The Woking of Tolkien: don’t let identity politics infect Middle Earth
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12 min read

The Woking of Tolkien: don’t let identity politics infect Middle Earth

It is 20 years since the premiere of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Woking of Tolkien: don’t let identity politics infect Middle Earth

I’d argue that it is one of the most masterful, respectful and meticulous literary adaptions ever made.

Fast forward to 2021, and Amazon is producing The Lord of the Rings as a big-budget series, akin to HBO’s Game of Thrones. As requested by billionaire thumb-impersonator Jeff Bezos.

In their grand reveal of their creative team, they listed two names that would gives fans of both the films and books hope. Tom Shippey, Tolkien scholar was hired as a “lore consultant” and John Howe, renowned Tolkien illustator and concept artist on the films, as a +conceptualiser and… well, that’s it. They were the only names that meant anything to me.

Oh, and what’s that? Tom Shippey has left the project? And John Howe was only invited in to draw the initial map of Númenor. As far as I can see, that is all.

Amazon has alluded to changes and tweaks, such as saying they are creating it for a ‘global audience’. I would argue that LotR has a global audience. It is the second most purchased novel series in the world. The books have been translated into 38 languages, with the films grossing $3 billion worldwide.

What is that if it’s not a global audience?

They have also hired an ‘intimacy coordinator’ – which is exactly what a pornographer would put on their CV if they were looking to branch out. And when you realise how much Tolkien references Sauron ‘seducing’ the powers that be, and combine that with the obvious lack of understanding or imagination at the helm of this project (which will become clear)…I dread to think what an ‘intimacy coordinator’ will do with it.”

Laying the groundwork is The Tolkien Society – having now abandoned reason for madness in the wake of Christopher Tolkien’s death – announcing their ‘Tolkien and Diversity Conference’, taking place this weekend. The lineup they published last month was incredibly revealing. I took a screenshot. At first I believed it to be a brilliant piece of satire. But, alas, it is not.

Now, I only have the titles to work with, but their choices leave little to the imagination, in my view. Take a second look. Because what they’re talking about is so completely removed from Tolkien and his work, that it renders the entire exercise redundant.

Gondor in Transition: A Brief Introduction to Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings”

Very brief, I imagine. Given its total absence from the source material.

Pardoning Saruman?: The Queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.”

Excuse me? Firstly, Saruman is a Maiar. An angel. An emissary of the Valar. ‘He’ is not a man. He has no gender, nor race, nor sexual orientation. And secondly, what is this based on?? Anything? Because he’s jealous of Gandalf? Because he hangs out with Wormtongue? Because he has long hair and wears fancy clothes? Because he’s an old bachelor and people like to gossip? Are these the stereotypes we’re working with here?

The Invisible Other: Tolkien’s Dwarf-Women and the ‘Feminine Lack’”

Dwarven women do exist though. In fact, they’re so similar in both voice and appearance that they’re often mistaken for dwarf men, I’ve heard. Just because they don’t feature in the story, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

“Something Mighty Queer”: Destabilizing Cishetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien”

Cishetero Amatonormativity – Coincidentally, I just bashed my keyboard twice, and produced the exact same phrase! I’ve come across ‘cishetero’ before. But ‘amatonormativity’ is a new one. I had to look this one up, and lo behold…some professor made it up very recently.

What do any of these things mean? Nothing. Not a damn thing. The content doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t even have to make sense or obey its own internal logic. In a post-modern world every aspect of everything is ‘subjective.’ If you think those essay titles made no sense, that doesn’t matter, because ‘sense’ is a personal issue and they probably maybe make sense to somebody and their opinion is just as valid as yours.

You see, academia relishes reverse engineering their arguments, choosing first their position (the more out there the better), then finding arguments to support it.

The position is commonly based on the flawed idea that if something is ‘absent’ from a work of fiction that is synonymous with contempt for it on the part of the author. Since one can no longer refute an opinion – because sense is subjective and all opinions are equal – as soon as the position is stated, it becomes unassailable. Set in stone.

eg. If an author’s work has no women in it, he was a misogynist.

Once a controversial position is chosen, the work is then ‘read’ with this meaning superimposed, while the true meaning is lost by the wayside.

To achieve this the scholar has to ignore basically everything about the actual intention of the author, and undertake the role of retroactive psychologist to produce a few thousand words of assumption and speculation, ascribing allegory after allegory to a text which – in the case of Tolkien – is rather famously, “neither allegorical nor topical”:

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

However, allegory is all that a certain type of modern scholar seem to have at their disposal. And thus, quite a few of them actually don’t understand Tolkien very much. Nor do they appear to be fans of his work, despite their insistence that they are. And as history shows us, people resent the things they don’t understand. And seek to destroy them, sometimes in the very attempt of trying to understand it.

…he who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom”
J.R.R. Tolkien (Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring)

Tensions on Youtube and social media grabbed my attention last month. This from the blue tick elite Anna Maria, who has since hidden this particular thread from public view. But the internet never forgets.

How anyone can take this away from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion or any of Tolkien’s works I honestly do not know. But it gets worse.

The One Ring were once a mighty fan page for all things Tolkien. They were, amongst other things, solely responsible for publishing all the various updates throughout the production of the movie trilogy back in the early years of the internet). But this is how they responded to the above rant:

“Great thread”?

  • “He was racist as shit. He was probably homophobic.”
  • “His “easterlings” are literal racial stereotypes.”
  • “…a frankly white supremacist fandom.”
  • “The author was problematic. The work is problematic.”

GREAT THREAD!?

Best Man: …And the bride. Doris. What can I say? I just love her. Always have, ever since Andy first met her. And doesn’t she look just beautiful today? However, she is a real nightmare. She’s gained weight. Her hair is a fucking disaster. And she has no real moral core. Grotty. Cheap. Shrill. Very few redeemable features at all, to be honest. Her friends are all homophobes, and her family are a bunch of white supremacists. What?? It’s true! Anyway, to the happy couple! Bloody love ‘em.

Groom: Great speech.

Does this honestly read as someone who loves The Lord of the Rings? – who gets goosebumps during the charge of the Rohirrim, who wells up when Aragorn tells the four young hobbits that “they bow to no one”, or as Boromir mutters his last “My brother. My captain. My King?” No, it reads like someone with no investment in Tolkien using him as an ego platform.

This might be a good place to remind ourselves – and TheOneRing.net – that Tolkien was appalled by Nazi Germany’s “pernicious and unscientific race doctrine”, and so against what he called “racialism” that he disdained the term “Nordic”, which we find rather benign nowadays.

He most certainly would be disgusted by the implication that opinions could be disregarded or elevated on the basis of race, gender or sexuality.

TheOneRing.net recently stepped in it again when they claimed this.

This is blatantly part of a bizarre agenda to demonize anyone who doesn’t label Tolkien a homophobe as being themselves homophobic. *THEY* have been dealing with homophobic comments for years. Not Sir Ian McKellen, not homosexuals within the industry, no… THEY, the fansite, have been dealing with it. Battling on the frontlines of Tolkien’s toxic, gay-bashing fanbase.

It’s nonsense, and deeply offensive, and based on nothing but a passing comment from 20+ years ago.

Yes, there are stupid, hateful people out there who judge others and hate people for all manner of arbitrary, meaningless things, but the simple truth is every Tolkien fan I know LOVES McKellen as Gandalf. But YouTuber ‘Just Some Guy’ said it best, when he replied to the tweet saying…

To which The One Ring replied…

Say what? “Respecting the lore” is apparently “coded language”… coded language in this sense meaning – well, anything they want it to mean.

It’s gaslighting. Their position being “You either agree with us, or you’re a BIGOT”.

It’s very hot rhetoric at the moment, rife within political and bureaucratic language, fuelled by the same bizarre culture war, where the ideology of wokeism and identity politics clash with basic reality.

The One Ring asked with their new trademark petulance if YouTuber ‘Nerdrotic’ would define the phrase woke.

Here’s my take:

“Woke” is an obsession without appreciation. It is righteousness without morality. It is standing on the shoulders of giants and damning them for not being taller. Woke is a pink-haired toddler having a screaming tantrum in a supermarket until the unwilling world relents and buys him his chocolate bar, just so he shuts up for a minute…but only better fuelling the next tantrum.

I see identity politics, on the other hand, as a virus (if you’ll indulge me a topical metaphor). It seems to infect EVERY facet of modern life from education, to entertainment, to government and on and on. Those in the grip of this virus seem almost incapable of creation. Instead, they inject other people’s works with their sickness, ‘cuz… writing is hard. Whether it’s Star Wars, or Marvel, the virus uses the mythology as a host to spread itself to new cells.

It cannot create. It can only corrupt.

“The Shadow cannot make, it can only mock.”

And its latest victim is the world of Tolkien.

Which is delightfully ironic, because a major theme within Tolkien’s works is the failure of evil to make new things.

As Morgoth corrupted the creations of Eru Ilúvatar to produce orcs and trolls as a mockery of elves and ents, so too does modern political ideology corrupt Tolkien’s legacy to produce a mockery of justice and virtue. A nihilistic, irreverent safe space, where narcissists and intellectual cowards all pat each other on the back for having the courage to take turns talking about themselves. People who can only feel validated as a person if a work of fiction contains someone ‘the same’ as them. Whose empathy and understanding apparently does not extend to those of differing ‘intersectional alignment.’ (Even if such things are never mentioned. Remember. Absence = contempt.)

We’ve established that Tolkien saw a great difference between applicability and allegory. The latter, he describes, “lies in the purposed domination of the author”, which is exactly the kind of political-insertion that so many are now espousing.

Authors, all authors, all creatives in fact, are innately influenced by their surroundings. Tolkien, obviously, took influences from his time to create his mythopoetic world. He lived through two world wars, after all. He witnessed first hand, the mechanised reimagining of society in the wake of the industrial revolution.

But that is not license for modern adaptations of his world to butcher his intent and replace it with their own ‘readings’

An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

The truth of the matter is that Tolkien’s imagery is everything that the political establishment, and by extension, Hollywood and academia, hates right how. And it’s not hard to see why.

Let’s take a look at the nature of evil within Tolkien’s work. And see if that perhaps resonates with what is taking place around the world today.

Tom Shippey, a dying breed of Tolkien scholar, (one who actually likes the source material) explained the nature of evil in Middle-Earth beautifully in the appendices and special features of The Fellowship of the Ring.

The nature of evil in the 21st century has been curiously impersonal…It’s as if sometimes no one particularly wants to do it. In the end you get the major atrocities in the 20th century being carried out by bureaucrats. Well, the people that do that kind of thing are wraiths. They’ve gone through the ‘wraithing process’. They don’t know what’s good and evil anymore; it’s become a job or a routine.”
Tom Shippey

Perhaps bureaucracy was invented for the purpose of building as many barriers between evil and its individual perpetrators as possible. Evil now repackaged and sold as though it’s ‘just one of those things’. But someone signs the dotted line. Someone pushes the red button. Someone gives the final order. And people around the world die as a result, day in and day out.

The perpetrators of these evils are the poisoned, formless entities we see leading us. Cowled in expensive suits, turned grey and sallow due to the endless grind of compromise. One only needs to look at Tony Blair these days to see the “wraithing process” at work.

The infection seeps down to the core of society, where the same old resentments, apathies and petty malignancies that fuel the slaughter of innocents around the globe also fuel the shrivelled hearts of the billions who allow it.

I’m sure we have all encountered individuals in our lives and thought “You are exactly the sort of person who should never hold any power over anything”, the petty and resentful, who seem to take joy or at least some semblance of meaning in provoking small miseries and exacting petty justice. The headteacher who doesn’t authorise a little girl’s absence for her ballet exam. The store manager who puts his hand in the till and then blames it on an employee when head office comes calling. The old woman who calls the police because some kids were skateboarding in the street. The guy that stamps on insects… just because he can.

Trite, unimaginative, ‘banal’ levels of evil. With no grand scheme. No plan. Just unpleasantness for its own sake. The witless, obedient grunts of Mordor who keep its mighty cogs turning. Without the capacity nor imagination to ever stop and ask ‘why?’

A word often used to describe The Lord of the Rings is ‘timeless’. And there is a reason for that. It transcends all petty attempts to alter it, by not succumbing to the lure of allegory it tells a tale that the reader, any reader, can ascribe their own individual meaning to. I find it brings the soul closer to that feeling of divinity, for lack of a better word, akin to how it feels to walk into an old church. Not as a Christian, but merely an observer.

You feel a long, lingering memory etched into the stones. Scratched there by whispered prayers and the faiths of the many who came before us. The Lord of the Rings contains that memory too, stored in the pages by every soul who read it and felt closer to that overriding feeling of perseverance and hope.

It celebrates the past that brought us to where we are now, and dedicates that success not to any one hero, or country, or race. But to people. Good people. Who till the earth with honest effort, and do the most good they can without any guarantee of success.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

As a lifelong fan of Tolkien and all things sci-fi, I believe fantasy fiction has a unique ability to both ‘timelessly’ transcend and intimately reflect our times. With this in mind, I have witnessed TV and Film’s increasing preoccupation with the fantasy genre, and seen with dismay its slow artistic decline over the last twenty years.

I watched Game of Thrones morph from bittersweet, beautiful medieval poetry to memes, cardboard armour and fart jokes. I watched the Star Wars sequels start off a little derivative and lazy with The Force Awakens, right the way down to unrelentingly subpar with “The Rise of Skywalker”, with all that mess of agenda-driven virtue signalling in the middle with whatever the hell “The Last Jedi” was meant to be.

I followed, starry-eyed, the MCU until it became the withered, tired old man that it is now. Desperately trying to remain relevant, as their content slowly but surely gets diluted with more and more works of absolute wank.

Comic Books are now unreadable, written by people who hate their heroes and collate Jordan B Peterson with Captain America’s main nemesis ‘The Red Skull’ with no hint of irony, nor any clear understanding of what irony even is.

Witcher was meh. Shadow and Bone was a mess. WandaVision was an extravagant lie. I didn’t even bother watching Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki merely initiated a stifled sigh from me.

Every new show seems to be an exercise in how to disappoint its viewers, and every time it happens I get that little bit less excited about the next one.

Especially when that next one is Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings.

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