Friday, January 4, 2013

Tolkien was a racist

Aaron Diaz has a post about racism in Middle Earth. Relevant quote here:

It’s also important to keep in mind that none of the races in Middle-Earth are meant to literally correspond with those in the modern world. Hobbits are inspired by the rural English, but modern English people aren’t descended from Hobbits, nor are brown-skinned people from Harad actually ancestors of modern people from North Africa.  My point is that modern or historical allegories are rare, if ever, present in Tolkien’s writings. Tolkien hated allegory, and it would be poor critical analysis to search for deliberate real-world comparisons.

Here's a video in which Tolkien describes the gold-loving dwarves thus: "Couldn't you say in many ways they remind you of the Jews?" (6:58) In that same video, you hear him describe hobbits as "rather like an allegory for the human race" and "suggest rustic English people."

Tolkien was absolutely a racist by today's standards, and the various races of Middle-Earth are absolutely allegorical representations of different ethnic groups from Tolkien's time. To say that Tolkien hated allegory is a bit of a stretch; he was best buds with C. S. Lewis, after all. There is that one quote about him "cordially disliking" allegory, but I wonder how he would have reconciled that with the above audio clip. It is perhaps using allegory to instruct that Tolkien disliked, because he seems to use allegory often to observe. I'm no scholar of Tolkien, having read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, and that's about it, so I'll stop there in my dispelling of Diaz's notions.

Progs, of which Diaz is an almost exemplar specimen, love Tolkien, though, and simply couldn't bear the idea that he was a racist.

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