January 14, 2003
Tolkien as a Racist?
This is partly in reply to Laurie (thanks for bringing this subject up), and partly just because it is a subject that has irritated me for some time.
Tolkien was not a racist, nor did he sympathise with the nazis. Indeed if there ever was a work of litterature that was multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, it is LotR.
Yes, the main protagonists are all (in extremely broad terms) caucasians. It is a book that mainly deals with a geographical area roughly comparable to the western part of Europe, and therefore feature the people and cultures therein, much in the same way that it would be weird to have caucasians as the main protagonists of ancient African Masai-legends.
The story LotR is seen from a specific point of view and furthermore written in an entirely different age and context than todays (but admittedly still to some extent affected by colonialism).
LotR is centered on the world Tolkien knew, which in geograhical terms was very limited, dispite his participation in the first World War. What is potentially opposed to his world is the "others", i.e. what lies outside.
The fact that Mordor is in the east is not allegorical, and in that respect the ancient center of evil of old in Tolkiens writings is in the north, Angband (and later on Angmar for that matter). All this is geographical location, nothing more.
To call him a racist (as some actually have) is wrong - to call him sympathetic with the nazis is pathetic. He did have a significant interest in Norse Mythology and other sagas and legends of Scandinavian or just generally germanic origin, but severely detested the misuse and distortion of these and the forced cultural association with the rise of the nazis in the 1930Ž. Indeed it is clear that he was very sorry at this sad association, and of which there are still sadly some remains even today.
He himself fought against the germans in WW1 and risked his sons in WW2, and apart from that, he repeats time and time again in his letters that he detests the acts and politics of nazi-germany.
In one letter in particular (I havent got the book here with me, so for specific reference youŽll have to check yorselves, but its in "Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien") he is actually approached by a german who asks him about the origin and nature of his name, Tolkien, and wether this is "aryan", and furthermore if he has any jewish ancestors or family connections. To this he replies that his name originally IS germanic, but that he himself and the rest of his family are actually english in every way. As to the question of any jewish family relations, he replies that he regrets to not having any of that gifted people in his family (this is from memory, so its probably not word-perfect).
It is my opinion that the (hopefully) very few people who argues that Tolkien was a racist, have a serious explanatory problem, and the main reason that these individuals actually voices these things is as a way to be noticed and stand out, which admittedly they do, although perhaps not in the way they would have wanted.
Sorry for the length of this posting, but it could easily (and maybe should) have been longer.