John C. Wright links to a fabulous post on how J.R.R. Tolkien uses diction to convey mood and character in The Lord of the Rings. Along the way, the author shows how literary criticism really ought to be done. Here’s one quotable bit out of many:
As these critics lose the ability to understand a text, they focus all the harder on the minute details of the text, and lose the benefit of context. This seems paradoxical, but it is, alas, not hard to explain. The ‘New Criticism’ was invented by men who had not the cultural literacy to see why literature is not and cannot be a science. In the interest of scientific objectivity, they banished the author’s intentions and the reader’s reactions from their purview. But literature is inherently a subjective art: it is an act of communication between a writer and a reader, and if you leave either of them out of account, the whole art form becomes strictly meaningless.