[response] Lord of the Rings and Racism

I want to write about this in more detail at a later date – but I have to say that the recent Wired interview with Andy Duncan once again highlights how the Academic Academic regressive left have no idea how to (and therefore have no right to) talk about mythology. Just Google search this terrible theory about how Lord of the Rings perpetuates racism…

What has happened in Academia? More specifically, what is going on in the study of English literature? Well, since mythologies are essentially stories that deal with the metanarrative patterns of human reality, postmodernists, particularly those who are also cultural Marxists, are unable to respect and, in fact, are involved in the process of undermining the creation of metanarratives – both mythologies and religions alike.

,If you read the “dictionary” I was forced to buy for my Culture Studies class, the entry for “postmodernity” eventually states that postmodernity as an Academic (or intellectual) movement, is first and foremost concerned with questioning metanarratives:

The academic circulation of the term can be dated to the publication of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The postmodern condition (1984). In this influential account the postmodern condition is presented as a crisis in the status of knowledge in Western societies. This finds expression “as incredulity towards metanarratives” (p.xxiv), producing in turn “the absolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation,” the supposed contemporary collapse or widespread rejection of all overarching and totalizing frameworks (“metanarratives”), which seek to tell universalist stories about the world in which we live.

New Keywords, “Postmodernism”, 270. Bold in text.

Lord of the Rings, therefore, cannot be critically interpreted by postmodern cultural Marxists without reading a specific cultural ideology from which they originate. As believers in the power of the reader surmounting the agency of the authoritative author, they claim the right to read into the text their own negative visions about what the author may/must have consciously/subconsciously intended. As a result, in my opinion, this kind of critical reading of Tolkien says more about Duncan than Tolkien himself.

Unlike the Chronicles of Narnia, which have a very specific ideology upon which rests its allegorical meaning, Lord of the Rings relies on greater mythological stories, most of them originating from Northern Europe. As a result, one could say that the specificity of its origins limits global appreciation. However, like many other great mythologies, Lord of the Rings touches on the very basics of human experience, belief, and myth, which allows for international audiences to appreciate it on a very basic human level. This, postmodernity suggests, is not possible on a metanarrative level.

Here are some basic outlines of a few of the major threads of Lord of the Rings, Mr. Duncan, just in case you have forgotten:

  • The story of the Ring and Sauron’s rise to power versus the community of the Shire and the kingdom of Men juxtaposes the light and dark aspects of human social behavior – with Sauron’s monolithic eye as a metaphor for unhealthy animus and the Shire and Gondor as valiant, heartfelt community.
  • Good versus evil is woven deeply into the story through detailed symbology, including colour. White is linked to virtue, valor, honour, and greatness – and darker shades are linked to flaws, deceit, twistedness, and corruption. Saruman loses his status as “the White”. The orcs, Uruk-hai, and wild men are described as being darker/swarthy. This has nothing to do with subconscious racism on the author’s part – anymore than depicting dragons as evil or dangerous is dragonism (I don’t know what to call racism against dragons). These mythic symbols – from colours to animal types – cannot be applied to specific real-world problems. The issues addressed within these grand scheme metaphors are more about theoretical, moral, spiritual, or ethical issues and anxieties, which then allow the reader to rethink his or her position about other “real world” matters without specifically preaching on any one course of action. The spiritual nature of evil is made apparent in Lord of the Rings: Sauron is a metaphor for Satan, utilizing anyone (from Denethor to the Witch King of Angmar to the Haradrim). Seeing the distortion of elves into orcs, therefore, as a kind of racist narrative ignores what it is actually saying about the generalizing spiritual corruption of good people into evil, regardless of race, class, or gender.
  • Another issue that Tolkien addresses in his books is technology versus nature as man progresses. Sauron wastes the lands. Saruman burns the Ents’ forest and lays waste to the Shire. On the other hand, simpler pastoral settings – such as the Hobbits’ Shire or Elrond’s Rivendell – offer a vision of what should be, what could be. As the late 1800s turned into the strife of the 1900s, technological and industrial progress accelerated often at the cost of the natural world, leading some thinkers, writers, and poets, such as Tolkien and Gerard Manley Hopkins, to consider more deeply the relationship of man with Creation.

Does Tolkien tackle racism in his stories? I believe that he does – but unfortunately for him, it’s not in the way that postmodern cultural Marxists would like (because to be accepted by them, you have to denounce the groups they have specifically targeted).

Overcoming racism is in fact celebrated in Lord of the Rings – through the amazing relationship of Legolas and Gimli, representing two races who have historically fought each other for thousands upon thousands of years. Once again, the monolithic nature of Sauron who binds all into his own being and controls his forces through the power of his will, represents an authoritarian, anti-diverse being, opposed by alliances of men, dwarves, hobbits, and elves. Gandalf, derided by Saruman for consorting with Halflings, points out throughout the series that Hobbits have been underestimated (dare I say, excluded?) and are the ultimate champions. The Uruk-Hai (the forces of Evil) are in fact the results of eugenics and represent the best of man AND orc – and are essentially supremacists as a result. Furthermore, there are folk who are “white” and evil in Lord of the Rings as well – Isildur, Saruman, the Mouth of Sauron, Smeagol, the Nine Wraiths (ancient corrupted kings), and Denethor, for example. There are also complicated figures, like Galadriel, who spectated, if not took part, in elven genocide of the coastal elves of Valinor in The Silmarillion. In fact, The Silmarillion is all about elves killing other elves (and dwarves). So, “racism” in Lord of the Rings is incredibly complex, and, in the end, the stories of Tolkien are more concerned about humanity’s harm toward humanity and less about one particular group hurting another particular group. Tolkien assumes that a person can use their head to figure out from his “generalizing, universalist tales” that violence is an evil force in history, though at times necessary.

I highly recommend checking out the Tolkien Gateway Wiki entry on Tolkien’s stance and writings on racism, which I double-checked after writing this – and found, to my relief, support for what I stated above. I can only suggest that Duncan’s conclusions of Lord of the Rings stems from a very basic and wilful ignorance about Tolkien’s life and work because I was able to easily think of these examples off the top of my head… which suggests disingenuous behaviour, intellectual/academic dishonesty, and wilful deception on the part of Duncan.

To mistake these metaphors – to simplify them down to some kind of intersectional critique – is both demeaning and narrow-minded on the part of the postmodern Cultural Marxist, but not surprising to me, unfortunately. The idea that we can apply or impose postmodern sensibilities and critiques on a modern man’s nod to arguably timeless tales about universal truths or social patterns is hilarious. It also marks the hubris of an ideology that attempts to discredit the existence of metanarratives by itself creating a non-metanarrative metanarrative.

Interestingly enough, this unfortunate trend has not affected Lord of the Rings alone. Notably, the Star Wars universe, since the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, when George Lucas attempted to reduce the fantasy/spirituality of the Force to a scientist position (“the midichlorians”), has become a bit of vehicle for specific ideologies, worsening with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Instead of harking back to the originals which touched on, albeit poorly, good vs evil, redemption, sacrifice, and heroism, instead of attempting to preserve the universal appeal of Star Wars, the recent Disney productions have resulted in very culturally specific (and politically correct) stories that, I believe, will not stand the test of time. However…

Lord of the Rings will still be around.

Further Reading

Jefferson, “Lord of the Rings is racist about orcs” is not an important new front in the Culture War”.

Saks, “Tolkien and the Jews”.

Racism in Tolkien’s Work

#orcposting meme

Weaponized Nerd Rage (YouTube). [WARNING: heavy language!!!]

7 responses to “[response] Lord of the Rings and Racism”

  1. Really good stuff here. You touch on a lot of key points beyond “Andy Duncan is a liar.” Because I don’t think he’s stupid. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing.
    Postmodernism is intellectual and spiritual cancer. It basically states that nothing means anything. Everyrhing you provided and cited supports that definition. How could such a philosophy lead to anything but destructive nihilism?
    Tolkien created a world so rich in the spirit one has to be dead inside to not see and understand it. Perhaps that’s why people like Andy Duncan react so viscerally to Tolkien: Tolkien’s writings are like a crucifix to a vampire, a mirror showing the hater’s inadequacies and twisted being.
    Or maybe I’m reading too far into this.
    As you write, there is plenty of symbolism in The Lord of the Rings. The Duncans of the world need to make up stuff so they can trick peolle not to read it while holding up their bankrupt works as better. It’s a con that won’t work. We’re wise to it.


    • Thanks for reading! Yeah, as a literature graduate and a hopeful future curriculum writer, I am alarmed by the state of education and the university, especially when it comes to reading and critical thinking. The roots of illogical reasoning have spread far in the humanities. I agree with your comment about Tolkien’s writing being like a crucifix to a vampire. Postmodernity cannot stand universalist claims, even the most basic ones. As long as bloggers and other people speak out on social media, foolishness like this will slowly die out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are two types of claims about reality: physical (science) and metaphysical (spiritual/religion). From these flow other claims – ethical and philosophical.

        Any kind of claim that suggests it is a shared experience among humankind comes under postmodernist scrutiny, backlash, or rejection. It goes beyond healthy questioning to a kind of intellectual nihilism about knowledge that boasts about the eradication of “commonsense”. Which is why we see science under attack right now in terms of biological sec differences, for example.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah I got you.

        Some people view the natural and supernatural as parts of the same world—humans can only perceive a fraction of it. Others think what you see is all there is, and really have a problem with those who think otherwise.

        “Questioning everything” actually works only when there are limits. Otherwise, whose to say I’m even here writing this on a smartphone and that any of us is real at all? We’re living in a computer simulation . . . which sounds to me far more preposterous than the existence of God, but there you go.


      • https://dappled-things.com/2018/11/24/thought-piece-no-mans-sky-puddleglum-and-the-existential-need-for-narrative/

        I have actually touched on the fallout and pushback in scientific materialism. Postmodernists add the complication of extreme skepticism and relativism… Which can’t work in real life. It is interesting how in my classes definitions of postmodernism were called “very complex” and “something you will cover later”. A definite sweeping under the rug because if anything can be called into question, then so can rape. In my opinion, only initiates who become brainwashed or pay lip service to cultural Marxism “truly understand” what postmodernism entails, while most people just stay confused… and a few others like myself are more like the child who saw the Emperor had no clothes on…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great analogy!

        Don’t you love how “complexity” becomes intellectual shorthand for “smart and accurate”?

        Real, actual smart people who point to the truth have a way of simplifying things. Clarity is divine. Chaos is diabolical.

        Liked by 1 person

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