Newly-uncovered documents show that the Nobel Prize for Literature committee discussed considering J.R.R. Tolkien for the prize in 1961 but dismissed him as not good enough.
Instead, the award was bestowed upon a forgotten Yugoslavian writer, Ivo Andric. Besides passing over Tolkien, despite his status as the author of "The Lord of the Rings," the committee rejected Lawrence Durrell, Robert Frost, Graham Greene and E.M. Forster.
Here is a partial list of writers who didn't win: Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, Leo Tolstoy, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanislaw Lem, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Yes, there are some good writers who have won the award — among American writers, I can't quarrel with Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Sinclair Lewis — but the omissions are more striking than the reasonable choices. The award has been given, over and over again, to Scandinavian writers that no one has ever heard of. Just last year, it was given to the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.
For an eye-opening look at just how bad the Nobels are, see critic Ted Gioia's list of Nobels in an "alternate universe." I think Gioia's choices of Bob Dylan and Arthur Conan Doyle are particularly inspired, although I'm less thrilled that he chose to honor Ian Fleming and Jack Kerouac.