Can we make Tolkien “woke”?

The Pacific Standard has a piece, How can we untangle white supremacy from medieval studies, which is an equal part nuggets of fact and equal part tripe.

Setting aside much which I found disagreeable in the piece, I was intrigued by the references to J. R. R. Tolkien’s work and their relationship to the race-theories prevalent at the time he was constructing his cosmos. It always struck me as rather obvious that Tolkien was a man of his time, and as a conservative British Roman Catholic, he would bring some fashionable Occidental sensibility to his world-building. Tolkien’s life spanned the late period of the British Empire, and his passion and legacy were to create a mythology for the English peoples. It would be reasonable his views on race, ethnicity, and religion would be in keeping within the mainstream for the first half of the 20th century.

If you read The Silmarillion it’s clear that the cosmogony of Middle Earth, Arda more broadly, was monotheistic. Though Tolkien asserted at some point that his work was fundamentally Catholic, that seems too specific (though Eru Ilúvatar does seem particularly Christian as opposed to more generally monotheistic).

It is notable that paganism is not explored in detail in the works, though there are allusions to pagan practice and beliefs. In Fellowship of the Ring Denethor, the crazed Steward of Gondor, declares “No long, slow sleep of death embalmed. We shall burn like the heathen kings of old!” Though Tolkien’s work is not explicitly as allegorical of Christianity as C. S. Lewis’, there was still a Christian sensibility about his universe and the outlooks of his protagonists. The Hobbits were modeled on English gentry and carried themselves with the propriety one expected of doughty burghers.

The pagan beliefs of men not exposed to the civilizing influences of the elves were attributable to worshipping the demonic powers of the dark lord Morgoth and his servant Sauron. This reflects the views of pre-modern Christians, where pagans did not worship fictions, but real demons who presented themselves as false gods.

The racial aspect is more what raises the hackles of the commentator in the piece above, and seems out of place today. Though I was never offended personally, it is impossible to not notice it if you dive deep into Tolkien’s legendarium. The three tribes of the Edain, “elf friends” of the First Age, seem to be modeled on Northern Europeans. The only exception may be the House of Haleth, though I suspect here as he was British Tolkien drew upon the folklore of the dark Welsh. These three Edain peoples were loyal to the elves and turned away from Morgoth and his servant Sauron. In contrast, the hearts of men who were not Edain were weak and susceptible to the allure of the dark lord and his minion.

Two broad classes of these people, the Easterlings, and the men of Harad, seem to represent all of the peoples of Asia, the Near East, and Africa. Described in turns as sallow, swarthy, brown and black, their racial identity is clear. It is not white. It also seems Tolkien’s British background comes to the fore again insofar as from what I can tell the only nation outside of the circle of the West in Middle Earth with an attention to linguistic detail, Khand, seems to be modeled on Northern India.* India, after all, would loom large in the imagination of British people of that period, in myth if not reality.

To term J. R. R. Tolkien a “white supremacist” or promoting an ideology of that sort seems to me in the class of true, but trivial. Almost everyone during the period that Tolkien was a mature man was a white supremacist as we’d understand it (including American presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt). More interesting to me is the idea that Tolkien has cast an aura over high fantasy literature, and straight-jacked it into a Northern framework, which is implicitly or explicitly white supremacist.

It is hard to deny the influence in the general sense. The authors Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss have both talked about the distorting influence of Tolkien and his legendarium on the fantasy genre. The “Tolkien copy-cat” phenomenon to some extent defines high fantasy, or at least it did until the past decade or so when many authors have tried to imitate George R. R. Martin’s style (Terry Brooks’ success was in large part due to his conscious imitation and remixing of Tolkien).

Arguably part of the legacy then is the implicit racial order that is outlined in The Lord of the Rings. But let’s be clear here: the audience for fantasy literature in the United States and England is going to be mostly white, and white people seem to identify with other white people in fiction whether literary or visual. I’m not justifying, as a non-white person who has read fiction and watched film and television where the protagonists were mostly white for most of my life, I can tell you it’s not that hard to identify with a character of a different race. After all, everyone is a human.

But sometimes you want something different. A few years ago I read Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. The author is a moderately prominent political commentator on Twitter, and his views are standard postcolonial Leftist from what I can tell. This is a guy who’s against hegemony. So one of my criticisms of Throne of the Crescent Moon is that it substitutes a Eurocentric white hegemony for a Near Eastern quasi-Islamic hegemony. That is, the world of Throne of the Crescent Moon seems highly derivate of the Abbasid Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, and reflects the cultural self-confidence of the period for Muslims. It’s certainly not one where oppression is in scarcity.

This isn’t necessarily a bug, but Ahmed basically traded swords for scimitars, and deracinated Christianity for quasi-Islam, and called it good. And perhaps it was good. I didn’t have a problem with it fundamentally. And if your problem with “white supremacy” is the “white” part then that is solved. The only issue though is that there was clearly a supremacy left within the story.

There are other ways to go a different direction from Tolkien. Consider Ricardo Pinto’s The Chosen, the first of a series. This is actually a very original piece of work in relation to the world-building, without clear analogs to the universe we live in. For lack of a better descriptor, Pinto has created a world of bronze age brutality. But The Chosen also has a strong romantic element, and it is distinctive in that it culminated in a gay relationship. In interviews, Pinto has been explicit that his vision was to create a fantasy which reflected gay themes, and he certainly achieved that.

But going back to the issue I highlighted above, the world of The Chosen is also explicitly racially hierarchical, with the herrenvolk being tall, lean and very pale skinned, and ruling tyrannically and brutally over the dark races. Additionally, there is also an aspect of “mighty whitey” as the series progresses. I wouldn’t reduce Pinto’s novels to this caricature, but there is certainly something in them that Ernst Rohm would find appealing.

Less famously, but more explicitly, than Ursula K Le Guin in Tombs of Atuan, Judith Tarr engaged in racial inversion (at least from a white perspective) in her series of Avaryan novels. The protagonists were dark of complexion. The lands of the great enemy were inhabited by a paler people, with genuinely white-skinned people being very exotic creatures on the very margins of the known world. In Tarr’s human geography the cold northern areas are occupied by the darkest skinned peoples, while to the south there were nations whose appearance was of a paler brown. This shakes us from comprehending this universe as similar to ours because this goes against what we see in our world. And like Pinto’s work, there is a strong homoerotic element throughout the whole series, and unabashed depictions of homosexual sex (though the characters are not necessarily gay in this case).

And yet in the overall skeins, the same quasi-medieval superstructure still exists as a distinct scaffold. The author scrambles our expectations and rearranges and reorders the normative frameworks in Tolkien’s high fantasy, but the broad themes of self-discovery of the aristocratic young prince whose inheritance awaits, or the conflicts between empires and civilizations ebbing away through a marital alliance, reemerges from the fog of novel landscapes. After all the modification and inversion we find something distinctly feudal that remains before us.

My point is that the regressive and reactionary nature of high fantasy is literally baked into the nature of the genre. Unlike science fiction fantasy does not explore an unlimited space of the possible. The marginally science fictional aspects of R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series are attenuated, and you have to look closely to see them for what they are. If Bakker’s work had been suffused by spaceships then they’d transform into something different fundamentally, and the possibilities would open up. Science fiction plays with physics, biology, chemistry, as well as anthropology, economics, and history. In contrast, high fantasy as we understand it is delimited by a vision of anthropology, history, and linguistics. As such the canvas of the stories is necessarily narrower. High fantasy is by definition a genre which looks before the industrial revolution, and so takes as a starting point the norms and expectations of agrarian societies.

For the vast majority of human history, our existence has been defined by agrarian societies. I say here history, because the vast majority of our species’ existence is nevertheless pre-agrarian. The mythologies of San Bushmen, Mbuti Pygmies, and Australian Aboriginals, are all very different from the polytheisms of antiquity, with their kings in heaven and conquered gods in trapped in Tartarus. Hunter-gatherer society is and was more egalitarian. There were likely no great autocratic lords, even if there were greatest hunters or the eldest and most powerful wise women.

When it comes to agrarian society complex structure, hierarchy, and attention to lineage and a level of inter-group brutality were typical. These are the nostalgic worlds that high fantasy draws inspiration from, and by their nature, they will be difficult to reflect a liberal and egalitarian ethos in an all-pervasive sense. It is not difficult to identify with a protagonist who is decent and who reflects our sensibilities, but often they are swimming against the cultural tide.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I think the idea of a “minimally counter-intuitive narrative” is useful here. Fantasy is “out of this world,” but it also has to exhibit some verisimilitude. Ricardo Pinto’s The Chosen is a bit atypical because it is not heteronormative in its focal protagonists, but many of the other expectations of high fantasy, the barbaric brutality, and injustice, remain in place. Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series depicted an alternative quasi-Christianity where men and women had greater equality, and in the world as a whole, but aside from that and the fact that the Vikings were a separate species and elves’ existed, the whole series drew very heavily on 10th century Europe. One can modify many of the elements of a world and narrative to make it fantastical, but one also needs to not push it too far.

Imagining ourselves as a viewpoint character living in the past of our secondary world can help us to understand what is, and isn’t, plausible. Dragons? Plausible. Our pre-modern viewpoint character doesn’t think that dragons are impossible creatures. Quasi-human creatures? Again, plausible. Remove all inequality and guarantee affluence? In a Malthusian world, this is simply not conceivable. Abundance existed, but only for elites, or in the afterlife. Mitigation and amelioration of injustice and inequality were plausible, and in many religious-ethical systems preferred and meritorious, but there was no expectation or conception that injustice could be totally eliminated. Matthew 26:11.

Additionally, not only does one have to be attuned to pre-modern perspectives on verisimilitude, one needs to recall that a messy and imperfect world is actually fertile ground for narrative tension. One of the problems with Star Trek as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry was that in the liberal utopia of the future all the dramatic tension had to come from external sources.

Which gets us back to the original question: did Tolkien’s world-building virtuosity contingently rig the game for white supremacy in modern high fantasy? I don’t think so. High fantasy seems to draw upon pre-modern mythology. That mythology by its nature is from agrarian societies, which precede the modern world. These societies were hierarchical. This hierarchy is quite offensive fundamentally to modern liberal sensibilities, broadly construed.  They are supremacist, albeit along the dimension of class.

In the English speaking world, the audience is mostly white, and the protagonists in fantasy and science fiction also tend to be white. This is not realistic, and it’s not racist per se, but it’s a general trend across our society and not limited to high fantasy (the New York City of Seinfeld and Friends was overwhelmingly white). Combine white protagonists with a hierarchical world…I think it’s hard to avoid being labeled a white supremacist appealing genre in the present year.

The ultimate problem here is that the current postcolonial fixation with white supremacy elides the reality that the problem is not whiteness, but supremacy. The Baltic pagans treated like beasts of burden by their German Christian conquerors were arguably even whiter physiognomically than the German Christian. Still they were treated oppressively, to the point of genocide in the case of the Old Prussians.

Let me end by quoting Agent Smith from the Matrix:

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your “perfect world”. But I believe that, as a species human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. So the perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.”

* If you don’t believe me take a look at the map of Khand, the names of the cities are a melange of Indian and Iranian influences.

 

22 thoughts on “Can we make Tolkien “woke”?

  1. I’ll admit I’m not very well versed in fantasy. I grew up in a household where science fiction books were literally sitting all around me, and fantasy was disparaged. I didn’t read a single fantasy book until I was in college and happened upon Perdido Street Station by China Meiville. I’ve read most of the works of Tad Williams since (who I discovered by way of Otherland), George R.R. Martin, and a few Neil Gaiman books. And I did play D&D campaigns and the like when younger. But I have barely scratched the surface of the genre compared to my extensive knowledge of science fiction.

    Still, it seems to me that fantasy as a genre has always been ripe for more “deconstruction” than it has seen. A time period a bit later than the high middle ages would allow an author to explore the flowering of something like the enlightenment within a fantasy setting, even allowing for liberal “revolutionary” plots where disparate groups (even the “evil” ones) overcome their differences and overthrow the nobility. It might not of course be the most historically accurate, but it would align with modern sensibilities and one would presume it would be reasonably successful.

    I disagree with your comment about high fantasy being straightjacketed into a Malthusian world for one reason alone – the existence of magic, which in many settings (not so much Tolkien, but his knockoffs) is fairly ubiquitous. On one hand it is true that having some people have access to magic, and others not sets up a very real hierarchy which plays to the most reactionary elements of our culture. But “magic” is effectively a natural resource, which within a fictional world could be systematically studied and potentially used for the interest of all, rather than the benefit of the few. Indeed, one can see this as a parallel in some ways to what happened during the modern era, where knowledge ended up being more freely spread following the invention of printed books, allowing for cross-fertilization and an increasing “democratization” of ideas. In a fantasy world with printing presses (or some magical analogue), it thus seems inevitable that magical knowledge will become less arcane and more widespread and systematized over time, until an escape is found to the Malthusian trap.

    A final note on the “race” question – a few years back I spent some time turning around a worldbuilding idea for a fantasy setting (I never got to having a plot, so it went nowhere). The setting was going to expressedly not have any characters of identifiable races from reality. One of the three main races would essentially be depigmented Australian aborigines of fairly short statute. I realized, however, given the English language really lacks good descriptive language for facial morphology, a typical western reader would just presume they were “white” people with dark hair and eyes.

  2. If readers want fantasy with more modern sensibilities, they can read urban fantasy. It has its charms, although I’ve always found it harder to suspend disbelief for it (unless it’s for secondary world stuff like Mieville’s Perdido Street Station).

    Still, I wish there were more attempts to try and explore how magic could drastically change what we would consider a pre-modern society. Or even just some non-magical changes (imagine if Silphium grew readily outside of its haven in North Africa).

  3. I disagree with your comment about high fantasy being straightjacketed into a Malthusian world for one reason alone – the existence of magic, which in many settings (not so much Tolkien, but his knockoffs) is fairly ubiquitous.

    these are to a great extent though SHITTY fantasies. why? because magical affluence leads to lots of deus ex machina and lack of tightness to plotting. in high magic worlds with rules defining use of magic it starts to feel like bizarro-world science fiction.

    (george r r martin self-consciously aimed to go to a low magic tolkienesque model with asoiaf)

  4. Tolkien’s world isn’t particularly Malthusian, though, at least by the time of the Lord of the Rings. Almost the reverse — it’s practically a post-apocalyptic wasteland which at one time was able to support a much, much larger population than at the present. The map and the narrative are littered with references to cities, kingdoms and civilisations that have all vanished. The northern kingdom of Arnor, for example, is basically reduced to a couple roving bands of hunter-gatherers (the Dunedain) and one pokey town (Bree). The whole west coast from Gondor up to the Shire is essentially empty.

    Responding to an entirely different point, as a half-Korean half-White, I’ve always found it a bit mysterious when people (usually Blacks and other racial minorities, Whites sometimes in recent years) complain that they find other-race protagonists distancing or alienating, or agitate for/against racial representation in this or that medium. I’ve never imagined the protagonists of classic literature looking like me — I know perfectly well that they don’t — but I’ve not found that much of a barrier to my enjoyment. Not much of a barrier for science fiction or fantasy either. It’s not that I have no racial consciousness (I grew up perceiving a sharp Asian vs. non-Asian racial distinction, with a vague sense of racial inferiority on account of being part White), just that entertainment isn’t an area where race has been all that salient to me.

    If I approached literature with the expectation that I want to see someone who “looks like me” as the protagonist . . . well, I guess I’d be looking for Hispanic protagonists with whom I have no cultural or ethnic affinity. But realistically, I’d just never read anything because people with my particular racial and cultural mix make up such a tiny, tiny fraction of the population. The point that:

    “the audience for fantasy literature in the United States and England is going to be mostly white, and white people seem to identify with other white people in fiction whether literary or visual.”

    Is probably true, I guess, but it’s something that I genuinely don’t understand.

  5. Tolkien’s world isn’t particularly Malthusian, though, at least by the time of the Lord of the Rings. Almost the reverse — it’s practically a post-apocalyptic wasteland which at one time was able to support a much, much larger population than at the present. The map and the narrative are littered with references to cities, kingdoms and civilisations that have all vanished. The northern kingdom of Arnor, for example, is basically reduced to a couple roving bands of hunter-gatherers (the Dunedain) and one pokey town (Bree). The whole west coast from Gondor up to the Shire is essentially empty.

    this is a good point. lots of ppl complained that filming in new zealand gave the wrong impression to viewers since middle earth seemed to be fresh, green, and virgin territory, when in reality it should have been littered with old cities. otoh it’s probably still malthusian since the thin population is still living within the limits of its production capabilities.

    Is probably true, I guess, but it’s something that I genuinely don’t understand.

    there are cases where protagonists clearly non-white in sf an fantasy in the narration are depicted with cover art as white people. i think this happened in *star ship troopers* where johnny rico is brown skinned and probably filipino in background.

    remember what happened with rue in *hunger games*? in the books it was pretty obv intimated she was of african (american) heritage, at least in part. but lots of white kids were shocked and angry at the portrayal by a black actress since they had interopolated the image of a white character in their minds.

  6. Before Tolkien, Robert E. Howard created the World of Hyboria for his Conan character, which was transparently a map overlain on Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. Howard wanted to write historical adventure tales like Talbot Mundy and Harold Lamb, but the historical accuracy he craved was time-consuming in West Texas and the market was thin. This world gave him a vehicle to write stories in which a proto-Celt (from Cimmeria) traveled to Viking Scandinavia, the Asian Steppes, the Indian subcontinent, the Islands off of Africa, and the Carolingian Empire.

    Tolkien told an interviewer that he had read Howard, but it was probably just him being nice. Conan is not only more violent; the stories are often tinged with sex. Magic is almost always dark and utilized by the weak to enslave the many. Wizards are evil. Conan usually finds himself in situations where he serves as a critique of civilization. He is in other words, very American.

    I don’t find the stories racially-supremacist, but if you just focus on the stories set in non-white areas, the woke would label it prototypical white-savior stuff. Charles Saunders, an African-American was inspired to create his own African-Conan in the Imaro series.

  7. i think its mainly the anglos who have hard time identifying with non-whites in fiction. (these guys dont even want to learn a non-english language.)

  8. The cover art to the EarthSea trilogy depicted Ged as white back in the early 1980s, and then the SyFy remake depicted him as white. And then Miyazaki depicted the characters as light-skinned Japanese. The authors are presumptively correct with their artistic decisions, but given that she admittedly was working within a Northern European fantasy, the color issue feels skin-deep to me and more directed towards making a statement outside of the story. Still, I didn’t see a reason to change it.

  9. Hunter-gatherer society is and was more egalitarian

    And thus it’s hard to devise any conflict in those societies that could sustain an entire novel. I’m reminded of The Gods Must Be Crazy. Conflict arises among the Bushmen only because something from an agrarian society lands in their midst.

    Not that a good novelist couldn’t find interesting conflicts among hunter-gatherer societies that could be spun into a novel. But it’s more difficult than finding conflicts among agrarians.

    The ultimate problem here is that the current postcolonial fixation with white supremacy elides the reality that the problem is not whiteness, but supremacy.

    What a nice thought . . . But, to mix Blue Oyster Cult with The Who, history shows again and again that the folly of men will just replace one boss with a new one.

  10. Seth,

    I’ve read several hunter-gatherer focused books. The Clan of the Cave Bear series is widely known of course. Stephen Baxter wrote one in 2010 (Stone Spring), as did Kim Stanley Robinson in 2013 (Shaman). I dimly remember reading one set in prehistoric Africa as a teen (it involved several types of humans, including Neandertals) but damned if I can recall the author. I can’t say any of them were my favorite books in the world, but I was entertained enough to finish them.

    There is plenty of conflict in hunter-gatherer lives. The conflict of the group against nature. The conflict among band members. The conflict between bands (which is often undersold in these novels, in my experience, due to the “noble savage” mythos). I’d actually argue in some ways it’s easier to write about a hunter-gatherer band than say Iron Age agriculturalists. First, because as Razib has noted in the past they actually share a lot in common with modernity (more balanced gender roles, free selection of mates, decision making via discussion, etc). Secondly, the small size of hunter-gatherer social networks is much easier for the human mind to grok, meaning it would be feasible to do character development for every individual named in the story.

  11. Great piece. One of the founding slogans for me at the beginning of my series was to show fantasy readers ‘the wages of their wonder,’ the way fetishizing premodern contexts means fetishizing moral objectivity, which, given the perpetual underdetermination of moral claims, inevitably leads to chauvinism of some description. Exceptionalism, as you point out, is the fundamental problem. Politicize it and presto, you have some form of fascism.

    The reason I chose fantasy was that I knew it appealed to, and so had the power to undermine, the very instincts/mindsets that literary culture was actually exacerbating, given the new dynamics of counter-identification made possible by the web. I’m still shocked by the hatred I regularly encounter!

    And pleased.

  12. When I read a story about a “researcher on a mission”, I imagine a bunch of researchers on horseback shooting flaming arrows over the wall of a Cathar city.

    Perfectly reasonable from their point of view.

  13. Two small comments.

    1) I don’t recall if this blog has ever mentioned The Last Ringbearer (see here and here), an interesting way to reverse the political/world view of LotR.

    2) As a Jew, I feel that I must object to the cultural appropriation implicit in titling a book about white herrenvolk The Chosen, almost as much as the explicit cultural appropriation of a bunch Greeks and Romans when they made the Torah and associated writings a major part of the holy writings of their new religion. Thanks, St. Paul.

  14. Bór the Faithful with his kin were described as Easterlings.

    I was going to write a fanfic back in 2000ish, but – not being a natural creative – I didn’t get even to a complete outline. I do remember that I was going to make his language Hungarianish.

  15. re Tolkien. One of the points he later changed in his mythology was that the Blue Wizards that journeyed to the East were successful. He characterized them as having a special mission to assist those Easterlings that had rebelled against Morgoth worship and stir-up resistance. That so few of the East aided Sauron in the War of the Rings is a testament to their success because otherwise the West would have been overrun. The change leaves the sense that the Easterlings in the War were within the range and influence of Mordor, emboldened by promises of booty or new lands. As Samwise wondered in the LOTR:

    “He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace…”

  16. Another angle on Tolkein:

    “The Secret Jews of The Hobbit: From the Middle East to Middle Earth”
    by Meir Y. Soloveichik* on Aug. 11, 2016
    https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-secret-jews-of-the-hobbit/
    *Rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City and the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.-

    We have, then, a bunch of short, bearded beings exiled from their homeland, who have dreamed forever of returning. They are linked to a place they lost long ago, dwell in other realms throughout the earth, and yet are so profoundly connected to their own kingdom that it remains vivid to them while for others it is a fading memory. There is one tribe that offers a perfect real-world parallel to Tolkien’s dwarves; there is only one nation that has remained existentially linked to the kingdom its people lost long ago even as it mingled among kings and queens and common folk of other lands throughout history: the Jews.

    The dwarves of Middle Earth, the central characters of one of the most beloved books of all time, are indeed based on the Jews. This was confirmed by Tolkien himself in a 1971 interview on the BBC: “The dwarves of course are quite obviously, [sic] couldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews?” he asked. “Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.” Similarly, in a letter to his daughter, Tolkien reflected, “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”

    Unsettling as the passage is, we would be wrong to use it to indict Tolkien for anti-Semitism. An excerpt from his professional correspondence offers a very different sense of the man’s sympathies. In the late 1930s, a publishing company in Germany sought to create a German translation of The Hobbit. The Germans wrote Tolkien to inquire, among other things, whether he was Aryan. Tolkien drew on his linguistic expertise in composing a biting response: “I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the 18th century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject—which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.”

  17. Exceptionalism, as you point out, is the fundamental problem. Politicize it and presto, you have some form of fascism.

    I just realized – reading from this – that I must be a closet Fascist! This probably explains why, despite my deep admiration for Tolkien’s work as that of great English literature as well appreciation for his incredibly detailed world-building (probably only matched by Frank Herbert’s “Dune”), I always, secretly inside, hankered for an Elf-Holocaust while reading Tolkien.

    I just found them effete, self-righteous, and exceptionally annoying race of beings. I wanted mass helicopter rides for all of them. I know, that’s not very Catholic of me.

    By the way, I always thought Tolkien was more “ethno-centric” than “white supremacist.” The Lord of the Rings series struck me as a re-written (and vastly enlarged) version of the Battle of the Cantalaunian Fields, in which vigorous Germanics – whose age of dominance was approaching – along with the vestiges of a dying, ancient race (i.e. Romans) defeated a vast Eastern Horde (while Europeans described the Iranian Alans as handsome people, they invariably portrayed the Huns and Mongols as very much Orc-like beings).

  18. @marcel proust

    “I don’t recall if this blog has ever mentioned The Last Ringbearer”
    It was a contrarian fanfic. Sure, it didn’t have GandalfxSaruman mpreg, but it was a fanfic nonetheless.
    Anyway, McSweeny’s “Noam Chomsky” and “Howard Zinn” did it better: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/unused-audio-commentary-by-howard-zinn-and-noam-chomsky-recorded-summer-2002-for-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-platinum-series-extended-edition-dvd-part-one

    “As a Jew, I must object to the “cultural appropriation”
    Heh, good one.

    “explicit cultural appropriation of a bunch Greeks and Romans when they made the Torah and associated writings a major part of the holy writings of their new religion. Thanks, St. Paul”
    Not sure if you’re joking; but I’m pretty sure Paul, née Saul of Tarsus, and his Jesus movement contemporaries were more Jewish genetically and spiritually, than any Reform or Hasidic synagogue operating today. Christianity was largely a Jewish sect in the Essene apocalyptic tradition for it’s first two hundred years.

  19. Christianity was largely a Jewish sect in the Essene apocalyptic tradition for it’s first two hundred years.

    200? where do you get that? the usual differentiation i see is after/during the first jewish revolt.

    jaqueline carey wrote an inversion of LotR. it was kind of mediocre, but called the sundering.

  20. I dislike attempts at PC casting that work against the original story, but in the specific case of LOTR I would make an argument that to cast all Men of Gondor, and all Men with Numenorean heritage, using much browner actors than Jackson did, would be not a subversion of Tolkien, but true to his vision; he just didn’t make a big deal of it. Faramir and Boromir (and Aragorn) would work perfectly played by actors of Italian or Greek, or Egyptian or Persian background, or even Indian. It would rightly show the contrast between these men of civilization and the illiterate Rohirrim, who should be cast as blonds. The marriage of Éowyn and Faramir would be more accurately seen on screen as an interracial marriage.

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