PADDLES OUT, FRIENDS; IT IS TIME TO BEAT THE ROTTEN CARCASS OF A DEAD WHITE MAN
Back in June last year I wrote Deconstructing Pointy-Eared White Supremacists. It was one of the most linked things I’ve ever written, even though I didn’t think it addressed anything new or broke new ground. I thought I was, frankly, belaboring the obvious.
I was wrong, of course. There was a number of interesting discussions off the site (some of which I joined). But mostly what happened was a flurry of assorted man-child types who came in, absolutely hysterical, to defend Tolkien from charges of… well, anything actually. It’s that thing again with rabid fanboys thinking that their favorite thing being called -ist or -phobic means it’s a personal assault on their sterling characters–which compels them to not only get particularly shrieky, but also to defend their neckbeard icon in such a way as to make it obvious that they are racist, sexist, and homophobic.
In any case, I’m not interested in further debating why/how Tolkien was a racist, sexist bore: they are evident things, and if you have to ask chances are good you are of the “BUT HE COULD NOT POSSIBLY BEEEEEE” camp. I’m more interested in the wonky mental gymnastics people perform in order to make him out to be the most progressive man of his time (lolno), and the cliches people bust out to further said wonky mental gymnastics. Some of them are conveniently listed here. Please imagine the following parts in bold are spoken by a manchild in a high-pitched, obnoxious voice to best capture the experience of engaging with one of them.
He wasn’t racist! LOOK AT THIS ONE SCENE WHERE SAM FEELS SORRY FOR AN EASTERLING MAN, god!
This is the passage in question:
It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil at 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.
Now please consider that this is the one single solitary passage in the entire trilogy. They comprise of seventy-seven (77) words. What is the total word count for Lord of the Rings as a whole? In the region of 473,000 words, if the google search I did is any indication.
That’s 0.01628% of the text.
Put that against the rest of the work where these faceless hordes under Sauron, who are of course not Caucasian, are portrayed as either, well, faceless hordes or misguided primitives who need the guidance of the white men to renounce their worship of Sauron, because Whitey is the Mighty, and Whitey knows best. Compare, as well, Tolkien’s thoughts on Jews:
The dwarves of course are quite obviously – wouldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.
Now consider the dwarves in The Hobbit:
The most that can be said for the dwarves is this: they intended to pay Bilbo really handsomely for his services; they had brought him to do a nasty job for them, and they did not mind the poor fellow doing it if he would; but they would have done their best to get him out of trouble, if he got into it, as they did in the case of the trolls at the beginning of their adventures before they had any particular reasons for being grateful to him. There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.
“The dwarves of course are quite obviously Jews,” eh?
Collolary: BUT TOLKIEN ONLY MEANT THEIR LANGUAGE!1!! This requires the aforementioned mental gymnastics. One does not say “wouldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of Jews?” when you mean to say “I constructed their language to sound Semitic.” I promise, o neckbeard of little literacy.
He meant to Europeans! God! EYE OF THE BEHOLDER OKAY? Get some perspective, you PC police!
This originates from people pointing out this wonderful, charming quote from one of Tolkien’s letters where he describes orcs like so:
they are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes; in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.
According to fanboys, this is not racist in any way whatsoever, and if you think it is, you are applying modern sensibilities to a man of… uhm… the twentieth century. Which is, like, totally hundreds of years ago, man.
Here’s a newsflash, assholes: even in that time saying something like that in public wouldn’t have gotten you kudos. Tolkien’s time? Not exactly the era of the British Empire. Considering that Tolkien himself was a European, what does his acknowledgment of “to Europeans” mean exactly? A tacit admission that he found “Mongol-types” repulsive? Was he under the impression that everyone in Europe was white? Hmm. A bit sheltered of him, isn’t it? One might even say ignorant. One might even say… racist.
He didn’t like fascists! He said so! He said he hated apartheid! That makes him NOT racist! HAH TAKE THAT.
Relevant quotes are:
I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones; and most of all I detest the segregation or separation of Language and Literature. I do not care which of them you think White.
Anyway, I have in this War a burning private grudge–which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light
There’s also an “I have many Jewish friends” clause in there too.
Yelling as shrilly as possible that you are not a sexist, or a racist or a homophobe, does not necessarily mean you aren’t one. For one thing, such declarations predicate on an assumption that you are self-aware. Unfortunately, straight white males are not usually very self-aware. You may think the more repulsive thoughts about Asians possible, and you’d still say “But I can’t be racist! My best friend is a chink!” or “I can’t be racist, I married a Thai woman!” You may defend to the death your right to use “cunt” as an insult, and you’ll still believe you are a Great Defender of Equal Rights. (Yes, I told him I was going to get an iron-toed boot and kick him in the cock after he said that he believed misandry, heterophobia and anti-white racism were real things and just as bad as misogyny, homophobia and actual racism. I regret nothing.)
Tolkien was, in a lot of ways, a proto-neckbeard. He thought he was a pretty progressive guy who would never ever think a single racist thought, but there is a reason neo-Nazis adored (and likely continue to adore) his books; there’s a reason the British National Party did (and for all I know, still do) make Lord of the Rings required reading. It’s not an isolated incident–multiple white supremacist groups honestly thought his works endorsed their principles. While I doubt Tolkien consciously believed all Jews should be eradicated, his treatment of his Semitic analogue in his own fiction is telling. Likely he never thought “women’s only place is on the pedestal,” yet that’s where his female characters generally end up. In short, authorial intent doesn’t matter. The neckbeards of today likewise think of themselves as progressive, liberal, and open to gay marriage–but spend your time in the company of any neckbeard and you quickly realize they are some of the most regressive people you’ll find outside of an Aryan Nation meeting. After a while bleating that you can’t possibly be racist or sexist or prejudiced in any way becomes protesting way too bloody much.
LOTR promotes racial harmony! I mean, elves and dwarves MAKE FRIENDS OKAY LOOK LEGOLAS AND GIMLI.
Consider this guy:
Well, we know someone got all A’s in her womyn’s studies curriculum. [...] Lewis, like most racial panderers, reads race into everything under the sun but there is no place race is more inappropriate to discuss than in reference to this epic work of creative genius.
Perhaps it is really multicultural envy that causes Lewis to praise The Matrix for its African and Asian characters as any honest examination would cause her to admit that the figures she mentions in the film are all members of the same species; whereas those in Middle Earth she describes as being “whiter than white” are often members of differing species. [...] Why does Lewis hold white males in such contempt?
This is an article from 2004 from what I assume is a Men’s Right Movement website. But I’ll bet you anything that these views are both current and held by neckbeards who think they are anti-racist, anti-sexist, and perfectly enlightened saints. A few I have engaged pulled this very same card:
Again: you are counting nonhumans as “white” simply because they have superficial resemblances to human Caucasians. Your obvious underlying assumption is that “whiteness” and “blackness” transcend SPECIES, which is far more racist than anything in Tolkien’s world.
Within Tolkien’s world, which is the context in which the characters live and which governs the assumptions on which they operate, Humans and Elves have separate origins (far more separate, in fact, than those of Caucasians and Negroes in the real world) and very rarely interbreed (there are ballad-cycles sung for millennia about the rare exceptions to this rule).
Compared to these differences of origin, fate and appearance, the minor fact that the Elf might be light-skinned (and we have no evidence, btw, that all Elves are light-skinned) and you were light-skinned would be a trivial resemblance. To put it in real-world terms, some chimpanzees are pink-skinned and some are black-skinned on their faces and palms, owing to melanin variations. Do you imagine that the pink-skinned chimps are closer kin to Caucasians and the black-skinned ones closer to Negroes, on the basis of this single trait? No? Then why do you imagine the same thing about Elves and Dwarves, on the basis of the SAME trait?
I don’t think this requires any commentary.
Tolkien was writing an Anglo-Saxon mythology, of course everyone is white!
This is valid only if you believe there have never been any POCs whatsoever in Europe or specifically England. It requires a staggering amount of ignorance, but then people who defend Tolkien rabidly tend to be burdened with staggering amounts of ignorance. This, incidentally, is what Tolkien actually said:
I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own, not of the quality that I sought, and found in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish, but nothing English, save impoverished chapbook stuff.
So “English” to Tolkien was… what? All white, all the time?
Tolkien wasn’t sexist, Eowyn and Luthien are STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS!1!
Ah, yes. You know, Eowyn and Luthien, women who are entirely defined by men? Luthien, the one who gave up her immortality for a man? When in the entire history of Middle-earth no male elf ever gave up his immortality for a woman.
There’s no end to the creepiness of how women are treated by Tolkien’s narrative. Let’s run down some of the major ones (if I miss any, feel free to contribute):
Luthien - performs heroics for a man (Beren), dies for a man; overcomes Morgoth by dancing and singing, which is peculiarly gendered and sexual (hurr hurr! The only way a woman may defeat a man…). When she passes away, the world mourns her not because she is powerful and heroic: it mourns her because she was the most beautiful woman. She’s so much on a pedestal that it becomes extra special creeptastic when you realize that she’s meant to be Tolkien’s tribute to his wife.
Eowyn – performs heroics because she crushed on a man (Aragorn), almost dies defending a man (Theoden), speaks to other women about once (in the House of Healing), gives up the sword for a man (Faramir) who treats her like a child.
‘What do you wish?’ he said again. ‘If it lies in my power, I will do it.’
‘I would have you command this Warden, and bid him let me go,’ she said; but though her words were still proud, her heart faltered, and for the first time she doubted herself. She guessed that this tall man, both stern and gentle, might think her merely wayward, like achild that has not the firmness of mind to go on with a dull task to the end.
[...]Then quietly, more as if speaking to herself than to him: ‘But the healers would have me lie abed seven days yet,’ she said. ‘And my window does not look eastward.’ Her voice was now that of a maiden young and sad.[...]Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else she understood it… ‘I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’ And again she looked at Faramir. ‘No longer do I desire to be a queen,’ she said.
Eowyn’s problem–and it’s treated very much like one–is that she underwent a “phase” of wanting to compete with the men, which is just not on and entirely childish (whereas riding to war is, for men, a perfectly proper, mature and correct thing to do: the narrative chastises no other character for wanting to go to war, or seeking martial glory–see Gimli and Legolas competing on orc kills). Naturally it takes a man to fix her and love her back into proper femininity; just as naturally she accepts that love as restorative and proper. A woman’s place is to love growing things and healing; ambition, like “desiring to be a queen,” should not exist in a woman–she’s meant to be a man’s adjunct, and if she becomes queen it is only because her husband is king: see also Arwen.
Arwen – she has how many speaking lines in the books? Prizes that exist to be won by a man don’t need to talk, okay? Oh hey, she wove Aragorn a banner! Awesome.
Nienor – where do I even fucking start. She has her memory erased by a dragon, runs through the forest naked, is rescued and falls in love with her brother, and commits suicide after discovering her pregnancy is first-class incest. The narrative then focuses on her brother’s manpain. Finduilas, from the same story, fulfills a similar role–falling in love with Turin, and then dying, all to contribute to said manpain and make Turin super extra sad because abloo bloo bloo emo wangst bullshit.
Celebrian – implied to have been raped by orcs and sailed to the west.
Rose Cotton – does she even talk? She just seems to exist to give Sam a litter.
There are a lot more rapes in Middle-earth. Like, lots and lots. And women who commit suicide. The men are, of course, never subjected to any sexual threat because NO HOMO, NO HOMO. About the only women in Tolkien’s narrative not treated creepily are Galadriel and possibly Haleth, but the former also ends up on a pedestal while the latter is very minor. The next time someone attempts to cite any of the women on this list as evidence that Tolkien was an exemplary feminist, feel free to brain them with a sack of bricks. Twice.
Tolkien wasn’t classist! Samwise Gamgee was a gardener.
Ah, the one commoner in a cast full of landed gentry, princes, kings, aristocrats and descendants thereof. Sam ends up a landed gentry by the way, having inherited Frodo’s stuff. Sam, who always deferred to his Mister Frodo, sir? Tolkien wasn’t exactly Dickens, if you catch my drift.
Ultimately the core of the trouble is that fanboys don’t want to believe that Tolkien’s body of work is anything other than an “epic work of creative genius,” that anyone saying otherwise must either have an agenda, have no taste, or in some way defective. They refuse to consider the thought that Middle-earth fiction has contributed nothing of worth to culture at large, outside of enforcing the straight-white-male hegemony of the genre… which, naturally, they are all too happy to keep up and praise as excellent and worthy. Much of the politics in it will resonate strongly with those believing in the nobility of the bromance, the boys’ own adventure, the exclusion of women outside the sphere of a reward at the end of a quest, someone who keeps the house tidy (or weaves them banners, as it were).
When confronted with the faintest suggestion that anything might be defective in Tolkien himself, or the works he produced, their reactions tend toward the knee-jerky sort:
I got quite offended by this as I have personally never considered Tolkien’s writing racist in the slightest – to me my friend seemed to be putting on all these racist connotations on a piece of work that didn’t have them to begin with. :/
“Your friend might be racist for noticing all of this. =P”
Brought face to face with the cruel ringwraith, he announces that no man can kill him, and she, removing her helmet and revealing her long blond locks, utters, defiantly, “I am no man.” She might as well have thumped her chest and grunted, “I am woman, hear me roar.”
To make it a feminist battle cry is to celebrate where Tolkien would have us weep. It is, in short, one of the most appalling alterations in the film.
…which incidentally cements the truth that the grimdark purveyors/fans, and the Tolkien purveyors/fans are the same people. Try to tell these quotes apart from the ones linked and discussed here. Fanatical Tolkien fans and fanatical grimdark fans are of the same overlapping demographics, the same attitude, the same neckbeardism: feminists are scary, anti-racist critiques are not to be borne, interrogating the text from the wrong perspective, silly ad hominem, the whole lot.
Contrary to the barking of people like Richard Morgan, the fantasy being touted for their gritty maturity today isn’t much different from the regressiveness of Tolkien. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
HOLD ONTO THOSE PADDLES, FRIENDS; WE MAY SOON BE BEATING LIVE WHITE MALES