gets an auto-5 stars. His stories are all brilliant, playful labyrinths assembled in such a way that even the subtext has subtext. If you are at all interested in literature with depth, and have not read any of his stuff, do yourself a favor--and go do it now. An easy introduction can be found in the short story, The Library of Babel (http://jubal.westnet.com/hyperdiscordia/library_of_babel.html ). Also recommended: The Garden of Forking Paths, The Book of Sand, and Funes, His Memory (original title in Spanish: Funes the Memorious).

I'd give LotR ... probably 2.5... at best...

It's rambling, badly paced and has poor character development (and some appalling characters outright, including a number of Mary Sues). It's clear that the author made a lot of the plot up as he went along, as it's incredibly inconsistent, and there are holes all over the shop. Plus it's painfully unoriginal, with much of the story nothing more than a rehash of Norse mythology (especially the Volsung Saga), as evidenced by its uncanny similarities to Wagers Der Ring des Nibelungen. That it's a sequel to the far-superior Hobbit just makes things worse.

@Dary: Something to keep in mind is that Lord of the Rings wasn't written with the intent of popular entertainment in mind, so it might be unfair to rate it using a gauge of popular fiction. Tolkien was never unclear about his goals: He wanted to create an entire mythology--something like India's Ramayana. It was more an English literature project than anything; Tolkien was a craftsman of language and wanted to create an entire world, full of language, history, and mythology based on things like Nordic mythology, the Arthurian legends, and Beowulf.

As a result, LotR reads like a Bible... because that's kind of what it's *supposed* to be. I know it's a cheap trick to say 'It wasn't written for *you*', but in the case of LotR, I think that it really applies--I doubt that it was ever meant for popular consumption. Its ingrainment in popular culture is... well, probably kind of a fluke. I don't think Tolkien really expected it (though I could be wrong).

On the other hand, I have to ask--it reads like the Bible, its characters have about as much depth as origami, and it certainly rehashes a lot of existing mythology (my favorite rehash being Tom Bombadil as the Green Knight)--guilty as charged. But... made the plot up as he went along? Inconsistent? Plotholes? This is all news to me. I always thought of LotR as an example of magnificently intricate structuring--to risk over-extending a metaphor, Tolkien's carpentry certainly doesn't look *pretty*, and I sure as hell wouldn't want one of his chairs in my home, but the fact is that it's an incredibly ornate and well-made chair by the standards carpenters have set for themselves (though probably not for the standards people interested in buying chairs might have). I'm incredibly curious what about the story makes you think he just came up with the plot as he went along--if anything, I always thought Tolkien was guilty of *overplotting*. I mean, as I understand it, he worked on this for over *forty years* of his life.

In contrast, The Hobbit was written to entertain children. As a result, it's a much easier, much more fun read.

EDIT: Mind you, not an English Lit major, so if you're more well versed on this subject, feel free to soundly put me in my place. Everything I wrote above is based on little more than personal observations, having read a little of what Tolkien wrote himself about the series, and having enjoyed the series purely as a hobbyist.

EDIT-EDIT: Also, the Volsunga saga? I know there are some parallels, but I don't see how LotR is just a rehash of the story. But again, not an English Lit major--am I just missing something really obvious?

See the ten-volume The History of the Lord of the Rings, edited by Christopher Tolkien, for the huge amount of revision the story underwent. The character of Galadriel is a striking example, but there are many others . . . yes, about ten volumes' worth. "Made a lot of the plot up as he went along?" Technically, sorta, I guess (not that that's uncommon even among very good writers), but that's not to say that the work was thrown together.

A work can be derivative or it can make references to/incorporate other works, myths, etc. There's a difference. I will stick my English Lit neck out a bit and declare that The Lord of the Rings is not a "rehash" of the Volsung Saga.


As to the Chronicles of Narnia, the three that would get the highest marks from me would be The Magician's Nephew, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. These were my favorites (in ascending order) when I first read them, and I'm pretty sure they would be now as well. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, though it has its moments (I like the place in which dreams come true) ranks last with me, I'm afraid. When I was a kid I'm sure I'd have instantly given the first three mentioned all fives; does that mean (since they're for kids) that I should give them fives now? Or should I look them over with a grown-up eye, judging them by certain grown-up standards and asking myself how other/current kids would respond?

At least I'm a Polly sort of grown-up rather than the Susan type. That's something.


@Dary: Ha! Thank you, you expressed succinctly some of the problems I have with the LOTR, (altho I can't remember the details well enough to comment on the plot inconsistencies point). But, you see, the reason I can't remember the details well enough is I've never been able to get through the books without skimming large sections! What does that say!? It is "a tough slog" in places for sure, which we rate as a 2, but the awesome parts are SO awesome (the parts I actually read) that they themselves rate the 5. But now I have the courage to knock half a star of LOTR and put it to 4.5. Noting, though, that something can have a lot of glaring, technical flaws and still rise to the rank of awesome. Actually, there are a lot of books like that, new and old. And people. Hmmm....

@Shelley. Ha! You picked what I would consider to be the three darkest Narnia books, in ascending order! Morbid child, were you? ;)

Of the Narnia books, my favorite was always "The Voyage of The Dawn Treader"; especially when they voyaged into the "dark islands" or "the dark seas" or whatever the heck it was called. Things got creepy then!

"The Silver Chair" was a bit of a slog for me, as was the first half of "The Last Battle". (I really hated that monkey!)

Fiona, to more or less quote Betty MacDonald (I say "more or less" because I can't find my copy of The Plague and I), "Like all children, we were bloodthirsty little monsters." Well . . . I'm not sure I ever actually qualified as a bloodthirsty little monster, though I did go through an Edgar Allen Poe phase--didn't everyone? :) If you'd asked me way back when why I preferred those three Narnia books I probably would have told you that there was a lot at stake in them, that a lot happened, that there was a lot of suspense . . . something like that. Looking back, I suspect that they were also closest to my reading level at the time. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a great kids' story, but it's written awfully simply--the Narnia books basically "grew up" as the real Lucy did, with the later ones much more complex and--dare I say it?--sophisticated. I was/am a "late bloomer" in some regards, but reading was never one of them.