Sunday, September 6, 2015

Tolkien Racist?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5We4fg5JUOo
I recently came upon this video (which is obviously satirical)- though exaggerated and humorous, some of the points made are interesting observations. Basically the video illustrates all the ways that Tolkien may have used real world racial and religious groups as the basis for his characters. We have often talked in class about the obvious religious connotations in The Silmarillion and I think some of the points in the video could also be of interest. Some of the comparisons are as follows-
Hobbits- Pagans
Dwarfs- Jews
Easterlings- Muslims or Hindu
Humans- Atheists or Agnostics
Elves- Christians
Gandalf- Angel
Some of these claims can certainly be believable- the part about humans and Gandalf in particular. In The Silmarillion humans even go so far as to doubt the existence of the Valar, while Gandalf is one of the Maiar come down to earth.
Thoughts?

4 comments:

Yavanna said...

Its interesting, and while I'm not sure about the allegorical claims of race representation, I think there is a discussion to be had about Tolkien's socially constructed idealizations of race, gender and sex. This is to say that I believe that Tolkien was influenced by his time, and position in society as a White English Male, and while I'm not attempting to justify his exclusion of people of color and women, it is more expected from his position. Similarly, Mark Twain's comments and stereotypes about african-americans are offensive now a days, but were more common in his time as general attitudes.

Make no mistake though-there are subliminal racist and sexist undertones that prove to solidify social constructions throughout his works. While I'll not specify which group I'm in and our project, we've noticed within the group that this treatment extends beyond the Lord of the Rings. Its not blatantly offensive; i.e literally discussing the inferiority of other races and genders, its just an exclusion principle that makes it appears as though white males are the only persons capable of influcing the world and destroying evil. They are capable where as women are incapable, and its strange at best.

Ossë said...

Those are all interesting thoughts, and I can definitely see some of the parallels. Like you said, the humans and Gandalf could be representations of atheists/agnostics and an angel, respectively. I can also see the elves as Christians, since they have faith in the Valar, unlike many humans.

However, I disagree that Tolkien is racist simply because his stories don't include people of color. While a modern story is expected to include diverse characters (which is great!) Tolkien wasn't trying to write a modern story. He drew inspiration from ancient writings from the Anglo-Saxons, Norse, etc. Because Tolkien mimics the source material and the cultures from which they come, I think it makes sense that there are not many (or any?) people of color in his writings. Like I said, though, I think diversity is great, and I like how modern fantasy (Harry Potter, The Inheritance Cycle, etc.) includes different ethnicities. I just don't think it would have made sense in Tolkien's case.

Hopefully there aren't any huge typos in this. I typed it on a tablet...

Estë said...

That was a funny video. I can certainly identify with the idea that the LOTR has racist elements. I wonder why the video doesn’t mention the bad characters, for example the Dark Riders or the orcs or goblins. I have always loved the movies, and never thought about it before my mom mentioned how she felt that the portrayal of the orcs as the only dark skinned race was offensive. I think arguably the orcs are a variety of colors and often quite dirty which makes it difficult to say, but certainly the urukai are darker than most other characters seeing as how they are created in mud pits within the earth (right?). But then the idea that the orcs are corrupted elves whose skin has been darkened and who have become very uncivilized and grotesque certainly sounds racist.

I think an important thing to take into consideration here is the limited description by Tolkien of his characters. I suppose I don’t recall the mention of skin pigment when discussing the hobbits or the orcs or even the men, for that matter. It would be interesting to go back and look into this in the books. I think that as we’ve discussed now many times the images that we have in our heads are hugely influenced by the films, and I wonder how much of the decisions made in the films were by the creators and not based on Tolkien’s writings.

It is certainly fascinating how there are no women in the Hobbit (if I remember correctly there is not really any important role played by a female, or even the presence of many). I do think, however, that Tolkien creates some very important roles for females in the LOTR. Galadriel, Arwin, and Eowyn all come to mind as female characters with central roles in the trilogy.
The influence of Tolkien’s life and experience as a white male living through the 20th century is important to acknowledge for sure. Thank you for starting this post! I find the real-world parallels to the LOTR really interesting. Myth often mirrors reality, it would seem.

Estë said...

To follow up on my previous comment, the theme of lightness vs. darkness is huge in Tolkien, as we have discussed many times. What do you make of this in regards to claims of him being racist?